New secular alternative to school chaplains
Stephen Stuart, 10 September 2011
The Australian Government, after consultation with educational ‘stakeholders’ and following public submissions and an ombudsman’s report on the School Chaplaincy Program, has decided to broaden the program by admitting secular welfare workers on a par with religious chaplains.
Commencing in 2012, the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program will do away with the previous religious monopoly on ‘supporting the spiritual, social and emotional wellbeing of school students’ and leave the choice firmly with the school.
Click to go to the Departmental media release.
Duties and code of conduct for the two streams remain the same. In the new scheme all pastoral workers will need to have a Certificate IV in youth work, pastoral care or an equivalent, under Community Services National Training Package. If a school wishes to drop its chaplain for a secular worker, it will have to document consultation with the school community. The ‘service providers’ will be held to higher standards for monitoring service delivery and increased accountability; complaint procedure will be strengthened.
The Humanist Society acknowledges these changes as improvements in the public interest if they are carried out as announced. The shortcomings in the program which remain of concern are, first, the churches retain favoured, if not privileged, position, offering a monocultural pastor inappropriately to a multicultural school community; and providers are being given even more public money of undisclosed amount. Second, there is no actual money for a professional psychologist to be a school pastor: indeed, the welfare worker is not allowed to provide professional services unless qualified and agreed-to by the school community.