You may have some questions about School Chaplaincy. Here are some of the more common questions people ask. Many of these responses are drawn from: Peter James & Steve Forward. © Scripture Union Queensland, 2014. All rights reserved.
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No. Chaplains are required to be non-judgmental, non-coercive and support all students regardless of the student’s issues or worldview. If they fail in this, they answer to the school, the relevant state/territory education department, the federal government and their employer.
Every school chaplain signs a binding national code of conduct, with serious disciplinary consequences if it is contravened. If there is a problem, it is dealt with swiftly and decisively.
The national rate is 13 complaints of proselytising per annum (three year average). With 2,900 schools having chaplains, the rate of proselytising complaints is 0.4 per cent per annum, and has been declining year on year. In 2013, there was one complaint nationally.3
3 These are government figures supplied at the Senate estimates hearing on 4 June 2014, reported at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/09/ complaints-about-school-chaplaincy-programme-on-the-decline-figures-show (accessed 14 June 2014).
Yes. All school chaplains hold qualifications in youth work, community work or other relevant disciplines, to at least a Certificate IV level under a nationally recognised standard. Most school chaplains exceed that and many hold higher-level degree qualifications.
Student welfare workers are not social workers. They are held to the same standard of qualification as school chaplains (Certificate IV level or greater)
School chaplains and psychologists perform different, but complementary, functions.
Mental health issues are tragically high among young people. Clearly, some need the help of mental health professionals for treatment and case management. Some young people need treatment, but all young people need support to avoid mental health issues arising in the first place — prevention for all, treatment for some.
Young people get this support from their school chaplain — a trusted, caring and affirming presence in school, with time and training to listen and support appropriately, as well as to run programmes to develop self-esteem, grow peer support, deal with grief and loss and build personal resilience.
All chaplains are trained to a nationally recognised standard in how to recognise mental health issues in young people and to refer appropriately to other care professionals.
In mental health terms, school chaplaincy works towards promoting protective factors, engaging in activities that are preventive and assisting with early intervention and referral, a so-called PPEI model of care.
This complements the role of psychologists in providing treatment and continuing care.
It is this model relied on in the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care (2000).
The role of school chaplain is to provide social, emotional and spiritual support to students, regardless of whether the student has a particular faith.
Chaplaincy is non-coercive, but it recognises the importance of spirituality for young people. Promoting positive spirituality for children and young people is important for their overall development.5 This is recognised in state education department wellbeing frameworks.
Spirituality is not meant to be something strange or foreign to us, but something vital that pulls together the various facets of our lives in meaningful ways. Spirituality is about a way of seeing the world and, even more importantly, being in the world. Positive spirituality has been shown to contribute to positive health and wellbeing, recovery from illness, and long life.6
School chaplains engage around questions of beliefs, values and ethics; help students explore spiritual identity; provide a spiritual / religious perspective on relevant issues; liaise with local spiritual and religious groups; and support students and the school community in times of grief and loss when some of the big questions of life arise for them. Chaplains ensure that spirituality is not forgotten as an essential part of people’s overall wellbeing.
5 The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals, which is foundational in the Australian Education system, recognises the importance of spirituality in the holistic development of children and young people. Ministerial Council on Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs, Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians (MCEECDYA, 2008), p4.
6 Cornah, D. (2006), The Impact of Spirituality on Mental Health: A Review of the Literature. London: Mental Health Foundation.
Several studies around the world have shown that a school-based resource which focuses on social, emotional and spiritual support, as school chaplaincy does, has positive educational impacts, including significantly improved academic achievement.7
7 Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor & Schellinger (2011), The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of schoolbased universal interventions, Child Development, 82(1), pp405–432.
School chaplains support many students with these issues. The school chaplaincy role is about being caring, supportive and non-judgmental. Chaplains are there to help practically, not condemn. That is part of the binding national code of conduct — with serious disciplinary consequences if it is contravened.
The total federal funding is spread across 4 years from 2015, and is for 2,900 schools. That equates to $20,000 per school per annum, with an additional $4,000 for schools in remote areas.
From 2015, the new programme reduces the number of funded places by 20%, delivering to the government a saving of approximately $14.7 million per annum, or $58.8 million over the life of the programme.
Australian schools aspire to create ‘successful learners … [who] are able to make sense of their world … [and] manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing … [who are] active and informed citizens … [who] appreciate Australia’s social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, … history and culture’.8
This requires a school environment where all views of religion — atheism as well as faiths — can coexist respectfully and with mutual understanding. That is not achieved by denying a student the opportunity to explore spirituality, nor by relegating spirituality solely to home life. This is recognised by the Australian Human Rights Commission9 and by the European Court of Human Rights:
“Neutrality requires a pluralist approach on the part of the State, not a secularist one. It encourages respect for all worldviews rather than a preference for one. … A preference for secularism over alternative world views — whether religious, philosophical or otherwise — is not a neutral option.”10
8 Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians (MCEECDYA, 2008), p8–9.
9 Australian Human Rights Commission (2011), Freedom of religion and belief in 21st Century Australia, p80. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/ default/fi les/content/frb/Report_2011.pdf (Accessed at 14 June 2014).
10 Lautsi v Italy, Appl. No. 30814/06, Grand Chamber (18 March 2011), per Judge Power.
Participation in the school chaplaincy programme is voluntary. 2,900 schools have chosen to have a chaplain, after a process of consultation within the school community. If more funding was available, many more schools would seek a school chaplain.
There have been two university studies, in 2009 and 2012, which demonstrate that schools overwhelmingly value the role their school chaplains perform.
The most recent study looked at a wide group of stakeholders including school principals, teachers, parents (including regional indigenous parents), students, psychologists and professional associations such as primary and secondary school associations, Parents and Citizens Associations and the Department of Education in Western Australia. In that group, 96 per cent of respondents supported the work of school chaplains and agreed that the chaplains’ work as members of a student support services team was valued.11
In that study, among school staff (including principals and teachers):
- 82 per cent indicated that the social and emotional support provided by school chaplains to students had a considerable positive impact;
- 83 per cent indicated that school chaplains helped to build up students’ confi dence to a considerable extent;
- 72 per cent considered the programmes that the school chaplains ran helped to develop students’ self-esteem;
- 80 per cent responded that students from culturally and linguistically diverse communities were assisted; and
- 81 per cent concluded that students who were experiencing grief and loss or facing relationship difficulties were helped.
11 A 30–month longitudinal study of school chaplaincy by the Research Centre for Vulnerable Children and Families at the University of Western Australia, led by Associate Professor Maria Harries OA: Harries, Cant, Lavery, Philips and Di Risio, Evaluation of YouthCARE Chaplaincy Service in Western Australia, University of Western Australia, 2012, ch4. At http://www.youthcare.org.au/images/Evaluation_of_YouthCARE_Chap_Serv__WA_2012.pdf (accessed 27 May 2014).
Student participation in any religious aspects of the school chaplaincy programme requires consent, so that parents and students have a choice. Chaplains also help schools deliver non-religious wellbeing programmes to build a positive school environment and to promote social skills and connectedness of students.
Thousands of students every day benefit from the care and support of school chaplains.