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The Need For School Chaplains

Our children and young people need help

More than ever before, Australian children are experiencing family problems, confusing relationships, friendship issues, peer pressure, self-esteem issues, bullying and depression.

Our teenagers have their own unique issues. Teenage abortion rates are too high. Teenagers are binge drinking more than ever. More young people today are self-harming. Too many young people are experiencing mental health problems. (See statistics below)

At certain times in their lives, children and young people of all ages will feel lonely, hopeless, confused, misunderstood and helpless. In all of these times, the guidance of a mature, caring and supportive adult can greatly assist a child’s capacity to cope.

In Australian schools today, there are a variety of welfare services available to students. The services of our nation’s school chaplains complement other services in schools, such as those offered by guidance officers, counsellors, youth support coordinators, nurses and police officers.

School chaplains are part of the solution

The authors of The Millennial Adolescent (ACER Press, 2007), N Bahr and D Pendergast, have stated: “People who have had a strong connection with a strong positive role model during adolescence are much more resilient throughout their life.”

More than ever, our children and young people need positive role models and strong values. As adults, we want our kids to develop skills and strategies to break negative cycles in their lives.

That’s why our children and young people need school chaplains.

School chaplains are unique:

  • They are a support conduit – connecting students (and school staff) to specialist services in the community such as welfare groups, counselling services, medical services and community groups in consultation with School Principals.
  • They build relationships with students (and staff). They are a trusted adult in the playground and in the classroom – offering a listening ear to students who want to share their problems and experiences.
  • Their role is to contribute to the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of the school community.
  • They are seen by students as an adult who is not a part of the school’s authority structure.

What do school chaplains do?

SU QLD chaplains provide spiritual and emotional support to school communities. They are in the prevention and support business: helping students find a better way to deal with issues ranging from family breakdown and loneliness to drug abuse, depression and suicide. They provide a listening ear and a caring presence for kids in crisis and those who just need a friend. They also provide support for staff and parents in school communities.

Schools overwhelmingly approve school chaplaincy


School chaplaincy valued:
A 2009 national study into the effectiveness of chaplaincy in government schools found that:

  • 98% of principals surveyed said that chaplaincy was making a major contribution to school morale; it was proactive, unique, effective and important.
  • 92% of principals surveyed felt it was highly important to continue to have a chaplain serving in their schools;
  • 73% of students surveyed felt their chaplain was highly important in the school. In talking about what was most important about the chaplain, many students referred to the chaplain’s accessibility; Most staff and parents interviewed were concerned about whether there would be ongoing government funding for chaplains.

Major issues school chaplains deal with: In the two weeks prior to the survey,

  • 92.5% of chaplains reported dealing with bullying and harassment;
  • 92% of chaplains reported dealing with peer relationships and loneliness;
  • 91% of chaplains reported dealing with family relationships;
  • 85% of chaplains reported dealing with students’ sense of purpose and self-esteem.

The special contribution of school chaplaincy: The research found the contribution of chaplains to school welfare was unique in a number of ways. They worked proactively to enhance students wellbeing, rather than responding to problems that arise. Students see them as different from other school staff, as ‘neutral’ or ‘non-aligned’, partly because they do not have a teaching or disciplinary role. Chaplains approach welfare holistically, working with families and communities as well as individual students.

Research: This 2009 national study of the effectiveness of chaplaincy in government schools was undertaken for the National School Chaplaincy Association (NSCA) by Dr Philip Hughes of Edith Cowan University and Prof Margaret Sims of the University of New England.

You can read more about the findings in the Effectiveness of School Chaplaincy Brief.

The Importance of Spiritual Wellbeing in Education

Spirituality can be understood to be a connection between people and the divine, other people and the world around them. For decades, the Youth Work field and other Human Services fields have not been sure of what to do with spirituality. As a result, they have largely carved it out of their models used to engage with young people and their wellbeing. But there is growing realisation of how important spirituality is to the overall mental health and wellbeing of young people.

Chaplaincy places a high value on spirituality and as such, is an expression of truly holistic Youth Work practice, valuing the place of spirituality in the lives of young people and maximising the benefits of positive spirituality for their overall wellbeing.

