THE ACT government’s axing of the National School Chaplaincy Program will remove more than 900 days of welfare support from the territory’s students, according to School Chaplaincy ACT CEO Peter James, who is now calling on Chief Minister Andrew Barr to “intervene and put an end to this madness”.
“My message to Andrew Barr is this – please listen to the people and reverse this nonsensical decision,” he says.
“Don’t disadvantage ACT students based on anti-religious ideology and a misunderstanding of the meaning of secular. It’s not too late to change tack and we ask you to do so for the students.”
Mr James says the ACT government has abandoned students with its ideological decision to scrap the fully-funded federal program, which will come to an end at the end of the year. Chaplains will be replaced with school employees who will be paid from existing schools budgets.
“Currently school chaplains average between 15 and 16 hours per week through the federally-funded program and community support,” he says.
“The government has stated their new program will only be for 10 hours per week, which on current figures will reduce the hours of access for student support by 4516 per year, which equates to 903 days.”
Because the funding is coming from existing school budgets, Mr James says not all schools will be able to afford to hire a new staff member, meaning some schools may not be able to replace their chaplain.
“We are being told that some schools will be faced with a choice of not hiring a support worker or replacing an existing staff member, which doesn’t help students at all,” Mr James says.
Mr James says that chaplains also play a unique role and can’t be replaced by other roles.
“Chaplains are qualified youth workers who provide social, emotional and spiritual support when needed, and our schools have many students – some from a faith background and many who are not – who request this support at difficult times in their lives,” he says.
“The fact that a chaplain works alongside other support staff but is not seen as part of the school’s authority structure is a vital part of building trust and understanding with students.”
Since the announcement of the abolishment of chaplains, students, former students, parents and others across the school community have launched a “save our school chaplains” campaign.