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School chaplains: time to look at the evidence

21 July 2011

The debate about the federal government’s school chaplaincy program has suffered from a lack of hard evidence, argue Monica Thielking and David MacKenzie

Right:

Federal schools minister Peter Garrett (above) has stressed that the chaplaincy program should not be seen by religious organisations as an opportunity to recruit schoolchildren.
Photo: Rachel Cobcroft/ Flickr

Federal schools minister Peter Garrett (above) has stressed that the chaplaincy program should not be seen by religious organisations as an opportunity to recruit schoolchildren.
Photo: Rachel Cobcroft/ Flickr


8.30 am: A sixteen-year-old student arrives at school in tears, clearly distressed and unable to concentrate on her lessons. Last night, after years of fighting, her parents announced that they were splitting up. Her father will move into a flat in a suburb over an hour away and she has been given the choice of whether or not she would like to spend weekends with him – away from her mum and her peer group. The “talk” didn’t go well, and after a heated argument with her parents she stayed overnight at a friend’s house. Her home-room teacher mentally goes through his day’s schedule. Four classes before lunch and then the debating team in the afternoon. An appointment with the school counsellor could take weeks…


WHETHER it’s a result of a family break-up, school bullying or any of the other problems that affect school-aged Australians, many students come to school with more on their mind than how to remember the periodic table for an upcoming science test. With measures to keep students at school until Year 12 firmly established in government policy, it’s long been agreed that student support services need to be strengthened.

In 2006 the federal government announced a $90 million pastoral care scheme to give school students improved access to a supportive adult and alleviate the burden that welfare issues place on teachers’ time. Announcing the National School Chaplaincy Program, or NSCP, Prime Minister John Howard referred to the chaplaincy services provided in the armed forces as a model. All government and non-government primary and secondary schools would have access to the program, which would be staffed by religiously trained staff with the aim of “assisting students in exploring their spirituality; providing guidance on religious, values and ethical matters; helping school counsellors and staff in offering welfare services and support in cases of bereavement, family breakdown or other crisis and loss situations.” The initiative had its critics, but generally the education sector welcomed the additional resources.

As it stands, a school can receive up to $60,000 over three years to employ a school chaplain. To date, about 2700 schools have taken up the opportunity, with over 28 per cent of public schools in Australia receiving NSCP funding. The largest uptake has occurred in Queensland, where 782 schools have received funding for a school chaplain, resulting in 80 per cent of high schools having what is familiarly known in that state as a “chappy.”

Most school chaplains in government schools are employed through a state provider of chaplaincy services. Nearly all providers are Christian organisations and members of a peak body called the National School Chaplaincy Association; they include ACCESS Ministries (Victoria), GenR8 (New South Wales), the Scripture Union (the ACT, Queensland and Tasmania), Schools Ministry Group (South Australia), and YouthCARE (Western Australia). Each of these providers has set its own minimum training requirements for endorsement as a chaplain.

It’s important not to confuse the chaplaincy program with religious instruction classes, an allocation of curriculum time to religious organisations. In Victoria, for example, these classes are mainly staffed by volunteer instructors from various churches, and in Queensland they are taught by teachers. The two programs are not entirely distinct, though, because in some states religious instruction classes may be managed by the same organisations that train and employ school chaplains, and in some cases the same individuals participate in both programs.

In many schools, the appointed chaplain has been accepted and appreciated by the school community; in others, the program has been questioned on a range of grounds. Within the broader community, opinion is divided about whether the NSCP scheme should continue or be closed down or modified. Reflecting basic differences of opinion about religion and school education, the controversy surrounding the NSCP seems likely to continue.


THE controversy has received extensive media attention this year. While there have been arguments about the effectiveness of the program for student welfare, and about the investment of resources compared to the funding of other support services, most of the disagreement seems to relate to the role of chaplains in schools and the blurring of the line between religious activity and welfare support.

Concern about “religious proselytising” has been fuelled by coverage of a speech by the chief executive of ACCESS Ministries, Canon Dr Evonne Paddison, which revealed that the organisation sees the NSCP as a recruiting ground for children and young people. One of Dr Paddison’s proclamations included a statement that “in Australia we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel, our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples.” In response, the responsible federal minister, Peter Garrett, reiterated that the NSCP should not be used for this purpose and announced an immediate investigation; the Age reports that the inquiry found no evidence that ACCESS Ministries members had been seeking to convert students. The former NSW premier, Bob Carr, went much further, calling for the NSCP to be abolished. Radio National’s Background Briefing found that most state and territory representatives of the Australian Council of State School Organisations reject the NSCP because of the evidence of school chaplains proselytising their religion to students. In particular, the NSW ACSSO representative alleged that the program is now being used for widespread Christian evangelism.

