This is the Program You Want To Cut?

Governments are good at introducing programs that go nowhere and cost the taxpayer a fortune, but rarely institute a program that actually contributes positively to schools.  The schools chaplaincy program which offers pastoral care for students in need is a great initiative.  It gives schools the funding to employ a counselor or pastor to assist with students who require help with anxiety, personal, academic or social issues.

Surely a program like this would be a candidate for increased funding, right?  Well, apparently not:

THE schools chaplaincy program is being investigated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman after a highly critical report of its operation in the Northern Territory. At the same time, a High Court challenge has been launched by critics of the scheme to which successive federal governments have committed $437 million.

Critics don’t like the fact that such a large proportion of the pastors are Christian.  They argue that such a service undermines the separation of church and state.  Although most of the chaplains are Christian, some like the one working in my school are not.  The fact that such a large proportion is Christian has no bearing on the opportunity for a given school to use the grant to get a non-religious counsellor.

Critics also point to the fact that these pastors are not qualified.  To fund qualified counselors in 3700 schools would cost considerably more than the $437 million already invested in the scheme.  At least it’s something.  It may not be a Rolls Royce scheme but I can testify to its effectiveness.  Yes there are concerns of unqualified counselors having access to personal information, which is why my school makes the teacher and parents fill out forms before our Wellbeing Officer can start taking sessions.  It is up to the school to ensure that the parents are informed and co-operative not the Government.

The likelihood is that this program will be scrapped.  If so, I think it should be replaced with an even better version of the same thing.  Chances are, it will be replaced with something more costly and completely ineffective.

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7 Responses to “This is the Program You Want To Cut?”

  1. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    The mere use of the term “pastor” would kill such a program in the US—separation of church and state is fundamental here.

    How much time is the $437 million spread over? It would seem to me that $118k a year is more than enough to hire a qualified counselor.

  2. melodydemone Says:

    it’s so refreshing reading your work, you’re obviously passionate about what you do (hence the name obviously) but it really comes across in your writing, thanks for being a light in the dark world of the scool system. I know you will help many children to unlock there tremendous potential and see them shine 🙂

  3. Sally07 Says:

    Our school has had a number of chaplains. They have contributed really well to our curriculum and the well being of the students except one. I would have been a sceptic, but the chaplains have some really good people skills and good contacts. It helps keep students safe but it also helps build good attitudes. Our chaplains try and encourage a spirituality as such not just one religion.

  4. Gene Tunny Says:

    Michael, my feeling is that the program is reasonably safe, given it enjoys bipartisan support from Labor and the Coalition, and, as you point out, it’s much cheaper than the alternative of funding qualified counsellors. Also Simon Crean backed its extension to 2014 during the election campaign (http://www.alp.org.au/blogs/alp-blog/august-2010/the-national-school-chaplaincy-program/). Of course, there may have to be a few administrative tweaks to the program, involving oversight and reporting, in response to any adverse findings by the Ombudsman.

    The High Court challenge will most likely fail. The Court has been reluctant in recent years to constrain the policy making ability of the Commonwealth Government and has taken a broad reading of the Constitution.

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