Call for end to chaplains’ role amid fears for children

THE controversial school chaplaincy program should be scrapped and replaced with a student counselling scheme, according to the head of a local parents’ association.

Just hours after a High Court ruling blocked federal funding to the chaplaincy program, New England P&C president Rachael Sowden yesterday urged the government to continue it in a different guise.

Queensland father-of-six Ron Williams launched the action in the High Court, saying there was no place in public schools for non-secular programs.

The decision could jeopardise the federal government’s decision in the budget to allocate $245.3 million to continue running the chaplaincy program for another five years.

“Under 30 per cent of Australians profess a faith and a number of parents are concerned about school chaplains,” Mrs Sowden said. “The P&C isn’t against chaplains but we believe pastoral care is a better option. “Should we be allowing vulnerable children to be counselled by a chaplain if their family has chosen not to send them to a faith-based school?”

She said the money would be better spent employing professional counsellors to assist children in public schools.

Former Westdale Public School principal Adele Mazoudier backed the P&C’s calls.

“A major focus for schools is the welfare of students,” Mrs Mazoudier said.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a chaplain but somebody with the capacity and compassion to be there for students.

“Schools are increasingly having to pick up the role of moral guidance for children and there’s a role for a professional person to do that.”

Armidale-based Greens spokesman Pat Schultz said it was “beyond belief” the government would restrict funding to chaplains, rather than other mental health professionals.

“I totally disagree with the government spending money on religious people professing to be counsellors,” Mrs Schulz said.

“Professional counsellors are available to be employed. Why would anyone assume a religious leader is the right person to counsel children is beyond belief.”

Children’s welfare should come before politics. See Editorial.

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