While the federal government has made it clear that chaplains mustn’t use their position to proselytise, questions remain about whether or not school chaplains are able to provide non-judgemental, value-free and inclusive support services for students. The fact that over 98 per cent of chaplains employed under the scheme are Christian has raised concerns that the program does not reflect Australia’s pluralistic society. What is at issue is not so much whether particular chaplains are effective or not, but whether the program violates a central tenet of secular education.

Bob Carr isn’t the only prominent figure arguing against the program. Former High Court judge, Justice Michael Kirby, has proclaimed that the NSCP is “offensive to the historical Australian principles of education” and asked that chaplains be ejected from government schools. Angelo Gavrielatos, federal president of the Australian Education Union, believes that the NSCP is “misguided and wrong” and says the resources could be better used to increase schools’ access to secular student welfare services. The executive director of the peak body for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Dr Bryan Cowling, believes that the NSCP is being repeatedly misused, putting well-established religious education classes at risk by mixing faith with welfare: “if it’s a welfare position and a welfare role, why not just call it that rather than call it a chaplain… I just think it’s a clumsy way to do things.” Later this year the NSCP will be challenged in the High Court on the grounds that it breaches the constitutional separation of church and state, particularly Section 116 of the Australian Constitution, by funding a program that promotes religion and requires government bodies to use a person’s religious beliefs as a qualification for employment.

All this means that the government is feeling the heat over a scheme that was not only introduced by its Coalition predecessor but will also soon be the subject of a significant legal challenge and much more media scrutiny. Any rollback or containment is likely to be welcomed by those who are uneasy about or opposed to the NSCP. However, and perhaps more significantly, it would also result in a wave of disapproval, mostly from the influential Australian Christian Lobby and its associated organisations, but also from some schools who have benefited from the program. Therein lies the political dilemma for the government.


CHAPLAINS must not provide a service for which they aren’t qualified, according to the federal government. But this guideline floats freely in an environment where there are no agreed national minimum standards for the training of school chaplains nor any concrete advice on what “pastoral care” actually means; and more broadly, currently there are no national standards for providing student support in Australian schools.

Various definitions of the role of school chaplaincy are in circulation. Some suggest that school chaplains should only take on matters of a “spiritual” nature, while others extend the role to include activities that are traditionally the domain of a school counsellor or student welfare coordinator. The National School Chaplaincy Association asserts that “school chaplains are in the prevention and rescue business. They’re helping students find a better way to deal with issues ranging from family breakdown and loneliness to drug abuse, depression and suicide. They provide a listening ear and a caring presence for kids in crisis… and those who just need a friend. All have a passion to improve the lives of young people.”

There is certainly evidence of chaplains doing just that. A study by Philip Hughes and Margaret Sims, published by the Social Research Centre at Edith Cowan University in 2009, found that 72 per cent of the chaplains surveyed indicated that they deal with student mental health and depression issues, while one of the activities they did least was refer students to appropriate professionals. Good intentions undoubtedly lie behind the association’s statement, but is dealing with “drug abuse, depression and suicide” really within the realm of the program or within the expertise of most school chaplains? These are some of the questions being asked about the implementation of the program.

The student welfare needs in schools and the amount of time teachers and principals must allocate to meeting those needs undoubtedly help explain the uptake of chaplains under the program. Mental disorders (particularly anxiety and depression) account for over half of the total youth disease burden in the community; principals say that these conditions are having a significant impact on schools and that they are not adequately resourced to deal with them. An appointment with a mental health professional who can listen, assess and intervene is not always readily available, so teachers often must shoulder the burden until such help is available.

Yet, when dealing with young people experiencing mental health and other serious personal issues, there is a need to manage the risks carefully. Whoever provides the “listening ear” should be acutely aware of his or her professional boundaries and limitations and be able to provide a level of appropriate support. That person needs to be able to distinguish between issues requiring mental health expertise and those less serious issues that can be handled without specialised mental health training. Unfortunately, there is evidence that NSCP school chaplains don’t have that capacity.

