I have previously written about the children’s charity The Sunflower Trust. This is a charity that claims to treat a whole range of health conditions in children and has as its president an osteopath who was removed from the register of practicing osteopaths for unacceptable professional conduct. I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the misleading treatment claims and the ASA also challenged whether the adverts discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. The Sunflower Trust responded by saying that they would remove the misleading claims and the complaint was therefore “informally resolved”. Rather than complying with the guidelines as they claimed they were going to do, The Sunflower Trust has actually created more new content that is in breach of the guidelines.
Here is an example where the Sunflower Trust claims that their treatment helped with dyspraxia and dyslexia. In this story, Justin’s mother says “I soon realised that I needed outside help if I was going to help him with his education. He has dyspraxia and suspected dyslexia, so he finds everything twice as hard as other children.” For some reason that isn’t explained in the story, rather than following the normal routes of talking to the SENCO (Special educational needs co-ordinator) at her son’s school or taking him to the GP she decided to go to The Sunflower Trust instead. He was given a pre-programme assessment which “showed his musculoskeletal to be of particular concern as his body appeared to be completely out of alignment”. Now, there is no such thing as someone’s body being “out of alignment”. This is an imaginary concept used by some chiropractors and osteopaths to justify the treatments they provide but in reality it doesn’t actually exist at all. There is also no evidence whatsoever that “re-aligning” someone’s body or any other aspect of the “treatment” included in the Sunflower Programme can provide any benefit for someone with dyspraxia or dyslexia.
Here is another example where they claim they can treat autism. According to this story, Helen’s parents were told by an Educational Psychologist to “put her in a special school and forget about her and concentrate on her older sister.” If the parents were really told this then that is truly awful and should be dealt with via a formal complaint about the Educational Psychologist. I’m somewhat sceptical that this is actually what was said, however. In recent years, the range of services and support available for children with special needs have improved significantly and there are some really excellent special schools. Sending a child to a special needs school is therefore (when appropriate) giving them the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential rather than somewhere to “forget” about them. During the assessment provided by The Sunflower Trust the parents were told that things were “in the wrong place”. This is frightening thing to tell parents about their child and what parent given that message wouldn’t be scared into continuing with “treatment” in a desperate attempt to correct these problems? No professional should ever use fear to encourage someone to undertake their treatments. The treatment provided apparently consisted of manipulation of the “head, neck, spine and pelvis”. Presumably the therapist (Clive) told the parents that he was re-aligning these things through this treatment. This is completely false and shows a startling lack of understanding of the way the human body works. Manipulation does not “re-align” anything regardless of what some osteopaths and chiropractors claim. There is no evidence that any treatment provided by an osteopath or chiropractor or any other aspect of the Sunflower Programme provides any benefit for autism.
Charities like this one are preying on desperate people by misleading them into taking completely unsuitable “treatments” when they should instead be following the advice of their own doctor. This charity clearly fails the “public benefit” test as rather than being in the public interest it’s actually harmful to members of the public. It’s high time that the Charity Commission put a stop to charities like this and I hope that the consultation prompted by the Good Thinking Society will result in removal of charity status for this and similar charities. That would certainly be the right thing to do in the interest of protecting the public.