National School Chaplaincy Program and the letter

On Friday an email came into my inbox from the Principal of Felix’s highschool.

Dear Parents and Carers
Following the incident reported in the media today, I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you all that, as always, the safety, care and education of all our students is our highest priority and we have worked closely with the NSW Police to ensure the safety of our students in this matter.
The person who has been arrested was a religious education instructor under the School Chaplaincy Program, for a period of time in 2008 at _________ .
It is important that you know that as soon as we knew of the allegations made about this person, the school with the support of the department, acted immediately in line with departmental policy.

My stomach fell. The ABC reported on the case.

I knew that Felix was not directly affected in that he wasn’t at the school during the time of the incident BUT there are still three years of boys at the school who were.

Two thoughts immediately came to mind:

  1. Those poor poor boy(s) and their family(ies) (I am not sure of the details of the case)

I have always had deep reservations about the program mentioned in the letter – the National School Chaplaincy Program – and this has done nothing to lessen or alleviate those concerns.

The person who has been arrested was a religious education instructor under the School Chaplaincy Program

The program started in 2007 under the Howard government. A good Christian man who oversaw such events as SIEV-X, children overboard and the Tampa Affair all under the banner of “we will decide who comes to this country and how they come here.”  Prior to announcing the program in 2006, John Howard was reported on the ABC saying:

Students need the guidance of chaplains, rather than just counsellors. Yes, I am calling them chaplains because that has a particular connotation in our language, and as you know I’m not ever overwhelmed by political correctness. To call a chaplain a counsellor is to bow to political correctness. Chaplain has a particular connotation, people understand it, they know exactly what I’m talking about.

At the time it was a three-year program which was extended in 2011 and from 2012 will be called the School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program. From 1 January 2012 schools funded under the Program are able to choose the services of a school chaplain to provide pastoral care services and/or select the services of a non faith-based, or secular, student welfare worker. It is at the school’s discretion as to the faith of the chaplain.  The deparment’s website says:

The National School Chaplaincy Program supported schools and their communities to establish school chaplaincy and pastoral care services, or to enhance existing services.

This voluntary program assisted schools and their communities to support the spiritual wellbeing of students. This may have included support and guidance about ethics, values, relationships, spirituality and religious issues, the provision of pastoral care and enhanced engagement with the broader community.

Every year $222million is paid to religious organisations for chaplains to be in our state school system. The Code of Conduct for those school chaplains is a 13 point list, the 12th being:

While recognising that an individual school chaplain/student welfare worker may in good faith express views and articulate values consistent with his or her own beliefs, a school chaplain/student welfare worker must not take advantage of his or her privileged position to proselytise, evangelise or advocate for a particular view or belief.

I liken this to Gina Rinehart signing an editorial independence charter AND adhering to it. Impossible.

I do not doubt for a moment there is a plethora of good people fulfilling these roles in our school system offering all those things outlined above. But it is an absolute deal-breaker for me that those people are there as part of their religious affiliation.

It is just not appropriate for the counselling services in our state education system to be provided by religious institutions. The High Court recently found that it is unconstitutional for the government to be using its money to fund the program. There have been anecdotal reports of chaplains pushing their doctrine on students. What happens to a troubled Muslim or Jewish or Hindu student if their chaplain is not of their denomination and they don’t feel comfortable talking to that person for that reason? And on it goes.

The people employed in this program are not trained, professional teachers nor are they necessarily trained school counsellors. According to DEEWR’s FAQ on minimum requirements, if you become part of the program from 2012, the minimum requirement for a ‘chaplain’ is a Cert IV in Youth Work or Pastoral Care. The Youth Work course requires 15 hours of study a week and a period of time in work placement which can vary from 240 hours to 160.

Following a national consultation process last year, existing chaplains without the minimum qualifications [will be required] to complete two units of the Certificate IV course: Mental Health and Making Referrals. About 500 existing chaplains will have 12 months to complete the units, with the Government meeting the costs. 