At the far end of the spectrum – dealing with vulnerable teenagers who may be self-harming or fantasising about suicide – a lack of training in risk assessment can be a matter of a life and death. So, when ACCESS Ministries asserts that chaplains are there “for kids at-risk in your school community,” it inevitably raises questions about training and professional expertise. Should chaplains be required to hold professional qualifications on par with school counsellors or guidance officers or other welfare personnel in schools? Or should the role of chaplains be more tightly regulated so that they are not dealing with risky welfare issues?

The Northern Territory ombudsman, Carolyn Richards, has argued strongly that chaplains should not be dealing with mental health issues. Richards has written a scathing report about how the NSCP has been implemented in five territory schools, in which she reports that chaplains are providing counselling services and conducting psychological therapy – for which they are not qualified – with the result that some students have not received the psychological care they needed. She was particularly critical of chaplains conducting one-on-one “pastoral care” sessions for students experiencing issues such as domestic violence, abuse, behavioural problems and “physical symptoms” on the grounds that students may be exposed to increased risk by being supported inappropriately by unqualified individuals. Overall, Richards was highly critical about the way the program has been designed and its lack of regulation. Following on from that inquiry, the office of the Commonwealth ombudsman commenced its own investigation of the NSCP, with a report to be released on 26 July this year.

One other concern frequently raised in the media is the significant allocation of “taxpayer dollars” for the NSCP. The estimated total amount of Commonwealth funding committed to the NSCP since 2006 is reported to be $437 million. A significant portion of this funding – $165 million – has gone directly to “fund increased infrastructure requirements of the major service providers.” In the lead-up to last year’s federal election, after a meeting with Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby, Julia Gillard pledged a further $222 million, announcing that the program would be extended to boost the number of chaplains in schools by about 1000. Some commentators speculated that the funding was a pitch to Christian voters designed as a counter to the prime minister’s declared atheism.

It’s appropriate to question the effectiveness – and cost-effectiveness – of any government program. Responding to this question, both the National School Chaplaincy Association and the government have referred to the study by Philip Hughes and Margaret Sims. In fact, the association approached Hughes to review the effectiveness of its chaplaincy program in those schools where the chaplain was part of the association. The study surveyed principals (688 out of the 1626 invited, or 42 per cent) and chaplains (1031 out of 1396, or 74 per cent). Chaplains in NSW schools were not included because the Department of Education was “concerned that the study does not appear to be designed as a fair evaluation of the national program, since alternative means of achieving program objectives are not considered.” The report concluded that “chaplaincy is a unique service that is proving to be of great value to students, staff, parents and their schools.” It found no cases where chaplains “pushed their own beliefs” and reported that all the case-study feedback was positive, except for one parent – altogether an extraordinarily positive finding given the feedback from other reports about the program.

The validity of this report has been strongly challenged by former academic and NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, who described the study as “deeply flawed,” methodologically unsound and lacking independence. Kaye points out that the lead author Philip Hughes was employed four days a week by the church-funded Christian Research Association and that this affiliation was not disclosed in the report, leaving his conflict of interest position unaddressed. A more important criticism was that “the data and analysis presented in the report do not justify the conclusion it reaches” – specifically, that “it’s a huge leap of faith from principals welcoming an additional pair of hands focused on student welfare to the conclusion that these benefits could only be delivered by a Christian chaplain” – and that the study failed to examine the possibility that what chaplains might contribute is just as well or better done by other welfare professionals. This is the question of opportunity cost, where it could be argued that the significant funding for the program might be more effective if spent differently. Kaye’s final comment was that the report “should be viewed as a piece of advocacy not as decent and scholarly research.”

The fact is that the provision of support services for students in Australian schools has never been subjected to serious research and evaluation, and any analysis is made more difficult by the fact that the various states and territories deploy somewhat different models. In a number of jurisdictions, however, we do know that resources flowing to “student welfare” or “student well-being” have been increased over the years. And there is broad bipartisan acceptance that if most students remain in schools through to Year 12 then schools become institutions that must deal with issues beyond the classroom.


THE National Schools Chaplaincy Program seems destined to cast a shadow over bipartisan support for welfare programs in schools. A significant amount of federal government funding goes to the NSCP for what is essentially a student welfare program. But the NSCP has never been reviewed in the context of other student welfare and pastoral care programs already provided in schools, including the work of student welfare coordinators, youth workers or school psychologists. It can’t simply be asserted that school chaplains offer a unique service or that the work of school chaplains in general has a significant positive effect on student well-being; these claims need to be tested.

