Gladstone's school chaplains are pleased to hear the National School Chaplaincy Program has been funded for the next four years and their work can continue.
Gladstone's school chaplains are pleased to hear the National School Chaplaincy Program has been funded for the next four years and their work can continue. Contributed

Gladstone's school chaplains welcome funding certainty

GLADSTONE'S school chaplains have welcomed the inclusion in the Federal Budget of $247 million over the next four years to continue the National School Chaplaincy Program.

The funding is intended to allow the program to operate on a permanent basis, according to the budget papers, with "a special new anti-bullying focus".

Students at 18 schools in the Gladstone school district currently receive pastoral care from 12 school chaplains through the program.

Gladstone District Schools Chaplaincy Committee chairwoman Kate Frost said the 12 chaplains were "relieved and very grateful" to hear about the funding, which she expected would allow the program to continue at its current level.

"Based on our feedback, from not just students but their families, the program really helps them to feel supported and become more confident, more resilient," Ms Frost said.

"Our chaplains are different from school counsellors or guidance officers but they are professionally trained and they offer care and support through things like losing a parent, families going through divorce, or other difficult circumstances."

Under the new program, school chaplains will also be required to undertake cyber-bullying training - something Ms Frost said Gladstone's chaplains had already been dealing with for a long time.

"I do feel like it has become a bigger part of what (chaplains) are dealing with," she said.

"Our chaplains offer a lot of early intervention and prevention, and in some cases they perform roles like referring children on to counsellors.

"It's all part of the bigger school caring network."

The decision to fund the program for four more years has not been uniformly well received, with secular groups including the Australian Education Union decrying the spending in a sector often seen as underfunded across the board.

Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools spokeswoman Alison Courtice said the fact chaplains had to come from a religious background meant the program could not be claimed to be prioritising the needs of students.

"At the very least, any program should never have a religious requirement for a role in a public school; qualifications and experience should be the criteria," Ms Courtice said.

"We do not see that a person of faith will perform an anti-bullying role any better than a person without religious faith."

Ms Courtice acknowledged some schools might still see themselves as better off with a chaplain - depending on the chaplain and the needs of the school - than without one.

"Recent debate highlights that public schools in particular are resource poor," she said.

"It is understandable that they would avail themselves of any support that is offered."