This article includes extra excerpts from the interview between The New Idealist Guest Editor Jodhi May and Camila Batmanghelidjh, Founder of the Kids Company charity, not published in Issue 4 of The New Idealist. Click here for the clip of Boris Johnson’s ‘Greed is Good’ speech referenced in the full interview. You can download the main interview in Issue 4 here.
Please note: This article was first published on the original version of The New Idealist online in February 2014 before being added to this newly created site in July 2015.
On Jodhi’s recent work on the Jimmy McGovern BBC film “Common” and the problems with the Joint Enterprise Law used to fight gang violence…
Jodhi: A lot of kids are being locked up through joint association and being put through the criminal justice system when they’re perceived to be part of gangs and in fact…(Jodhi explains that often there is no burden of proof that they have any criminal involvement)… it creates the most horrendous miscarriages of justice.
I think the work that you do is one way of giving people a voice who I think are deemed to be conveniently invisible to society.
Camila: These children are constantly frightened. Their over-availability of stress chemicals is actually resulting in structural and function changes in their brains. This makes the kids adapt to the environment they are born in…because the child is constantly focused on threat.
People from well looked after backgrounds look at this and say “anti-social” savage whereas actually these children are very intelligently and appropriately both biologically and socially to survive the environments they are in.
This is the conversation no-one wants to have…something as subtle as David Cameron saying “these kids don’t have aspirations”. Well, they might not have aspirations to be in Oxford at the moment, but they might have aspirations to have a bed because that’s where they’re at. You cannot, because their aspiration doesn’t look like yours, call it “no aspiration”. The language that is coming out of government is so derogatory.
On the Role of Creativity and Imagination in Rehabilitation or Survival…
Jodhi: And there is a whole other part of a child’s mind which is their imagination which I think is equally important to survival. And it’s the assumption that, that simply doesn’t exist in a certain part of society.
Camila: I’ve seen more poetry amongst these kids than I have seen in books of literature. They have a poetry of the soul that comes from having gone to the depths of human experience…and when they emerge from it…their capacity to reflect back on it is extraordinarily exquisite. You sit with these kids and they talk about humanity or what happens to people in way that you rarely get because it’s so true anywhere else in many ways.
What happens to children who are very traumatised, their mind freezes initially and they are pre-occupied with physical survival. If you put a blank piece of paper in front of a child like this they feel terrorised at the thought they’ve got to produce something, because actually their entire pre-occupation is with surviving.
After the child’s been stabilised…that’s when the imagination starts kicking in…because the focus shifts from external survival to inner exploration.
On the Construct of Punishment and Social Exclusion…
Jodhi: You talk a lot in your book (Shattered Lives) about social exclusion, what happens at school. There’s a punitive system in place to reprimand certain types of behaviour. I’m interested in your thinking about what would be a progressive alternative to exclusion?
Camila: The trouble starts because most people with anti-social behaviour have disorganised minds…their mind is much more occupied with severe threat…the construct of punishment for disorganised brains is a flawed construct and it’s because of this that we have an 80% re-offending rate in all youth custody programmes and youth offending day programmes across the world.
Camila Batmanghelidjh CBE is founder of the Kids Company Charity which cares for 36,000 vulnerable children via a network of independent drop-in centres and the provision of social work services in over 40 schools nationwide.
Jodhi May is a stage & screen actress whose credits include The Last of the Mohicans, Defiance, Strike Back, Last of the Mohicans, A.D. The Bible Continues and Game of Thrones.
Jodhi is Guest Editor of Issue 4 of The New Idealist.
You can find out more about Kids Company at www.kidsco.org.uk
To read more from the discussion download the latest issue here.
Please note: This article was updated on 3rd February 2014 to reflect that Kids Company supports 36,000 children.
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Issue Seven: The New Future Issue (Annual Special Edition)
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Issue Four: The Issue We’re All Talking About (Guest Edited by the actress Jodhi May)
Issue Three: Has Obama been corrupted by the machine?
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Issue One: Downwardly Mobile? Will the next generation find it harder to reach the next level?