Our children and young people need help
More than ever before, young people in Australia are experiencing family problems, confusing relationships, friendship issues, peer pressure, self-esteem issues, bullying and depression. Children of all ages at certain times will feel lonely, hopeless, confused, misunderstood and helpless. And our teenagers have their own unique issues; with abortion rates, binge drinking, self-harm, and mental health problems on the increase.
In all of these times, the guidance of a mature, caring and supportive adult can greatly assist a young person’s capacity to cope.
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.”
Our children and young people, more than ever, 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 well-being of the school community.
- They are seen by students as an adult who is not a part of the school’s authority structure.
Our chaplains play an invaluable role within a school community, working with other school staff to provide:
1. Social and emotional support
Chaplains provide proactive pastoral care for students, staff and parents, helping to create a positive and safe school environment and looking out for those in need. They support students and the school community through bereavement, difficult family and peer relationships, and other life difficulties that confront children and young people.
2. Spiritual support
Chaplains provide an additional dimension to a school’s care by supporting the spiritual needs of students, regardless of their faith or beliefs. For students and families who seek it, chaplains can help them explore their worldview in a safe and respectful way.
3. Community development
Chaplains help to build strong links between the school and the wider community. By networking with school staff, local churches and community-based organisations, chaplains help to mobilise the resources of the community to support students’ needs.
4. Mentoring and role modelling
Chaplains act as role models for students, assisting them to develop positive and supportive relationships. Chaplains may also implement mentoring programs, utilising resources and volunteers from the local community.
5. Educational support
Chaplains support the learning environment through classroom activities (under the direction of teachers) and other structured programs in order to provide further social, emotional or spiritual support, particularly with students at risk of disengagement.
6. Extra curricular activities
Chaplains contribute to building a positive school environment by participating in general school activities, excursions, sports days, camps and other holiday activities.
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 school;
- 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 The Effectiveness of Chaplaincy.
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 well-being. But there is growing realisation of how important spirituality is to the overall mental health and well-being 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 well-being.
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.”
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. Fourteen per cent of Australian children and adolescents aged 4-17 have mental health or behavioral problems. (http://himh.clients.squiz.net/mindframe/for-courts/facts-and-stats/facts-and-stats#sthash.Pm5jAU45.dpuf)
There has been a ﬂurry of discussion in the media about school chaplaincy following the May federal budget — a lot of discussion, but also a lot of misinformation. Here are the facts:
Answers about chaplaincy:
School Chaplaincy: Dispelling Myths and Answering Questions