Chaplaincy Program administration needs to improve

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations must improve its management and oversight of the National School Chaplaincy Program, Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher said today.

Releasing the findings of his investigation into the Department’s administration of the Chaplaincy Program, Mr Asher pointed out that although the program may be complex to administer, the Department must do more.

The Department has agreed to advise the Ombudsman’s office of the progress of its implementation of these recommendations within three months. Mr Asher intends to publically report on the Department’s implementation of the recommendations six months after publication of the report.

Mr Asher emphasised that the merits of the program itself is a matter for Government and was not the subject of this investigation.

“This report is concerned with such issues as problems with the application process, parental consultation, funding agreements, and complaint handling.”

“Our focus was on ensuring the program makes effective and efficient use of public money,” Mr Asher said.

Mr Asher’s investigation was prompted by a report released by the Northern Territory Ombudsman following her office’s investigation of complaints about the Chaplaincy Program in five Northern Territory schools. The Northern Territory Ombudsman’s report identified issues with the Department’s administration of the Chaplaincy Program which she was unable to investigate due to lack of jurisdiction.

The Ombudsman’s report issued today made a series of recommendations including that the Department:

  • consider giving guidance to schools and education authorities on how best to obtain parental consent for participation in the program
  • review the code of conduct to provide clarity on what actions could be considered to be in breach of the requirement that chaplains not proselytise, and to clarify this with the public.
  • amend the program guidelines to define the terms ‘chaplain’ and ‘pastoral care’, and mandate a minimum qualification for the position of chaplain
  • implement more robust mechanisms to capture and manage complaints
  • work towards a review of funding agreements to ensure: consistency; that all key participants are accountable; and that the protection of children and parental rights is central to the administration of the program.

The Department has indicated it is taking into account and broadly agrees with the Ombudsman’s recommendations. It has recently reviewed the Chaplaincy Program ahead of an expansion of the program in 2012. The Government is currently considering the findings of that review.

Download the report: The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations: Administration of the National School Chaplaincy Program—06|11

Media contact: Shaun Rohrlach, Director of Public Affairs 0408 861 803 or 02 6276 3710

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Date of release: 26 July 2011