Legal challenges and secular critics aside, some supporters of the NSCP believe that children should be given the opportunity to develop their “spirituality” at schools. Adolescent mental health expert Michael Carr-Gregg, who spoke at an ACCESS Ministries fundraiser, has referred to young people as “spiritual anorexics” and as having “holes in their souls.” Carr-Gregg’s catchy comments are consistent with some studies that have revealed significant positive effects of spiritual beliefs on well-being. But what are “spiritual beliefs” exactly? And how important is the need for “spiritual counselling” in schools? Interestingly, Hughes and Sims found that “not many principals nor chaplains mentioned the spiritual aspect of chaplaincy as the most important contribution the chaplains brought.” Such topics are certainly worth investigating, but the question still remains whether a school chaplain or a government-funded chaplaincy program is the most appropriate way to help adolescents with existential and spiritual issues.

The claims and counter-claims in the debate should be tested against some real evidence. The public controversy about chaplaincy has created division and encouraged political expediency in programs to support students in schools. Policy decisions are being based on hunches, leaps of faith or religious or anti-religious prejudice. It’s time to step back, take the politics and controversy out of the debate, subject all the extant questions to research and begin to assemble the evidence base for student support in schools. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised evidence-based policy; no area of policy would benefit more from this approach.

What matters most are the interests and needs of the girl who arrived at school distressed and unable to concentrate because her parents had just announced their separation, or the boy who is not attending because he has been the victim of bullying, or the thousands of students who are in some way or another disadvantaged, traumatised, experiencing mental health issues, struggling with school or feeling alone. NSCP or no NSCP, the key question is simple: how to ensure that young people receive the most appropriate support and guidance they need to become successful, healthy and happy young adults, with the skills and confidence to meaningfully participate in Australian society? •

Show Comments

11 Comments

Joy Knight

14 July 2011

All the negative comments I read and hear come from the two roles of the Chaplaincy program and the Scripture Teachers being confused. They are two entirely separate roles, both with very strong guidelines and boundaries within which they work. The role of the Chaplain is axactly that as described above by the NSCA:-

"They provide a listening ear and a caring presence for kids in crisis… and those who just need a friend.” It's their role to pass at risk students on to the appropriate professionals and not to attempt to fulfil that role themseves. I also noted that this has been happening successfully at most schools with little or no complaints. So one has to wonder who it is that is muddying these issues and what is their agenda in doing this? One also has to look at how valuable the same Chaplaincy programs are working within organisations such as the SES, Fire Brigades and such.

Their work there is very much valued.

Maybe one should also explore the opinions of the students who have actually been helped by a School Chaplain and not just take the opinion of the muckrakers alone.

David Esgood

17 July 2011

This is a comprehensive and well balanced article — congratulations.

I am disappointed that these comments were not published when they were submitted several days ago, but the comments from the head of Chaplaincy services in WA are published? One assumes that his employment is funded by part of the $165M - no wonder he is confused by the statements about funding and tries to cast doubt over it.

There are a number of key points in here but some of the most pertinent ones would be these statements:

“An appointment with the school counsellor could take weeks…”

and

“An appointment with a mental health professional who can listen, assess and intervene is not always readily available, so teachers often must shoulder the burden until such help is available”

I am located in a state with one of the highest ratios of Students to Psychologist, and this statement would be COMPLETELY UNTRUE, in a public, government school. Students such as the one described would be seen THAT DAY by a School Psychologist, (or a Social Worker – depending on the issues involved). At the very latest, the student would be seen the next day.

I realise that these statements are attempting to illustrate the paucity of service compared to the need in schools, but I am concerned that these statements feed into the “mythology” being pushed by the pro-chaplaincy lobby, to denigrate professional service providers.

By the way, a survey of all our Principals, identified the provision of counselling and Psychological Therapy as the greatest need in their schools. They estimated that an increase in Psychology services of around 20-30 % would meet that need.

The other comment I make, is that our School Psychologists are dealing with the extreme “pointy end” of our students – Last year our Psychologist saw 150+ students (approximately 20% of our school)and that still didn’t cover what was needed. Our Social worker had a separate caselist too…

There is a huge unmet need, and if it was met, with properly trained services like Psychologists, it would make so much difference to the the population disease burden going into adulthood.

The statement below is one of the most disgusting I have ever read:

“$165 million – has gone directly to “fund increased infrastructure requirements of the major service providers.”

In other words, the (openly evangelical) organisations running this show are skimming $165M of taxpayer’s money to fund a few “co-ordinators” and all the “promotional” and lobbying material they are producing. At the same time they are asking schools to provide budgets, and asking parents to raise money for their Chaplains to promote themselves in their schools.

