Re: Universal medicine
Date: November 22, 2018 06:16AM
NSW child protection agency advocated 'harmful cult' activities in girls' care plans
Exclusive by Josh Robertson
The New South Wales child protection agency has directed that children in its care maintain their connection with a group that a Supreme Court jury has branded a "socially harmful cult".
Child protection plans in Lismore set down links with "cult" group, Universal Medicine
Lismore FACS office acting manager Karoline Pearson has publicly promoted UM
FACS directive to staff banned referrals to group after ABC's inquiries
An ABC investigation of links between Universal Medicine (UM) and the Family and Community Services (FACS) office at Lismore in far northern NSW has prompted the department to refer the matter to the Office of the Children's Guardian.
It also issued an internal ban on referring children to the controversial occult healing group following queries by the ABC, according to a departmental source who said children in care had previously been sent for treatment by UM-aligned health practitioners.
The ABC has obtained FACS documents from 2016 endorsing the role of UM teachings and events in the lives of two girls overseen by the Lismore office, where several UM followers have worked.
One child protection case worker, Karoline Pearson, who is now an acting manager in the Lismore office, appears in a UM music video and has publicly promoted the group and its founder, Serge Benhayon.
The FACS care plans for the two girls, who cannot be legally identified, endorsed their involvement in the UM-affiliated Girl to Woman Festival.
Ballina Shire councillors had been set to consider banning the festival, held in January at Lennox Heads, on "child protection" grounds.
But on Wednesday, organisers pre-empted that move by axing the event.
It follows damning jury findings against Mr Benhayon in a defamation case in the NSW Supreme Court last month.
The jury found Mr Benhayon "has an indecent interest in young girls as young as 10, whom he causes to stay at his house unaccompanied" and that he "is guilty of inappropriate behaviour with children".
The jury also declared Mr Benhayon "is not a fit person to hold a Working with Children Certificate".
It also found he had "exploited children by having them vouch for Universal Medicine's dishonest healing practices" and "persuaded followers to shun loved ones who won't join his cult".
Former Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said six people in recent months had separately raised concerns with her "about the FACS office here in Lismore and apparent links [to UM], whether it's in staffing or in plans for families".
Ms Dowell, who has an Order of Australia, told the ABC it was "a deep concern for all of us and I would hope that it's a deep concern to the [NSW] Government".
"A government agency needs to be ultra-vigilant and ultra-careful about making sure that their staff are not promoting something that has been shown to be a cult," she said.
"FACS is dealing with vulnerable families and n… I would hope those practices, if they exist, are examined and eliminated."
The Ballina Council motion would allow it to refuse access to its facilities where it believes there is a "potential for child abuse".
It calls specifically for suspending access by Universal Medicine, which holds the Girl To Woman festival at Lennox Heads each January.
Ballina councillor Keith Williams told the ABC he had wanted to stop the festival because of the jury findings.
"They detailed a range of concerns relating to children, inappropriate behaviour relating to children, and that's really not something that we want Ballina Council to be associated with," he said.
"I find it appalling that … state agencies would actually be requiring Universal Medicine to be involved in the care of young people."
Girls' care plans specified ongoing UM involvement
The FACS documents regarding the two girls in "statutory OOHC [out of home care]" were care plans dated May 2016.
Under the headings "personal identity/culture" and "current needs", they stated that that each girl "needs to be supported to maintain her connection with the teachings of Universal Medicine".
Under a heading of personal identity objectives for both girls, it stated "[she] will maintain her connection with Universal Medicine".
The plan for the younger girl stated that FACS was responsible for two tasks to achieve this: "[she] will listen to her music and meditations" and "participate in Universal Medicine activities as deemed suitable and approved by Community Services".
"There is a Girl to Woman Festival held in January. There are also groups through the year called 'Kids in Connection'," the plan said.
The older girl's plan stated that it was her carers' responsibility that she would have "internet access to access readings and meditations from the universal medicine website".
It also stated that she "will participate in Universal Medicine activities as deemed suitable and approved by Community Services", referring to the Girl To Woman Festival and Kids in Connection.
The plan assigned responsibility for this to the girl's carers, FACS and a contracted care provider.
A departmental source speaking to the ABC on condition of anonymity said the Lismore office had previously referred children in care to UM-aligned health professionals, including a former NSW Health psychologist.
The ABC was unable to contact the former psychologist.
A day after the ABC put questions to both the department and Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward, a FACS director issued a directive to staff that "no child be referred to Universal Medicine", the source said.
A post on a UM webpage said a colleague of Ms Pearson told her "some of the practitioners from Universal Medicine have attended staff meetings [and] provided very good workshop sessions on relaxation".
The post was removed after the ABC flagged it with Ms Goward's office and the department.
The source said there had been attempts to recruit other FACS staff in Lismore to join Universal Medicine.
Ms Goward declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for the department said the children in the care plans currently "have no involvement with Universal Medicine".
"FACS takes all allegations of abuse and harm against children and young people extremely seriously," the spokeswoman said.
"The information in the Supreme Court judgement is known to FACS and staff are taking appropriate action to ensure it has no impact on children known to FACS.
"FACS has referred the matter to the Office of the Children's Guardian."
The ABC's attempts to seek comment from Mr Benhayon and Ms Pearson were unsuccessful.