In 2006, the Department of Education South Australia released a Spiritual Well-being and Education Discussion Paper which concluded:

"The spiritual is always present in public education whether we acknowledge it or not. Spiritual questions, rightly understood are embedded in every discipline, from health to history, physics to psychology, entomology and English. Spirituality — the human quest for connectedness — is not something that needs to be 'brought into' or 'added into' the curriculum. It is at the heart of every subject we teach, where it waits to be brought forth."

You can read more in our School Chaplaincy and the Wellbeing of Young People white paper.

SU QLD's Role in Inclusivity and gender diversity

Queensland's Department of Education and Training (DET) has a policy of inclusivity that seeks to ensure "that schools are supportive and engaging places for all school community members"1, including in supporting the wellbeing of students dealing with sexuality and gender identity issues.

We promote a supportive environment in schools through our school chaplaincy services.

Our work is pastoral: We provide a safe environment in which children and young people can work through any issues or concerns they may have. Our role is to support, not to judge.

Our work is holistic: We support all young people, in all their dimensions - personal, relational, local community and societal.

Our work is compassionate: We understand that some young people dealing with sexuality and gender identity issues have negative life outcomes on par with the other most disadvantaged young people groups. We have a particular interest in helping all young people achieve positive life outcomes.

Our work is spiritual: We acknowledge that those wrestling with sexuality and gender identity issues face difficulties. We do not seek to impose a particular theological view on young people. We think all young people should have opportunities, without coercion or manipulation, to explore and form views on spirituality: their relationships with God, others and the world around them.

Our work is collaborative: We work with others for positive life outcomes for young people.

Australia Youth Statistics

More and more young people today are self-harming. Between 1996-97 and 2005-06, the hospitalisation rate for intentional self-harm among young people increased by 43%, from 138 per 100,000 to 197 per 100,000. The percentage increase was greater among females than males (51% compared with 27%), and the female rate was consistently at least twice as high as for males over this period (2.5 times in 2005–06). (Eldrige, D. (2008). Injury among young Australians. AIWH bulletin series no. 60. Cat. no. AUS 102. Canberra: AIWH.)

Teenage abortion rates are high. Australia has unacceptably high teenage pregnancy and abortion rates in comparison to many other developed countries. About 36 out of 1,000 young women aged 15–19 become pregnant. Fifteen out of 1,000 give birth (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2008) Australia’s health 2008. Cat. No. AUS 99, Canberra:AIHW) and close to 21 out of 1000 abort their child (AIHW National Perinatal Statistics Unit (2005) Perinatal Statistics Series No. 17, Canberra:AIHW).

Australian secondary students are binge drinking more than ever. In 2008 about 30% of Year 10 students said they had experienced three or more binge drinking episodes over the last two weeks. That’s an increase of 9% over six years. 53% of male Year 12 students said they had experienced three or more binge drinking episodes over the last two weeks. Remarkably, 60% of Year 12 girls admitted they had experienced three or more binge drinking episodes over the last two weeks. (4th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students, HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health, 2008)

Too many young people are experiencing mental health problems. 14% of Australian children and adolescents aged 4-17 years have mental health problems. And depression is one of the most common mental health problems in young people. (http://www.mindframe-media.info/site/index.cfm?display=86529)

Dispelling Myths & Answering Questions

  • Hasn't the High Court already stopped school chaplaincy?
  • Will the current High Court decision mean the end of federal funding?
  • Aren't school chaplains just out to convert students to religion?
  • Are school chaplains qualified?
  • Shouldn't the federal money be spent on psychologists instead?
  • Why does this need to be done by religious workers?
  • Why is this relevant in a schools context — isn't it something for home?
  • How can a chaplain support students with issues of sexuality, drug use or pregnancy?
  • How can the federal government spend $
  • million on this?
  • Aren't government schools meant to be secular?
  • I thought no-one wanted school chaplaincy
  • Does my child have a choice about school chaplaincy?

You can read answers to all these questions in our PDF document.


  1. Inclusive education policy statement at http://education.qld.gov.au/schools/inclusive/index.html, accessed 28 April 2015.

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