I find this part of the guidelines mildly alarming (my bolding):

The Funding Recipient is responsible for determining that the school chaplain/student welfare worker has equivalent qualifications when that worker holds a different qualification but in a related field (e.g. education, psychology, social work, theology etc). The Funding recipient may exercise their own judgement when determining if their chaplain/student welfare worker has qualifications or experience that are equivalent to or exceed the minimum qualification requirements as outlined in Section 5.5 of the Program Guidelines.

What I find brain-spasmingly alarming is this document outlining exemption from the guidelines for schools in remote and regional areas. I totally get the unique challenges that exist for education in our remote and regional centres but this just strikes me as putting kids at risk or in need of help into potentially a whole new level of risk in regards to the possibilities of questionable people gaining access to kids through this program.

Someone offering counselling services to youths in a school setting must be fully qualified school counsellors. That means they are qualified teachers with a degree in psychology and postgraduate qualifications in school counselling. NO LESS. We should NOT be outsourcing this work to third party contractors whose foundation and approach comes from the basis of their religious beliefs.


And meanwhile, a person employed under this scheme sexually assaulted a boy who was attending my son’s school. Could this have happened by a teacher or aide in the school system? Of course. But this person is there to support the spiritual wellbeing of students. This may have included support and guidance about ethics, values, relationships, spirituality and religious issues, the provision of pastoral care and enhanced engagement with the broader community.

This boy has gone to that person for guidance and counselling and instead been groomed for sex by a predator.


What are your thoughts? A good program? A bad one? Misplaced good intention? I am keen to hear of positive stories as well as concerns or examples of otherwise.



Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations National School Chaplaincy Program homepage

National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program documents and guidelines

National School Chaplaincy Association




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  • Fucking appalling. I’m horrified. When our public schools need teaching resources and our teachers need support they put our money in a chaplaincy program? What madness.
    Reemski recently posted..The Arrival

  • thepixiechick

    I hate it. I think it’s unconstitutional, unnecessary, inappropriate and some weird kind of quid-pro-quo for winning votes from marginal Christian groups. Kids should have access to properly trained counsellors, not pseudo-priests. The fact that the program has been used as a platform by at least one person to sexually abuse a child or children is totally fucking reprehensible, but hey, let’s be frank, not entirely surprising. The whole thing should be binned and replaced with a suitable student welfare program staffed by people with actual qualifications in counselling and youth work. If there are difficulties getting staff to rural areas then special consideration should be given but why are adequate student services being replaced by dodgy religious substitutes and this is being funded by governments of both stripes. It stinks.

  • Linda

    government schools + religion + unqualified persons having one to one access to children in schools


    • tick tick tick BRAIN EXPLODES

      I totally get it existing under John Howard, I am BAFFLED by its existence AND expansion under Julia Gillard.

  • I have been hearing anecdotal evidence of high school children with very serious depression issues and drug/alcohol problems through friends of mine. They badly need counselling, not chaplaincy.

    Mary recently posted..Postcards Twenty

    • This breaks my heart and makes me absolutely furious.

  • I am suspicious of anyone who wants to spend time with other people’s children. Especially when they volunteer. Doubly so if they have no other reason to be there – no kids of their own in the scout group, attending the school or playing in the soccer club. Everyone knows that Other People’s Children are the devil’s spawn.

    I think it’s disgusting that there is so much money spent on bringing religion to schools. I don’t intend to put my kids in any of the scripture lessons, or encourage them to see the padre, so for me it’s time and money truly wasted. I would question what kind of advice a cloistered, religious mind could bring to the table anyway. The cash could do so much good elsewhere.
    The Accidental Housewife recently posted..Uninterruptable

    • That is a a very good point re spending time with other people’s kids. WEIRDOs.

