Supporting our Students

9 August, 2023
The National School Chaplaincy Program has supported the wellbeing of students and school communities since its establishment in 2006. The program supports more than 3,000 school communities each year. The National School Chaplaincy Program has played a valuable role in supporting student wellbeing in school communities in a variety of ways, adapting delivery for both the student and the school environment. Each school has bespoke arrangements, often determined by need, location and the sociodemographic make-up of the community. Types of offerings are far reaching and can include individual student support, breakfast clubs, simply checking with students during lunch breaks or even joining a game of soccer. There is indirect support as well, with services for the broader school community, teachers, support admin staff, parents, carers and families.

A recent review of the program found that chaplains simply being present is critical because they can create a more safe and supportive school environment; identify and respond to wellbeing issues early—for example, identifying behavioural or social issues and helping students with strategies to overcome them—empower students by providing them with encouragement, advice and strategies; build relationships with students; provide a stable and consistent adult figure or role model; and be available for students by acting as an approachable go-to person that is viewed as separate from other staff.

Students have faced significant pressures over recent years, from natural disasters to the COVID pandemic and extended state lockdowns. We're seeing a decline in student participation in sporting activities and community events, exacerbating social isolation and loneliness. There was a report yesterday that found that—as reported on 3AW, which drew my attention to it—loneliness is a factor across our society, but the report found it was most prevalent in 14- to 24-year-olds. They had the biggest problem with loneliness, and it talks about that isolation. The number of young people experiencing mental health challenges has also risen over recent years, from one in five children to one in four. The current cost-of-living pressures being faced by families across the country only exacerbate that pressure and highlight the need for more of these trusted services like the National School Chaplaincy Program.

One of the key measures in the budget for students is the student wellbeing boost, a Labor election commitment. Before the election, the Prime Minister promised that this would fund school counsellors and psychologists, with extra funding for camps and excursions, as well as sporting and social activities, that improve children's wellbeing. The total commitment of the package was $203.7 million over two years, and this included $10.8 million to develop a mental health check tool. This left $192.9 million to deliver mental health and wellbeing support services to students. The department advised that there are around 4,046,000 primary and secondary students in Australia. If you deduct that $10.8 million, which is going to be used to develop a mental health check tool, this leaves around $47.67 per student. What sort of wellbeing boost can be delivered for $48?

More than 10,000 public submissions were made to the government. A high proportion of respondents—25 per cent—were parents and guardians, 14 per cent were other members of the public and 14 per cent were teachers. More than 43 per cent of respondents to the survey were based in Queensland, and 74 per cent of those were not school based stakeholders. The evaluation found that the National School Chaplaincy Program allowed a holistic approach to wellbeing, meaning chaplains could work alongside students and others to identify and respond to different wellbeing needs. This means chaplains can identify and respond to all wellbeing needs—mental, physical, social, spiritual, intellectual and economic. It's a great program.

We had a chaplain at school. I went to a church based school. Our chaplain was a popular member of the staff contingent, and I remember with fondness his ability to move easily amongst the students.
This program has been an excellent program, and I expect the government will continue on in support of students at this time when they've never ever needed this program more than they do today.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Archer):
Is there a seconder for the motion?

Mr Wallace:
I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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