Monday, 26 October 2009
National School Chaplaincy Program
The discovery in Senate estimates last week that the National Schools Chaplaincy Program has not been funded past mid-next year has caused considerable concern amongst students, parents, teachers and chaplains in my electorate.
Since the National School Chaplaincy Program was established by the former coalition government two years ago, students and school communities from every corner of my electorate have benefited immeasurably from the valuable support, pastoral care and guidance offered by their chaplains. When the program was first implemented, there was a degree of concern expressed by many schools who felt it may threaten the separation of church and state. However, over the past week, I have received a great deal of correspondence from students, principals, parents and chaplains who have benefited in one way or another from the program.
The benefits that this program offers school communities are immense. Despite being a relatively new program, the feedback I have received is that school chaplains are making an enormous contribution to the personal, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of many school communities. This was recently reinforced by a study into the program by Edith Cowan University. The study found that teachers’ feedback from the program has been overwhelmingly positive. For teachers, the program fills a vital gap and provides an invaluable resource for teachers who have neither the time nor the capability to provide the services offered by these chaplains.
Adolescence is a very difficult time. For many students, having an adult who is always available to help them with behavioural management issues and social relationship issues such as anger, peer relationships, loneliness and bullying makes a significant difference to their lives. It would be interesting to know how many youth suicides have been prevented by young people having access to a kind and understanding ear. The chaplains also provide support, comfort and advice in the event of a family breakdown. They also offer support to students who are grief stricken by the loss of friends in tragic accidents or by the loss of family members. As one parent in my electorate correctly pointed out, this program gives students a head start in life and a platform from which they can begin to make the right choices in life.
Despite the fact that 97 per cent of school principals have engaged a chaplain and strongly support the program and its benefits to their school communities, the government has refused to rule out cancelling funding for this program. The government must give a firm commitment that this program will be extended.
In closing, I would say that this is something that has worked. It is not a religious indoctrination. I know from personal experience that very marginalised children have benefited from having a person with a kind and caring ear to speak to.