Chaplaincy program 'must improve'
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has urged the Federal Government to improve the management and oversight of the $222 million National School Chaplaincy Program.
Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher has released findings of his investigation that show the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) must do more to better manage the complex program.
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.
The Ombudsman’s report 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.
Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, welcomed the Ombudsman’s report, saying that the issued raised by Mr Asher were crucial to improving the program.
“The Ombudsman has made some useful recommendations to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations which will help improve the administration of this successful program,” Mr Garrett said.
“I thank the Ombudsman for his recommendations, which the Department broadly agrees with. We are currently reviewing the chaplaincy scheme and his report will be considered as part of that process.