A KALAMUNDA rehabilitation centre is scrambling to find ongoing help and support for troubled women and children currently in their care after it was forced into administration last week.
The Esther Foundation has faced tough public scrutiny in recent months as former residents have come forward with allegations of mistreatment and abuse at the centre, leading to a State Government investigation.
But the Foundation’s interim chief executive Phil Sparrow, who has only held the position for three weeks, said the Foundation looked into the abuse claims two years ago, leading to a change of board, management and processes.
However, he said he and the new board welcome the inquiry and are offering their full support.
“The Esther Foundation reviewed the complaints and made changes,” he said.
“Whether they were dealt with appropriately or not, I cannot say but the individuals involved from that time have either moved on or been sacked and the new board has worked hard to bring the care standards of the Esther Foundation up to where they needed to be.
“We now have much more professional standards and a line was drawn under that in 2020.”
The Foundation began as a church-based rehabilitation centre in the 1990s, tied to the New Day ministries in South Perth.
Founder Patricia Lavater, who left the Foundation in 2019, took a tough love approach with troubled women, teens and girls who were struggling with issues such as domestic violence, alcohol and drug dependence and mental health problems.
The girls would stay at one of a number of properties owned by the Foundation and exposed to religion, prayer and restrictive lifestyle measures that some residents claim were cult-like and abusive.
In 2018, the Foundation moved to Kalamunda and a café and boutique were opened as a way for residents to gain some employment experience as well as channelling funds back into their care and rehabilitation.
That café on Haynes Street is still open, with Mr Sparrow stating the plan is for it to remain operational.
“Our biggest hope is that other service providers will take it over,” he said.
“So we are in discussion with other service providers in the sector and looking at transitioning these services.”
Mr Sparrow said despite the negativity surrounding the Foundation, it would be “tragic” if troubled women in the region did not have anywhere to turn to for help.
“The critical focus is the ongoing care and well being of the women who are in the current care of the Esther Foundation,” he said.
“This recent news and the ongoing publicity is deeply distressing to all who are involved in the Foundation – including our participants and we must continue to prioritise their ongoing safety, care and well being.
“Any decisions will be made with the interests of these women at the forefront.”
By Rebecca Peppiatt