Ombudsman happy with chaplaincy program changes
The Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman Alison Larkins has confirmed her office is satisfied that the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) has confirmed with recommendations relating to the school chaplaincy program.
“DEEWR has made a significant effort to reform its administration of the newly-named National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program,” Ms Larkins said.
“The program has been expanded to allow schools to engage welfare workers, as well as chaplains, all of whom must now hold or be working towards a minimum qualification in youth work, pastoral care or an equivalent discipline.
“And new internal guidelines have been developed that require more rigorous assessment of applicants and provide greater clarity in relation to child protection issues and police checks.”
Some of the problems highlighted by the Ombudsman’s investigation involved processes for gaining parental consent for children to participate in the program, funding agreements and complaint handling.
Since then, DEEWR has responded by:
- agreeing to develop and provide to parents relevant information about the program
- clarifying its expectations about what constitutes adequate consultation with the school community and consent processes
- creating a service agreement between funding recipients and schools to ensure that: all key participants in the program are accountable; protection of children and parental rights is central to the administration of the program; schools manage the program in accordance with the guidelines; and consistent national monitoring of the program can be undertaken by schools and DEEWR officials
- amending and expanding the program’s code of conduct
- reviewing complaint-handling procedures and auditing the operation of new procedures.
Ms Larkins said that an outstanding issue was the lack of a direct definition of the term ‘pastoral care’ in the guidelines. In response, DEEWR agreed to address this issue in the near future to alleviate confusion regarding what is meant by the term.