Chaplaincy fund changes cut out social worker jobs

Ravenswood Heights Primary School chaplain Cecily Rosol with pupils Luca Blyth, Zadhara Bennett and Ella Bennett. Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS

Ravenswood Heights Primary School chaplain Cecily Rosol with pupils Luca Blyth, Zadhara Bennett and Ella Bennett. Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS

UNCERTAINTY surrounds the future of Tasmania's secular student social workers - with a lack of choice causing unease over changes to school chaplaincy funding.

From January 1, the federally funded National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program will be replaced by a five-year, $245 million initiative that will only be offered to religion-affiliated positions.

This means the handful of secular student welfare workers in Tasmania (The Sunday Examiner understands there are fewer than 10) will be without jobs.

The Tasmanian Education Department said its network of school psychologists and social workers would not be affected by the chaplaincy funding change, with the 100 or so chaplains provided by the Tasmania Scripture Union complementing this support.

Relationships Tasmania chief executive Matt Rowell said while he had no problem with school chaplains, he was disappointed that the eight school social workers his organisation employed would not be retained.

He was also concerned that the choice between secular and non- secular support had been removed.

"The demand is still high for welfare workers - more so than there has been in the past," Mr Rowell said.

"A lot of the schools where we have our welfare workers have identified to us that they want a broad range of support for their students. We still get cold calls from schools asking for student welfare workers because it better suits their needs."

Australian Association of Social Workers Tasmanian committee member Carol Dorgelo also acknowledged the positive influence of chaplains, but was concerned that the narrowing criteria would see some schools miss out on support altogether. "This program was reformed in 2007 to include student welfare workers so schools could have a choice," Ms Dorgelo said.

"Why are we narrowing the criteria again? We are just restricting who can be employed, which, in some rural schools who can't get a chaplain, means there will be no support."

Ms Dorgelo further echoed the concerns of Australian Education Union Tasmanian president Terry Polglase that training for chaplains might not meet the needs of today's youth.

"We've all got different religious views over sexuality, pregnancy, abortion, and contraception - all issues that confront young people at some stage," she said.

"Would a young person feel comfortable talking to a chaplain openly about these things?"

Last week, Scripture Union Tasmania chief executive Ruth Pinkerton and chaplaincy development manager Peter Swift said chaplains played an important role in developing young people.

At Ravenswood Heights Primary school, chaplain Cecily Rosol works with a social worker and a psychologist to meet the needs of students. Ms Rosol has been at the school for seven years, and said she provided an approachable point of contact for pupils who needed to talk.

"Certainly if we identify a student has a major problem, and needs a specific type of support, I make sure they are referred to the right person," she said.

"My job is more to be a role model, to help students feel valued, and to sort out minor issues before they become major ones."

Ravenswood Heights principal Brittany Roestenburg said Ms Rosol's work was invaluable.

"It's another level of support for our kids," Ms Rostenburg said. "We've got things in place to help if we identify major issues, but Cecily provides an essential link to that."

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