P&C Council backs Government on ending school chaplain program

Ian Bushnell 26 February 2019 12

Schools need counsellors not chaplains, says ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations.

The ACT Government’s curtailing of the federally funded school chaplaincy program has been welcomed by the Territory’s peak public school parent body.

The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations said it recognised that ACT schools must be secular and that the real need was for qualified mental health professionals in our schools.

“Our schools need counsellors, not chaplains,” said Council President Kirsty McGovern-Hooley. “With suicide the leading cause of death among young people in Australia, access to qualified help is imperative.”

She said a national program which employed only religious personnel was a misdirection of funding that took resources which could be used for qualified social workers, mental health nurses and counsellors in schools to assist students and families.

“Overwhelmingly, our members have told us that school-based mental health workers should not be affiliated with a religious body. Many parents do not think it is appropriate to have personnel identified as religious in our secular government schools,” she said.

“Our schools serve diverse communities and appointing a chaplain of one religion is inappropriate and likely to alienate those of other faiths.”

Education Minister Yvette Berry’s decision to end the National School Chaplaincy Program in public schools from next year has been criticised by her Federal counterpart Dan Tehan, who said it was disappointing.

Ms Berry said they would be replaced by qualified youth and social workers to service the whole school.

She said ACT public schools were required under the Education Act to operate in a secular, non-sectarian way and religious chaplains were incompatible with this objective.

The Territory’s public schools can opt in to the federal program, which provides up to $20,000 in funding for the chaplains, who can stay on for 2019 as long as they do not work in a religious capacity.

Scripture Union Queensland CEO Peter James, who has led the expansion of the school chaplaincy program, said the decision did not make sense and did not seem to do any public good.

“It seems odd that for a government of a multicultural society they’d exclude a spiritual dimension for those who have chosen it, and it is a free choice program,” he said.

He said chaplains were trained youth workers who were able to help students, particularly in times such as a death in the school, from a faith perspective as well.

“A holistic model of care should include a spiritual dimension to that care, and the chaplains are trained to provide that,” Mr James said.

“So why in a multicultural society where there are children and families who come from a faith background would you seek to exclude that dimension?”

He said the program was not about imposing views on others.

“Even though a child may come from a Muslim background or other faith backgrounds, the chaplain can approach that conversation knowing the kinds of issues that child and family have because they share a faith perspective. We think that’s valuable in schools, we think that’s worth keeping, it’s not coercive. There’s no complaint that it’s not working.”

Of the 88 public schools in the ACT, 22 currently take part in the National School Chaplaincy Program. Of these, there is one early childhood school, eight primary schools, seven high schools, four colleges and two P-10 schools.

Ms Berry welcomed federal Labor’s commitment, if elected, to allow secular welfare workers to be funded under the program, as was previously the case.

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12 Responses to P&C Council backs Government on ending school chaplain program
Nari Strange Nari Strange 2:02 pm 28 Feb 19

Excellent idea. Full marks to whoever proposed this sensible idea.

Mazzie Woodward Mazzie Woodward 8:51 pm 27 Feb 19

I’m not religious but I don’t understand why schools can’t choose and potentially offer both or a mixture. Why say no to federal funding for supports that school communities might find useful. The ADF has Chaplains and only a small percentage identify as religious. Regardless they are a very valuable support mechanism. This is totally cutting off your nose to spite your face - silly 😒

bj_ACT bj_ACT 12:48 pm 27 Feb 19

I’m supportive of this as long as the ACT Government provide an adequate replacement service. We have all heard the bad stuff that has happened at Theodore Primary and some other outer suburban schools. I feel the ACT Education directorate and the Minister too often focus their efforts on the wrong issues.

Erin Falvey-Smith Erin Falvey-Smith 11:04 pm 26 Feb 19

Children and young people need qualified and highly skilled councillors, youth and community workers who can provide unbiased information and support.

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:01 pm 26 Feb 19

Sensible move. Religion has no place in a secular school. Replacing them with qualified councillors is the way to go. For those who want to follow a religion, they are free to do this in the privacy of their home and in their place of worship.

Aries Tyrrell Aries Tyrrell 9:37 pm 26 Feb 19

That's a sad decision.

    David Pollard David Pollard 12:48 pm 27 Feb 19

    Could you elaborate on why? I would genuinely like to hear your input. This seems like a sensible decision for the spending of public money on public education, without infringing on anyone's ability to seek spiritual/religious support from a church, or religious education from an independent school, but I would like to hear more from the opposing view.

    Aries Tyrrell Aries Tyrrell 1:18 pm 27 Feb 19

    David Pollard I feel it would be nice for both options to be available. Chaplaincy can be more informal and some, regardless of religious persuasion, find it a less confronting option than formal counsellors. It’s not a matter of religion for me; I just find counselling is sometimes too clinical whereas a chat with a chaplain or pastoral carer is more personal. Horses for courses.

    Aries Tyrrell Aries Tyrrell 1:19 pm 27 Feb 19

    David Pollard thank you also for being respectful in your query; it’s much appreciated.

    David Pollard David Pollard 1:47 pm 27 Feb 19

    Interesting point. I've felt that anything a chaplain could bring to the table, a qualified counsellor could bring too. Sometimes counsellors would be better equipped than chaplains, but I didn't feel chaplains were bringing anything that a counsellor wouldn't. The manner and environment in which they bring those skills matters though; you are right.

    One of the problems with offering "both", is that it isn't a 2 sided thing. Having a Christian chaplain can (but may not) alienate Muslims, so should we also have Muslim chaplains too? I agree that religious persuasion wouldn't always stop someone speaking to a Christian chaplain, but it will in other cases.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 4:56 pm 27 Feb 19

    David Pollard your point is the real reason, we can't have half a dozen chaplains of different faiths, plus a counsellor as it costs too much. I understand it may affect some people, but how many are affected now as they won't see a religious chaplain that would see a counsellor. Those of a strong faith will most likely be attending a school of that faith also, so I think public schools probably should have counsellors only to cover the widest range of people possible. Perhaps we can have some religious chaplains available for children in public schools available on call or on the phone, but surely anyone of faith would also be attending a place of worship as well and could access those services.

    Aries Tyrrell Aries Tyrrell 8:12 pm 27 Feb 19

    Justin Watson very valid points. The only consideration with attending a place of worship is that children will most likely be attending such places with their parents which may make it difficult for a child to talk to a chaplain/preacher. No easy answers - we’re all so diverse.

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