      • Sarah McM

        I agree completely re: the chaplains issue, but I’m horrified by the comments that anyone who wants to spend time with other people’s kids is a weirdo.

        I have several kids of friends I really enjoy hanging out with – kids are not all devil’s spawn, and despite having none of my own, it’s nice to interact with them and have fun with them. That doesn’t make me a weirdo, and I doubt most of the people who enjoy the company of children are weirdos either. It’s really disturbing that you’d think that.

        • Oh no Sarah, so sorry you misconstrued it like that, we do that here, serious issue and discussion then take the piss. I think I can safely say we were being a little facetious.

  • traceyb65

    and it’s not just the chaplaincy programme … once a week, for 40 minutes, children in secular government-run schools receive Special Religious Instruction. sure, they can ‘opt out’, but for that 40 minutes they are forbidden from doing any curriculum-based work, for fear it gives them an unfair advantage over the SRI-receiving kids.

    yep, non-trained, non-accredited anybodies can enter our children’s classroom and teach them pretty much anything … and it fills me with horror! xt

    • Tracey, if all the parents refuse to allow their children to attend, then the class does not run. The class takes time away from literacy and numeracy as there is no allowance in the prescribed curriculum for SRI! Our school is in the process of phasing out the program and incorporating religious studies (of ALL religions, not just christianity) into our normal school program. Perhaps you could see if your school would be willing to do the same? We can’t refuse the program access to the school, which is ridiculous since it has nothing to do with the school, nor are they qualified teachers, but there is not much point in them coming if they have no kids to teach!

      As for what the post is actually about, I am appalled that so much money is being spent on another religious program where limited qualifications are needed, and they don’t have the same code of conduct. There will always be people that do the wrong thing, but the wider issue here is what the kids are missing out on by not having those qualified professionals. I don’t think using the reasoning that it’s hard to get those qualified people into rural and remote areas is justifiable for rolling it out across all schools.
      Kristen recently posted..Why I never pay full price for anything!

  • Leanne

    By the same token my mother is a qualified, trained counsellor….two of her children refuse to speak to her because of her non action during their abuse and repeated non action when her ‘friend’ began grooming her grand daughter, she’s no longer a ‘recovering alcoholic because “There’s only so much AA can do and I can drink responsibly now.”, she suggested my Aspergers son wear a rubber band on his wrist and snap it repeatedly to help him remember and stay on task……and so on and so on……there is always going to be one rotten bastard apple that spoils the whole fricken barrel for everyone else. I feel sick to my stomach when I think about who the hell my mother is ‘counselling’……my daughter loves her Chappy Heather….God knows they don’t get any RE in this house!
    I hear you…….I have no answers.

  • Oh no…. I disagree…. and I’ve had a glass of wine… so I’m gonna write something…. please don’t hate me, I love your blog….
    There’s no need for them to be called chaplains… not many of them are ministers that’s for sure..
    Church organisations do good work… (you know aside from exploiting the young and vulnerable) often where the gap between education and health is too wide. I think you will find the same people, doing the exact same work, just being paid more by a different body… The school ministry is a whole other ball game, that is too messed up…!! Kids learn things that a true and real in an authoritative manner at school.. a belief system been taught to a diverse group of kids is not ok with me…
    Hannah recently posted..Affirmation

  • Athiest

    Personally I think all Catholic priests are pedophiles in waiting. Secondly, I long for the day where people stop believing in religion all together. The sooner that happens the better. Every war has been waged in the name of religion, and for centuries men have been doing evil acts in the name of God. Enough already.

    • Dude…
      I’ve never meet a Catholic priest in a public school.. they have their own schools…
      Plenty of atheists have committed awful crimes…
      Hannah recently posted..Affirmation

    • Rose

      Yep sorry but on this logic all muslims are terrorists?
      But I agree that secular relious classes have NO place in our public system and I feel sick for you that this has happened – thoughts out to the families and victims

  • I’m adding this to my “reasons to home-school” list. I am terribly afraid of all that is in store for my kids once they start school.

