The pros and cons of the National School Chaplaincy Program
This week’s High Court decision that declared federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy program unconstitutional is a welcome one.
It’s likely that the government will still find a way of funding the program despite this decision by making tied payments to the States and Territories. Even so, this is a significant result, not least because it validates the efforts of Ron Williams, who brought the case, and highlights the problem of this program.
Chaplains play an important role in faith-based communities providing support and pastoral care and I’m quite sure there are some great, well-qualified individual chaplains working in schools right now. However, whether it’s appropriate for chaplains to be the main service provider of welfare support in our secular, state school system is a different matter entirely.
In the recent budget, the government allocated an additional $245 million to the program, but removed the option of schools to use the funding for secular welfare officers. Not only are schools now unable to use the money to pay qualified social workers or psychologists or counsellors, but existing secular staff are likely to lose their jobs.
According to the National School Chaplaincy Association, the role of a school chaplain is to promote student well-being through the provision of pastoral care. Under the heading What do school chaplains do? the website states:
- School chaplains encourage reflection about the spiritual dimensions of life.
- School chaplains have an educative role in the areas of beliefs, values, morals, ethics and religion
- School chaplains work as part of the school support team to facilitate connection into the schoolnetwork and wider community of students who are suffering from bereavement, family breakdown or other crisis and loss situations.
The crux of this matter is the needs of young people in our state schools. The issues adolescents present with today are numerous and complex and include: mental health, self-esteem, anxiety and depression, drug and alcohol use, physical and sexual abuse, pressure of school and home, family breakdown, sexuality, and gender identity.
Young people dealing with any of these issues should have access to trained and fully qualified staff with expertise in these areas. This is clearly not the role of a chaplain – as stated above – and nor are most chaplains qualified to provide this expertise. There is no other area where we allow unqualified practitioners to provide services to young people.
This problem is compounded when we look at the needs of young LGBTIQ people in schools. We know this group is extremely vulnerable and we also know that chaplains do not always provide appropriate positive support or counsel.
[Image] The High Court has ruled funding for the School Chaplaincy Program 'unconstitutional.'
This week in federal parliament Louise Pratt tabled the results of a recent survey conducted by Allout into the experiences of young LGBTIQ people and the chaplaincy service. While 5-10% of the young people reported positive experiences, the majority were negative and such experiences had an extremely detrimental effect on those young people.
The AEP recognises the important place religion holds in many people’s lives, including many in the LGBTIQ community, and our membership reflects this. Relying on this chaplaincy service with its lack of regulation and inappropriate foundation as the only source of support for children in secular schools runs the risk of exacerbating many of the problems young LGBTIQ people face at an impressionable age.
Taking a stand against the chaplaincy program is about ensuring the needs of all young people, especially young LGBTIQ people, are met.