Even before Kids Company went under, people were suspicious the group wasn’t spending money wisely. The UK charity group did indeed have questionable accounting practices, and wasn’t very transparent about where donations and public grants were going. Nobody, however, expected the extent of the charity’s wastefulness to be as dramatic as one former employee claims it was. Notably, she says founder Camila Batmanghelidjh personally wasted money by paying for five personal assistants and a lavishly decorated office.
“Her office was like an Aladdin’s den, with a tree in the middle, it was bizarre,” a former intern told The Telegraph. “I was so pro-Kids Company, but even on day one I just couldn’t believe the waste. The ethos is great and when she first started I think she was very well-intentioned, but having the attention of celebrities around her, her ego seems just to have got bigger and bigger.”
Batmanghelidjh founded Kids Company in 1996, and she’s been highly critical of the government and media for not doing more to save the charity from bankruptcy. Critics say the charity was overemploying people, and some reports estimate £800,000 of a £3,000,000 grant went to paying employee salaries.
“I feel that the charity may have become caught up in the attention of the media and powerful politicians,” says the ex-intern, “as well as becoming overzealous when hiring staff. I felt that it was extremely overstaffed and that the money from salaries could be better spent elsewhere.”
The woman also claims Kids Company coerced children into filling out satisfaction questionnaires to make the company look better, thereby doctoring their own statistics. She thinks the good the charity is actually doing for children remains unknown.
Batmanghelidjh is increasingly coming under fire for her management style and alleged lack of dedication to the cause. “It seemed to me that people really are scared of her. She seemed to have favorites and if you weren’t one that was made clear.”
Phil Frampton, of the White Flowers Campaign Group, said the child care community has grown to resent Batmanghelidjh and her organization. “I think the Government and Batmanghelidjh have behaved despicably in letting the children down,” he said, adding: “They should have ensured that the kids and service users were guaranteed a transition.”
Batmanghelidjh herself has responded to the allegations of waste and resource mishandling, as well as defending her need for five assistants.
“I have very severe learning difficulties so I can’t use a computer and so I have to dictate everything,” she said. “Consequently because I am working from around eight in the morning to about 11 or 12 at night, the PAs have to rotate. When I fundraise I write each letter personally – or I sign it personally, so everything I have to dictate. The reason I have several PAs is that, first, they share the morning and evening slots and, second, one of them has to be a clinical PA because I work therapeutically with children. Because fundraising is so difficult I also have to do a bit of work on a Saturday and a Sunday so the PAs share the Saturday and the Sunday slot as well.”
She adds: “I think all this stuff about waste is unjust – we are actually quite under-resourced. What you’ve got to bear in mind is that we were processing from this office 10,0000 volunteers a year who come in to do all sorts of activities with Kids Company, we have partnerships with 270 companies, from whom we receive volunteers. Then we’ve got another team who are responsible for 500 students from nursing and therapeutic courses coming in to do their work experience, they get processed from the head office.”
She also defended her office decorations, stating:
“The reason the office is quite childlike is that it is not meant as an administrative office only – I also see children for therapy in it and therefore it has got play equipment. It has got a little duck pond so that kids can do their ‘family setting’ stuff there – if they can’t talk directly about something they can use the toys. It has got a lot of trinkets for the kids and the teenagers to use. It is there in that fashion for good reason.”