    • Toushka, as Leanne says, there’s always one bastard rotten apple – school teachers have years of training and protocols and policies to adhere to. These people have a one year CertIV and a 13 point code of conduct. The stats show kids are actually safer at school than they are at home but I will not stand and defend a system I believe in when such a bad policy is in place.

      • Rose

        Another comment – I went to teachers college with a guy that was arrested years later for such crimes. Training, policies and protocols will not stop them. Sorry 🙁

  • This whole issue really disturbs and upsets me but I do have a young nephew who was recently able to open up to a female chaplain about living with a disabled sister despite not being able to at home. While that is one positive story I would much prefer to see that money being used for qualified psychologists without a religious agenda.
    Carli recently posted..the pick me up

  • jac

    Hate this stupid policy. Hate the compulsory religious education. And like you I can’t believe that Julia supports it so heartily… My kid is five years away from school and I pray (heh) it has all died an ignominious death by then. Surely?!

  • Rex

    I was just discussing this with my Mum the other day (she is a cousellor and art therapist). Her concern was lack of training and religious intent. Public schools should have school counsellors.

    I am in the process of writing a post about the R.E. In public primary schools. I am fairly outraged at this, as it has so many flaws. Exclusion for a start, and they ARE trying to convert them. I have no doubt, about that.

    Great, insightful post Kim.

  • Mind boggling- so many great responses here including the one about resources for supporting teachers. What about kids who think they might’ve caught The Gay? *tongue in cheek term* Where are those young people going to go- to a person whose beliefs cannot possibly be guaranteed impartial or balanced? FFS- look what happened in the Salvation Army only this week. Yes, one very rotten apple, but from the very people who are supposed to be the most caring to those in need.

  • deborah coulter

    I dont think you need to be a teacher to be a school counsellor at all.
    I think you need to have a 4 year degree in either Psychology or Social Work to be a school counsellor….

  • Juby

    For legal reasons, an “alleged” would probably be wise in “a person employed under this scheme sexually assaulted a boy.” The person has so far just been charged, not found guilty. Just saying…

  • Ric Stumpf

    Now 40 years old, I came from a school what the Principal managed to screw up 96 boys lifes. 30 years on, many are still dealing with the issues, such as how could this happen while I was safe and sound at a private primary school.

    All I can say, it happens – and will contune to happen. I support the work of Bravehearts. An orginisation that offers assistance to kids and families and campains to change laws (see Bravehearts website for more details).

    Why not support an org that dose some good. May I suggest money from the School Chaplaincy Program be directed the Braveheart?

    Ric in Yeppoon

  • I’ve always been opposed to the chaplaincy program. This incident just makes it all the more abhorrent.

    I was sitting in a cafe next to some school chaplains (one handing over to the new chaplain) a few moons back and overheard their conversation. I will add they were both women and their focus was solely on pushing religion (not grooming). They were discussing different tactics they had used including; identifying the “most vulnerable” girls as they enter high school, giving them individual invites to sessions (not sure what these were) on “expensive-looking lovely girly paper”, offering small gifts to girls you know never get anything at home, how to discuss Christianity with girls without raising the wrath of non-believer parents!

    It went on & on….I was annoyed.

    Now I’m outraged.
    Angie recently posted..Long nights

  • Imagine if the program was called the ‘school imam’ program, or the ‘school rabbi’ program. Would christian parents feel ‘included’ and that the program was really ‘just providing spiritual and psychological support’. Can you imagine Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones et al?
    Also, on a pedantic point of law, unfortunately the High Court decision did not find that the actual program, or the federal funding of such a program, was unconstitutional, but that funding it based on the purported power of s61 of the Constitution (which provides a sort of general executive power to the Commonwealth) was beyond the scope of Federal power under that section. I’m not a constitutional lawyer and happy to be corrected by someone who is, but my understanding is that what this means is that the government could pass legislation to fund the school chaplaincy program (rather than just relying on their general powers to use tax payer funds) and it would be able to continue. No doubt this would receive bipartisan support.
    Julie recently posted..The Unintentional Quilt – or quilting for non-buddists

  • this scripture teacher was also a qualified teacher who for some time was employed by the education department to teach maths at the school and possibly other schools – some fibbing by omission going on here by dept of education
    Hannah recently posted..The letter

  • Lea

    I wrote a letter of complaint this year.

