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Chaplaincy program leaves secular workers with no more than a prayer

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Last week's budget delivered a double blow to youth welfare worker Joanne Homsi. For the past 18 months, Ms Homsi has worked in two high schools in the St George and Sutherland area, supporting students with drug and alcohol issues, low confidence, family problems and suicidal thoughts.

As well as talking with students, she has connected them to mental health centres, remedial learning programs and other services.

Ms Homsi loves the job, and the schools value her work. But in December she will be looking for a new job - and there will not be a safety net to catch her if she cannot find one. Because she is under 30, she would have to wait six months before she can receive any unemployment benefits under tough new rules for young job seekers.

''I want to stay in youth work because that is where my passion is'': Student welfare worker Joanne Homsi.

''I want to stay in youth work because that is where my passion is'': Student welfare worker Joanne Homsi. Photo: Tamara Dean

Ms Homsi's three-days-a-week position was funded by the federal government's National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program. The government is continuing the program, at a cost of $245 million over five years, but will remove the option for schools to hire a non-religious welfare worker.

The 623 schools that made this choice will have to hire a chaplain or go without. "I'm very saddened and concerned about the change to the program," she said.

School chaplains have a role to play, but not everywhere, she said. She noted St George is a multicultural area where Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, Buddhists, Greek Orthodox and non-religious students study together. "These schools had a choice between a chaplain or a youth worker and they chose to have a youth worker," she said.

"I've been available to everyone regardless of their religion or culture. I've provided students with a non-judgmental approach to very sensitive issues and that has been beneficial to everyone."

Parliamentary Secretary for Education Scott Ryan said the government is restoring the scheme to its original vision after Labor expanded it to include student welfare workers in 2011.

"The Coalition was critical of Labor watering down the focus on chaplains when the original chaplaincy program expired," Senator Ryan said.

"Student welfare services are an important part of school communities and are rightly provided by, and the responsibility of, the states in public schools and other schools and systems in their respective schools."

Australian Council of State School Organisations president Peter Garrigan said: "The chaplaincy program in its entirety should have been scrapped and the money given to provide … services like psychologists, speech pathologists or dentists. But if the program has to operate there should be a non-religious option."

Federal government’s new plan

How does it work? All schools will be invited to apply for 2900 chaplain places. Schools with higher disadvantage will be given priority. Schools will receive $20,000 a year to hire a chaplain.  Schools in remote areas will receive an extra  $4000 a year.  

How much will it cost? $245.3 million over five years.

What are its aims? To support the emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing of students by enhancing academic achievement, encouraging positive behaviours, reducing behavioural issues such as truancy, aggression and drug use, and boosting emotional competence.

Who can schools hire? Chaplains can be from a range of faiths  but they can no longer be secular youth workers. They must have a minimum Certificate IV in Youth Work or Pastoral Care or equivalent. They must sign a code of conduct and pass working with children and police checks. 

Source: Department of Education; Scott Ryan

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152 comments

  • 'The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away'.

    Commenter
    adam
    Location
    yarrawonga
    Date and time
    May 21, 2014, 7:10AM
    • education based on the principles that it is secular, compulsory and free - no longer under this theocracy - maybe Abbott should have applied for Pope

      Commenter
      rod steiger
      Location
      toukley
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 8:34AM
    • It was bad enough 'chaplains ' ever received government support to 'work' in schools, but to now actively refuse the funding of secular, professional, educated councillors and to quarantine it to the religious,beggars belief. What is the rationale, if such a term can even be applied in this context? What're has it been shown a 'chaplain' provides better outcomes than a trained secular councillor? Or is this a welfare program, designed to support the religious sector, so heavily beset following the exposures of institutionalised child abuse by its putative 'shepherds'?

      Quite asides from those arguments, secular Australian society should not be supporting religious institutions in their quest for influence in our schools or the minds of our children. I'm am appalled, yet sadly this is becoming the standard daily fare with this government. More so, I find it interesting a government so beholden to supposed religious tenets would have such contradictory policies and views. It demonises asylum seekers, incarcerates them in appalling conditions and now seeks to send them to a corrupt, impoverished and wholly unsuitable Cambodia instead of doing the right thing, the ethical thing, and shouldering their and our own collective responsibilities and resettle the genuine refugees here.
      This LNP government is more than passing strange if they purport to be the products of religious upbringings and beliefs for they resemble nothing of my understanding of Christianity or any other religion for that matter. Promulgate more of the same attitudes via chaplains in schools? No way. Our kids deserve better than this hypocritical idiocy.

      Commenter
      Warwick
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 8:58AM
    • Actually it will be the judges that taketh away.

      The program has been challenged in the High Court on constitutional grounds and the legal consensus is that it will be shut down.

      The case wrapped up early May, so a decision is probably likely towards the end of this year.

      High court case S154/2013 if anyone is intersted

      Commenter
      Alby
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 9:23AM
    • If this isn't "a religious test for office" what is?

      Commenter
      Talismancer
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 9:23AM
    • RI was in schools for many many years and yet did no more than create people like Abbot and Curly Joe Hockey.
      Chaplains can do some good but properely trained non judgemental youth workers are a lot more value socially

      Commenter
      G sacramento
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 9:25AM
    • I attended a public boys school. We had the choice of attending RI, or going to the library and studying, so most of us went to RI. One day Canon Ball from South Yarra gave a lecture on what we boys should not be doing with girls. It was good value and has affected my sense of humour regarding sex for my whole life.

      Commenter
      adam
      Location
      yarrawonga
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 10:00AM
    • And what about the separation of church and state? Clearly the Coalition has always gotten this wrong, not only with the Chaplaincy Program, but with the massive support of Private Schools! Take the money and train youth workers and physiologists, not support untrained and unqualified 'Chaplains'. There is a huge fail here on a number of points ... the needs of the students and pushing the western religious agenda of the ultra-conservative Collation on a multicultural society. Horrid policy!

      Commenter
      JohnInHobart
      Location
      Huon Valley
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 10:12AM
    • The School Chapliancy program breaches the separation of State and Church, the foundation of our democracy.
      It's that simple.
      My taxes are being used to supply religious dogma into state schools. It should cease immediately. Furthermore, those responsible should be prosecuted for misappropriation of taxpayer funds.
      Any questions?

      Commenter
      Truthy
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 10:22AM
    • adam - didn't the Lord giveth us Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, without whom there'd be no need for the cutbacks ?

      Commenter
      Hacka
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 11:08AM

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