The government is urgently scrambling to find alternative support for 6,000 of the most vulnerable children in the fallout from the closure of the charity Kids Company, the Guardian can reveal.
As the founder of the charity, Camila Batmanghelidjh, blamed â€œrumour-mongeringâ€ civil servants, ministers and the media for the closure, it emerged that Whitehall officials are frantically trying to arrange alternative support for thousands of the most at risk young people helped by her organisation.
The Cabinet Office said on Wednesday the welfare of the young people was its primary concern and it was working closely with local authorities to make sure they had access to the services they needed.
â€œThe government has supported Kids Company over the past seven years to help deliver services for vulnerable young people and so we are disappointed it has been unable to move to a sustainable financial position,â€ said a government spokesman.
But amid recriminations from all sides, Whitehallâ€™s last-minute rescue operation was criticised as unrealistic by one leading agency, which told the Guardian it was asked by officials to review the cases of 6,000 children.
Batmanghelidjh, the one-time darling of both Labour and Tory governments, announced the closure of Kids Company after 19 years of operations on Wednesday.
It came after months of controversy over the charityâ€™s financial accountability, and the announcement that the Met police were investigating crimes including sexual abuse on its premises. The charity â€“ which has received Â£30m of government funding since 2008 â€“ was attempting to raise a further Â£2m-Â£3m of funding to remain solvent after the government agreed last week to provide Â£3m it had been withholding.
But insiders said the revelation that the police were investigating criminal acts including possible sexual abuse on the premises, after former staff made allegations in the media, had sounded the death knell for any attempts at raising money from philanthropists.
Batmanghelidjh told the BBC on Wednesday she had acted responsibly and criticised the government for â€œairbrushingâ€ the circumstances surrounding the demise of the charity.
She said: â€œWeâ€™ve had to abandon a lot of children … thatâ€™s it, itâ€™s the end of Kids Company and actually a bunch of rumour-mongering civil servants, ill-spirited ministers and the media, on the back of a range of rumours, put the nail in this organisation and shut it.â€
She questioned David Cameronâ€™s role in the demise of her charity. â€œI have to think what do I do? There is insolvency law that requires you to behave in a particular way. Therefore, the doors have to shut and there cannot be any service provision â€“ insurance stops, everything stops.
â€œBut I am still left with these kids and their needs. This is devastating â€“ where is the prime minister of this country saying whatâ€™s going to happen to these children?â€
Asked if she felt personal responsibility, she said the charity had needed money for staff and running costs at a time when donors wanted to buy specific items, such as equipment. This meant government funding was needed.
â€œI canâ€™t run an organisation on the back of this level of uncertainty,â€ she said.
â€œSo the answer as far as I know I acted responsibly, I asked for help early enough and I feel that government failed to honour its responsibility to these most vulnerable children. We live in a climate where everything is airbrushed by this government.â€
The closure came after months in which questions about the charityâ€™s financial accountability were raised by a BBC investigation which reported that the Cabinet Office was withholding Â£3m of funding until Batmanghelidjh stepped aside and the charity underwent restructuring. That money was released and put into the charityâ€™s accounts last week. Shortly afterwards the BBC announced police were investigating the charity after allegations from former staff of drug taking, sexual assaults and other criminality on its premises.
Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman, whose constituency of Camberwell and Peckham in south London is served by Kids Company, demanded a plan to ensure those the charity works with are cared for.
She said: â€œWhatever happens to Kids Company, these children and young people must be protected and supported. Such vulnerable young people must not suffer as a result of the breakdown of government confidence in Kids Company.â€
Staff at the charity warned of the vacuum its demise would leave.
One former staff member said: â€œSocial services were sending us additional work because they couldnâ€™t cope.
â€œThe needs of the children went beyond what most people are happy to hear about. What amazed me was that young people living within a short radius of Buckingham Palace were living in conditions which the public would associate with the far off distant past.â€
Zievrina Wilson, 37, another former staff member, said: â€œThe most damaging thing here is that no one has thought about the children that we work with. The pain is unbearable. They may shut our centres but they will never break our spirit. I will volunteer because I believe in it, for as long as I can.
â€œI believe that Camila did her best â€¦ Camila is an honourable woman and has done everything with the best intentions.â€
Dozens of young people gathered at Kids Companyâ€™s drop-in centre, the Island, in Bristol city centre as news of the charityâ€™s closure broke. Graffiti above the brass Kids Company sign read â€˜RIPâ€™ with a cross underneath and â€˜The Best Place There Wasâ€™ written to one side.
Lambeth and Southwark councils said on Wednesday their priority was to look after the children and young people who relied on the charityâ€™s services. Lambeth committed Â£193,000 in July to the charity over three years to run its One Oâ€™Clock Club and an adventure playground in the borough, which they said they would attempt to reopen as soon as possible.
Outside the charityâ€™s premises in Camberwell, south London, Sharlene Reid, 27, who had been supported by Kids Company as a youngster and volunteered there herself, said the street outside had earlier seen protests by parents and children who relied on the charityâ€™s services.
She said: â€œYou just drop the bomb like that and expect people to just move on? Thereâ€™s peopleâ€™s lives at stake here, as well as the children. What about them?
â€œWe have to make the government hear us. We were protesting. It was not planned, we all came here because they said it was shutting down, come and collect your things. My friend WhatsApped me this morning and I said, â€˜itâ€™s got that bad?â€™
â€œCamila has built this up from scratch and she doesnâ€™t take, she just gives. Sheâ€™s a wonderful woman, all she does is go there [to government] and ask for money to give to the vulnerable.â€
A second woman, who declined to give her name but described Kids Company as like â€œfamilyâ€, said: â€œI donâ€™t think Camila is in this to get money. The money sheâ€™s got is serious. Itâ€™s not even a profit thing. You canâ€™t even get money from this organisation, itâ€™s a charity. I just feel for the children.
â€œYou have done it at a bad time. Itâ€™s half term now, the children are stuck at home with their parents. Some of those parents have got mental health problems.â€
Additional reporting by Damien Gayle