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Love makes a difference for vulnerable children

Sandra Jovchelovitch| is Professor of Social Psychology at the London School of Economics. She works regularly in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and is an expert on psychosocial consequences of social exclusion and adversity.

For many children living in London, violence and criminality are a way of life. They witness shootings, stabbings and even killings of friends and relatives. Many have themselves been shot or stabbed. They suffer emotional and sexual abuse and frequently find themselves alone, without anyone to turn to. They live in one of the most cosmopolitan and rich cities in the world, but their situation is comparable to that of children in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio, children quickly learn how to adjust to a culture of violence, poverty and exclusion. Research shows that such environments compromise brain development and put the psychosocial development of children under stress. Exposure to violence and chronic stress provokes physiological consequences, which increase responses of an emergency ‘fight or flight’ type. Children learn that it is easy to die and easy to hurt, disengaging emotionally from others and becoming themselves perpetrators of violent behaviour.  In London it is not so different.

Overt conflict and aggression, deficient nurturing and violent relationships can damage physical and mental health, laying the ground for long-term, lasting vulnerabilities and problems. The cycle of violence in the lives of children is a major threat not only for children but also to the future of healthy societies.

The impact of adverse developmental conditions spans from the biology of the human body, to the psychology of the person to the integration of communities and public spheres. It is a time bomb that we ignore at our own peril.

The charity Kids Company has been working directly to counteract the effects of developmental adversity and excessive violence in the lives of children. They work with an absolute focus on children in need and commitment to the power of healthy relationships to change lives. They combine flexibility, vocation and very high staff moral to produce a model of care that is based on positive parenting by proxy. Their method of work offers to the child the knowledge that someone cares, loves and will not give them up, irrespective of any challenging and unstable response that may come back from the child.

From help with documents and paper work which clients have difficult in understanding, to help at school and at home, Kids Company adjusts its practices to the needs of individual clients. By helping children practically, they lay the ground for a deeper psychological intervention that eventually transforms children from victim to hero, from perpetrator to survivor. They are effective in constructing a gateway through which children and young people can enter society, develop trust and learn the rules and the rewards of a positive social life.

This work gives visibility to the invisible and fills the gaps left by the statutory sector, achieving much for the most vulnerable children in the UK. The charity’s open door policy has guaranteed provision and support for some 18,000 children in London. However, much work remains to be done to raise the visibility of vulnerable children and the work of Kids Company in the UK and internationally.

Collaborations with the statutory sector are essential for supporting children and young people in need. Dialogue and cooperation between sectors can be beneficial to all. Kids Company requires support to continue developing the excellence of its overall model of work.

For details of a full report looking at the Kids Company model go to: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/52856/1/Jovchelovitch_Kids_Company_Diagnosis_2013.pdf|