Home Visits Used To Spy On Children, Court Told
Sydney Morning Herald/1992-08-28
By COL ALLISON
The children of the religious sect The Family claim Department of Community Services officers are using weekly supervisory visits to spy on them, Cobham Children's Court was told yesterday.
The barrister for the 65 sect children, Mr Mark Trench, said they found the visits "very difficult and stressful ... an invasion of privacy".
The department says children need State care. Despite proffering no specific evidence in court, it says it is convinced the children have been sexually abused and psychologically programmed by their parents.
It believes the parents belong to the reviled Children of God cult, which went underground about 1978 and has emerged as The Family, a "missionary"sect.
On May 15, acting on information from NSW and Victoria, departmental officers, accompanied by police, raided three sect houses around Sydney and took 72 children into protective custody.
They were released a week later after a hearing by the Cobham magistrate, Mr Ian Forsyth. A major condition was that the department be allowed regular supervisory visits on his behalf to monitor their health and whereabouts.
Mr Forsyth has reduced the visits from three hours a week to one hour. On Thursday, Mr Trench applied for them to be stopped. He told the magistrate: "It is not even a remote possibility that DOCS officers will ever see any behaviour between the adults and children complained of."
He said the children "won't be spirited away and we say it's all an exercise by the department to gather information".
"The children see it as a matter of derision that department officers think there is something terribly wrong in the houses.
"The suggestion is that the houses have been set up in such a way as to deceive the Board of Home School Studies, who come in to see how the children's education is progressing."
The department's key witness, Campbelltown district manager Miss Pauline Rockley, has said that it regards home studies with suspicion. It believes home studies isolate sect children from mainstream society and has suggested the children go to regular schools, a move resisted by the parents.
Mr Trench described that suggestion as tantamount "to exposing them to the very thing their parents were trying to shelter them from - the evils of life in a corrupt society, the nasties".
In opposing the application the barrister for the department, Ms Robyn Tupman, said the proposition that the visits were used for "interrogation purposes was absolutely and entirely denied".
Ms Tupman then waved a four-page newsletter headed "religious persecution", which was written by members of the Sydney sect. She said it contained outrageous allegations of sexual abuse "by deviant social workers" overseas.
The barrister for some of the parents, Mr Robert Cavanagh, then spoke up. He said: "They may be Christians but it would be inhuman, beyond the realms of Christian charity, to expect them to feel goodwill towards the people who took their children away on May 15."
Mr Forsyth said he would like to see supervision continue but perhaps by some other group, such as social workers from the Children's Legal Service, whom he knew and trusted, or a minister of religion. He will consider the matter further when court resumes on Monday.