Questions & Answers
School communities know and support the vital work school chaplains do. Others may have questions or wonder why so many schools across Australia choose to have a chaplain. Here are the facts behind the National School Chaplaincy Program.
What are the benefits to students and schools from chaplaincy?
Chaplaincy makes a positive difference in the lives of students and is widely considered to be an outstanding model of holistic care and welfare, as it provides emotional, social and spiritual support. As an important part of the wider student welfare support team, they deliver compassionate and informal pastoral and practical support, primarily by role modelling, mentoring, and establishing caring, consistent, and ongoing relationships. School chaplains take a holistic approach nurturing the wellbeing of the whole school community – students, staff and families.
Why does the government provide funding for school chaplains?
Schools support the wellbeing, values and spirituality of young people, and chaplains play a significant role in many schools throughout Australia, including government schools. The Australian Government established the National School Chaplaincy Program following calls for chaplaincy services to be more broadly available to school communities. The Program provides social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing support to school communities nationally.
Is it compulsory for school communities to participate in the Program?
No. Participation in the Program is voluntary and school communities decide if they want to apply for funding. Schools that apply need to demonstrate evidence of consultation with and support from their broader school community.
Do schools want chaplains?
Overwhelmingly yes. The program has never been more in demand because schools understand the purpose of chaplains and the results they bring. At the moment across Australia more than 3000 schools have chosen to participate and this is continually increasing. This highlights the value of chaplains.
Is chaplaincy effective?
An independent study completed in 2022 demonstrates that Australia’s school chaplaincy program contributes to internationally recognised youth wellbeing outcomes. The study, conducted over four years by academics attached to the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Social Policy Practice Research and Development considered student wellbeing outcomes chaplains achieve for government schools. The study found:
- 78% of respondents felt that chaplains had made a positive impact on their students’ health;
- 87% felt that chaplains had made a positive impact on their student’s sense of being valued, loved and safe;
- 81% felt that chaplains had made a positive impact on their students’ participation;
- 75% felt that chaplains had made a positive impact on their students’ sense of culture and identity.
To read more about the study and the results, go to https://schoolchaplaincy.org.au/nsca-chaplaincy-outcomes-evaluation-report/
Do all students in a participating school have to be involved?
No. It is not compulsory for students to participate. Schools must ensure that students and parents understand the voluntary nature of the Program and have the option of whether to utilise the services of a school chaplain. Interaction with a chaplain is completely at the discretion of the student and their family.
Are chaplains qualified?
Chaplains are fully qualified in the youth work model of care, and within this model chaplains are trained to national standards in how to recognise mental health issues, and how to ensure students with such issues connect with other care professionals. Many times students need someone they can talk to in a less structured setting, and the results of this study show how important this is to wellbeing. Three in four (74%) chaplains exceed the minimum qualification level of Cert. IV across Youth Work, Social Work, Psychology, Counselling, Education, Ministry/Theology and other disciplines. Chaplains are also trained to a nationally recognised standard in how to recognise mental health issues, and how to ensure students with such issues connect with other care professionals, including psychologists. They have completed training to manage cyber-bullying, provided by the eSafety Commission.
What is the difference between a school chaplain and a psychologist or counsellor?
School chaplains work in partnership with other caring professionals in the wider school community like counsellors and psychologists, yet have a unique and distinctive role. They serve the community in a “first-response capacity” by providing pastoral care, social, emotional and spiritual support and referral to specialist crisis support if needed. They are well placed to do this because they are approachable and accessible, having a neutral, rather than disciplinary role. This accessibility often enables them to be made aware of situations early, allowing them to provide effective referrals to other professionals.
Are the services of the chaplain directed to support only students, or does the chaplain support staff as well?
School chaplains are available to support the whole school community, including students, staff, and where necessary parents and other family members.
Do chaplains have a role in religious education?
No. School chaplains do not provide formal religious education nor do they impose their religious beliefs on students, staff or the wider community, or seek to “convert” them. Chaplains are prohibited from proselytising. They do however support and facilitate spiritual wellbeing for those who request it.
Why do chaplains have a faith-based background?
The learning and wellbeing framework for schools recognises the importance of social, emotional and spiritual support in achieving student wellbeing and educational outcomes, and chaplaincy provides this. Chaplains help students consider spirituality safely, and respect the student’s own and family’s faith background and wishes. Working with a chaplain is voluntary and the procedures that secure that are long-standing and proven. Chaplains don’t initiate spiritual conversations but are qualified to respond when asked. The spiritual support chaplains bring is essential to education and can’t be duplicated by secular support workers. 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.
Aren’t schools supposed to be secular?
Secular does not mean removing the rights of students to explore spirituality, and equally doesn’t mean the total exclusion of all things religious. A young person’s spirituality involves issues of human rights. Denying the opportunity for that nurture in a school environment would be a serious concern (Australian Human Rights Commission 2011 – “religion in a civil society cannot be ignored….nor can it be relegated to the margins).
A school environment is one 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. (Australian Human Rights Commission – “A preference for secularism over alternative world views—whether religious, philosophical or otherwise—is not a neutral option.”). Society doesn’t demand freedom from religious thought, rather we need the freedom to explore and decide in a supportive, non-coercive, safe environment. School chaplains provide this.