A former school chaplain who blew the whistle about the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) earlier this year wants to see the Albanese government remove third-party chaplaincy providers – essentially Christian labour-hire firms.
In an interview for the new episode of the The Secular Agenda podcast (listen here), Caragh Larsen (pictured), who was employed by Schools Ministry Group (SMG) to work at two public primary schools in South Australia, says funding should go directly to schools.
“I don’t see why mental health support in schools needs to be affiliated with any religion. It just seems completely and utterly pointless. I’d like to see schools have autonomy on who they employ,” she said.
“I’d like to see the third-party groups done away with. I just don’t understand why they need them.
“If there is this funding, they’re taking a big piece of that pie from where it could be used elsewhere, and put it back into schools. Kids need the support. They need the mental health workers in schools. Put that money there and let the principals have autonomy on who they employ and who they have looking after their kids in their communities.”
A public consultation being held as part of an evaluation into the NSCP will close tomorrow.
In April this year, Ms Larsen raised her concerns about the school chaplaincy program in an article in The Guardian.
She alleged that SMG – South Australia’s largest chaplaincy provider – imposed a code of conduct that could discriminate against staff based on relationship status and sexual conduct. She also raised concern about proselytising and the views of some chaplains on issues of sexuality and gender.
In the new The Secular Agenda podcast episode, released today, she details how some school chaplains use their role to introduce religion to children.
While chaplains are not supposed to talk about religion, she says that “there are so many ways” that chaplains can set up conversations that lead to children asking about religion.
Ms Larsen, who had counselling qualifications prior to joining SMG, says she loved working in the schools but increasingly became concerned about the chaplaincy provider.
At the start, she understood that chaplains were not supposed to proselytise, but she soon realised that, “actually, it did feel like they had an agenda”.
At a meeting with other school chaplains, a male chaplain was “praised and congratulated” for taking children from his high school to a youth group where he was the youth pastor.
“They were so excited about – the reaction was just excitement and they were so happy for him to have done that. It really floored me because, as far as I was concerned, that was just an absolute no-no.”
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigl[email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman