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New revelations raise questions about school chaplains programme

New revelations about the problems within the National School Chaplaincy Programme by ABC-TV's 7:30 last night reinforce the need for the scheme to be overhauled, the Australian Greens said today.

"The Greens want to see the chaplaincy programme replaced with a student support programme using people with relevant qualifications to meet the needs of students," Greens' education spokesperson, Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young, said.

"The primary concern should be the qualifications of staff, not whether they belong to a religious group, as is the case with the present guidelines."

Schools have to show the Education Department that they have tried all possible avenues to find a chaplain of a religious background, and it's only after they can prove that one is not available that the department allows them to appoint a secular person in a pastoral role.

"$222m of taxpayers' money is going to be spent on extending the programme over the next four years, yet we put more emphasis on somebody's religious background than we do on the appropriate skills for support and working with children and young people," Sen. Hanson-Young said.

During estimates hearings earlier this month, the Greens confirmed that there were no minimum qualifications required for participants in chaplaincy programme, which the Federal Government intends to expand in the 2011-12 budget before a review into the programme is finished.

"Larger chaplaincy provider groups set their own minimum criteria, but with no minimum standards required by the Federal government, students needing help for their particular query, such as bullying or sexuality, won't get the support they need from an appropriately-qualified person," Sen. Hanson-Young said.

"The $222m the government has earmarked for expanding the programme would be better spent if it was given to schools directly so they can offer support services that students want, not what the department insists is best.

"A school may decide they want to hire a qualified and secular counsellor or youth coordinator or someone who has experience liaising with different service groups. Ultimately, it should be the school community's decision to appoint someone according to an essential criteria of qualifications."

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