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.