    Last year it was “opt in” with a form, but I guess people are inherently lazy, so this year it was an opt-out form, and if you didn’t bother to return it, they would add $15 to your school fees and your child would learn Christianity.

    I was outraged. If religion is to be assumed, then why only one brand? Who decides this? What if i’m a buddist? What about the HUGE Jewish community at the school? Insulting. Wrong.

  • Denyse Whelan. Education Specialist

    As a. (now retired) K-6 school principal I was very wary of this “new” way of Assisting schools via a chaplaincy. I had returned to classroom teaching in 2007 to a school who had taken up the offer to employ a local pastor from a church in the area ( low socio economic area where high percentages of kids were from aboriginal heritage or that of pacific islander) and I was indeed skeptical of this. However, I was a very low on the hierarchy by then & eventually moved to a different school.
    There is no place in today’s schools for the introduction of religious practice which by its very nature divides. It is wrong to have a school community saying Christian prayers when some of the school’s children are Muslim …
    Onto the matter of School Counsellors.
    Despite the total confusion caused by the latest Liberal decision to have “local schools local decisions” there remains ..for NSW govt schools.. A minimum requirement for a school consellor ( who can work with students aged 5-18) to have these qualifications:
    – a current and appropriate teaching degree ( can be For K-6 or 7-12)
    – a minimum practice of teaching time within a school setting *
    – a qualification to meet the requesites of the Australian Board of Psychologist (or) to have a major in a degree based on Psychology
    – to have met all guidelines to become employed as a teacher in NsW schools
    – to participate in the School Counsellor Training program**

    * & **
    These two can be varied as per the most recent practices of pre-employment of new school counsellors as there are severe shortages. In other words, a person who has the teaching qualification, may enter into the training program at the same time he/she is completely the minimum teaching requirements.

    How do I know this? Apart from the fact, it’s in my area of expertise…the education specialist….my son aged 33 got into the world of academia late..and now is awaiting his news of acceptance of full registration as a psychologist. This has taken him 6 years of study & work practices. To gain the qualification to be eligible to be a school counsellor, he’s now 2/3 way through BEd & has completed one period of 5 weeks of a 10 week practice. He has to do pracs without any pay. He had to leave his employment as an admissions officer in a psychiatric hospital to fulfil the prac requirements

    Why would a married man with a mortgage and 2 pre school kids do this? He believes in working with the adolesents in schools to help them see the way they can make things work for them. He was “that adolesecent” in Year 11 who dropped,out. So I wish him well. He has a road to travel yet.

    I for one am pleased that this is a requirement to have two degrees- teaching and psychology – to be a school counsellor in NSW state schools. I believe that there is not teaching qual required within many of the private schools.

    Sorry Kim .. Have taken a post to comment but felt it worthwhile to inform (I hope!) cheers Denyse
    Denyse Whelan. Education Specialist recently posted..Take A Stand, Parents! Be Thankful To Do So.

  • I have been opposed to the National School Chaplaincy Program and the letter above explains why. Paedophiles are attracted to places with children. I’m a teacher and psychotherapist, and as Denyse says above, there is years of study involved. We need qualified counsellors, not school chaplains.
    I wrote The Hon. Michael Kirby’s views about it here:
    I rang @PGarrettMP’s office about my opposition to the #NSCP, because school chaplaincy falls into his portfolio. I was told to email and that I’d get a reply.