By Mick Krever, CNN
Continuous exposure of violence actually changes the structure of a child’s brain, Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder and director of the renowned UK charity Kids Company, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
Batmanghelidjh has devoted her life to helping the most vulnerable children in the UK.
Fifty percent of the children assessed by the Kids Company and University College London had witnessed shooting and stabbings in the past year, and many had themselves been targeted.
“As children are continuously frightened, they release vast amounts of fright hormones, and that is changing actually the structure and functioning of their brain to make the children develop very narrowed, aggressive behaviors in order to survive in very challenging neighborhoods.”
“These kids are ending up underachieving in school, not being able to calm down, because actually the biology of their brain has changed as a result of how badly they've been continuously treated.”
Around the world, more than three billion people live on less than two and a half dollars a day, though the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has dropped precipitously over the previous decades, according to the United Nations.
Here in the UK however – one of the world’s richest and most-developed countries – an incredible one in six children are living in poverty.
And poverty in Britain can be difficult on children, Batmanghelidjh said.
“Children feel very ashamed, because they can compare it to another child immediately next to them, who might have the resources.”
“If you look at the children of Kids Company aged under 14 that we do home visits with, one in three of those children are sleeping on the floor. They don't actually have a bed. But they may have a mobile phone, because if they don't have the mobile phone they're likely to get teased and attacked on the streets.”
That stigmatization, she said, can also affect young adults seeking jobs or government assistance.
“A young person who is very distressed and isn't managing – if they don't turn up at the job center, they can get sanctioned, i.e. punished, which will mean they don't get benefits, but also they don't get housing benefit.”
“So what's happening is large numbers of young people are being left without money to eat, without money to keep themselves warm. And then eventually end up losing their housing because of the way they're being treated.”
Amanpour asked Batmanghelidjh about a statistic showing that the increased numbers of working single parents had contributed to a decreased level of child poverty between 1998 and 2012.
“I’m absolutely pro-economic empowerment of the poor,” she responded. “But that means, if you want single parents to go back to work, you have to have affordable child care. And I don’t think the equation has been correctly arrived at.”
It is the prerogative of a country’s government to pay attention to its poor, she contended.
“[If] you don't look after poor people, their disturbance and their distrust of government will bring it down. And I believe that unless this government develops a more compassionate attitude towards the poor in this country, it will pay a price for it.”