There is already “infrastructure” for our School Psychology services in nearly every state – why is this money not being spent on providing more of the service that is really needed? A highly trained, highly competent service provided DIRECTLY to our students.

Sophie Howlett

14 July 2011

Excellent article, thank you.

The chaplaincy program completely astounds me, and you have confirmed for me just why. The complete lack of evidence for the funding spent seems to me to be a glaringly obvious wrong step in governance. It demonstrates just what you don't want the constituents to know, or atleast shouldn't want them to know, that you have no evidence for the policy you have implemented. To me this says that this is a government that will bend it's will to the loudest voice in it's ear, which in this case is the Christian movement, the Christian vote. On one hand the Government has demonstrated commitment to improving and investing in the mental health of it's populace, backed up by significant and reputable research. While the other hand slaps us in the face, and completely undermines this evidence. Evidence that clearly argues for early intervention and mental health support services for adolescents, given that rates of mental illness are highest in the 15-25 year age range and it delivers us a sub-standard stop-gap 'faux' counselling service in otherwise secular schools. It defies all logic, and I for one would be embarrassed to be the Minister espousing this policy as a good investment, you've got to be kidding.

Thanks again for you work. Here's hoping sense will prevail and that the loudest -more logical - voice in the ear of government becomes the one that calls for a thorough, objective review into the efficacy and efficiency of this program.

Griff Young

14 July 2011

A Chaplain, as described in the NSCP, is a job role description, nothing more.

ACCESS is a Corporation as proclaimed by the Government, nothing more.

ACCESS employs Chaplains with a discriminatory employment process.

This is legal in Victoria, but that doesn't make it right. The law was passed by a very narrow margin.

~98% of Chaplains are of a Christian faith

We are directing "funds to assist children" to a discriminatory organisation.

I do not understand how people can not see there is something awry with this scenario, but then I wasn't brought up as a Christian, so I haven't got the background that 63% of the population have.

Inside Story

17 July 2011

Dear David,

Your earlier commented wasn't posted because you didn't include your surname, which we ask all readers to do when submitting a comment to Inside Story.

Cheers,

Peter Browne

Editor

John Bennetts

17 July 2011

@ John Clapton:

"A secular society is also an inclusive society. There must be a place for all points of view and any view of public education that wants to exclude others because of difference fails."

That kind of internally contradictory statement indicates the hollowness of the argument in favour of clergy (ordained or not) masquerading as something else in order to go about their business in schools.

A secular society is, by definition, separate from religion. How this can be spun so as to include "all points of view", obviously including religious, is beyond comprehension.

Chaplains are, by definition, religious. The dictionary definition of a chaplain provided on kids.net.au is "a clergyman ministering to some institution".

Clergy have absolutely no place in secular institutions. Q.E.D.

This whole exercise has been, from the outset, a means by which to purchase the votes of religious electors, nothing more, nothing less. It must be stamped out.

John CLapton

15 July 2011

This is probably the most comprehensive web-based response to the current controversy about the NSCP that I have seen, and I applaud Monica and David for their work.

As a senior manager with YouthCARE in WA I am aware of some of the facts in the article that are not as accurate as they could be, but this is not necessarily a result of an attempt to deceive.

Firstly, you comment that over 70% of public schools in Australia have received NSCP funding. In WA it is about 40% and in NSW it is about 10%. My understanding of the 70% figure is that it relates to the proportion of all schools that have received NSCP funding - ie. 70% of the 2700 schools funded are public schools.

Secondly, in relation to the commentary on the program by Dr Bryan Cowling, my understanding is that his comments were made in 2007 when the program was just being established. He may have a different opinion now. His views must also take into account the fact that in NSW the churches have been placing Religious Education "Teachers" in secondary schools for clearly evangelistic purposes and, I dare to suggest, as a clear strategy to subvert an earlier NSW Department of Education decision to ban chaplains from public schools. The NSCP was problematic for NSW public schools because of the militancy of the Teacher's Union and the Parents Association in opposition to is. Consequently, very few public schools in NSW have accessed the program. The NSCP as it now stands is inconsistent with the evangelistic objectives of many churches in NSW, not least the Anglican church, so Dr Cowling reported remarks were not surprising.

Finally, your claims about the estimated cost of the program doesn't add up to me. 2700 schools were awarded $60,000 at the set up of the program, a total of $165m. The program was extended to the end of this year raising the total to about $245m. Some additional funding was paid to some of the public school providers to assist them in expanding their management infrastructure so as to support the expansion of the chaplaincy workforce. This was only available for new chaplaincy positions, was applied only in the first year and amounted to up to $2,000 for each new position. Even if this was offered at the maximum rate for all positions you are looking at a little over $500,000 - where you got $165m from I cannot tell. From the start of next year, the program will be funded for not more than 3 years to a maximum of 3700 positions, adding $222m to the existing programs cost of $245m to a total of $467m and an annual cost of between $55m and $74m - not a lot of money in the big scheme of things. Amounts of money expended annually can always be made to look larger by expanding the total number of years you are accounting for.

There are certainly significant arguments on either side of this debate. Neither side should dismiss the merits of the other. Whether or not that High Court Challenge succeeds in dismantling the NSCP, school chaplaincy will continue. A secular society is also an inclusive society. There must be a place for all points of view and any view of public education that wants to exclude others because of difference fails.

Monica Thielking and David MacKenzie

18 July 2011

Thank you to all who have taken the time to provide feedback. The intention of this article was not to wade into the controversies surrounding the NSCP with yet another argument for or against the program. There are many views surrounding this scheme that need to be both respected and considered. In contrast, our intention is to propose a solution-focused approach to the current debate, through a call for a comprehensive and independent evaluation of not only the school chaplaincy scheme, but of the provision of all welfare services in schools. The needs of school-aged Australians must be at the heart of all discussions, and this should be the lens through which we look to resolving the current controversy and improving young people's access to effective early intervention services.

Thank you John Clapton for alerting us to the incorrect figure that we used of the number of public schools in Australia that have a school chaplain. This has been amended in the article as published above. According to the Commonwealth NSCP Discussion Paper (2011), 28% of public schools have a NSCP funded school chaplain (see: www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/NationalSchoolChaplaincyProgram/Documents/NationalSchoolChaplaincy_DiscussionPaper.pdf). We derived the $165 million 'infrastructure costs' figure from: www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/NationalSchoolChaplaincyProgram/Documents/Table.pdf

The $437 million dollar figure has been repeatedly used in media reports about this scheme (eg. see www.smh.com.au/national/chaplains-are-taking-over-20110129-1a94l.html). However, we have amended the article to make it clearer that this is the total estimated amount that has been dedicated to the program since 2006.

wilma western

17 July 2011

At first glance the chaplaincy program looked like a cheap way of providing extra welfare and 'counselling' support to students , with chaplains cheaper and their qualifications and approach quite varying from school to school. While armed forces chaplains do provide religious services for the troops , they have traditionally been seen also as important sources of psychological support - listening ear, contact with grieving friends and family etc., rather than cultivators of 'spiritual guidance'. Of course ordinary clergy , family solicitors etc also have traditionally fulfilled such roles without any psychological qualifications.In the welfare sector there are counsellors and mediators who have received some training but considerably less than professional psychologists. Most teachers have neither of these sorts of qualifications but are expected to perform similar roles,at least if they are given relevant coordinator or 'student welfare" responsibilities. It seems obvious that there needs to be an examination and clarification of roles , along with information on the varying provision and availability of counselling in the different state systems. However, I'm sure there would be a significant number of families and schools who would declare that their own school chaplain had provided welcome help , though probably not related to 'spirituality '. Therein lies the difficulty for the critics.

But to hand out the provision of services that are primarily about well-being , emotional development and welfare to organisations whose prime focus is 'the gospel' is a mismatch and potentially harmful.

Lucy Christensen

12 September 2011

The Prime Minister initially stated that the National School Chaplain Program will not be secularised, but has been extended to include secular welfare workers. Chaplains should remain the preferred option in our schools as they are a valuable addition to the school community. Despite the misconceptions about the type of service chaplains provide, in no way are they there for any religious involvement and in fact religious education is kept strictly separate from the role of the chaplain. With this in mind, chaplains are not providing a pro-Christian environment and the only reason a chaplain may be Christian is because that is the collective decision of the school community. Chaplains are making a positive contribution to the school community because they are able to provide a role of pastoral care, caring for the student’s wellbeing. So why chaplains over counsellors? Chaplains are often the first point of call for many students, assisting with the linkage between students and other services. Most importantly, chaplains are never providing a service for which they are not trained, despite the miss belief of chaplains providing a form of counselling service. As chaplains now have to meet the guidelines of Certificate IV in Youth Work, this enables chaplains to effectively carry out the pastoral role in the school community.

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