For release: November 20, 2009

Jim Wallace Speaking

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has highlighted the valuable role school chaplains play in helping young people at risk in a submission to a Senate inquiry into Suicide in Australia made today.

ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said that research has underlined the important contribution the school chaplaincy program is making in addressing many of the ‘vulnerability factors’ which increase the risk of suicide among young people.

He urged the inquiry to reinforce the need for funding of the school chaplaincy program to be continued and extended (it is currently under review by the Federal Government) and to consider whether there would be merit in developing a chaplaincy program to assist groups at high-risk of suicide in the wider community.

“Recently-released research into the chaplaincy program by Dr Phillip Hughes of Edith Cowan University and Professor Margaret Sims of the University of New England has highlighted the success of the chaplaincy program. On a scale of 1 to 10, chaplains were rated at 8.6 for providing an opportunity for students to talk through issues and offering support to significant problems. They were also rated at 8.5 for offering support to students in special risk categories,” Mr Wallace said.

“The report on the chaplaincy program indicated that in the two weeks prior to the survey undertaken by the researchers, 44 per cent of chaplains reported dealing with issues related to self-harm or suicide. One principal advised that, ‘The chaplain has averted student suicide on more than one occasion’.

“Chaplains are obviously doing a great job in providing support, guidance and pastoral care for young people and it is vital that they are given the funding needed to continue this role. There could also be great benefit in developing a framework whereby chaplains could be employed to help high-risk groups such as indigenous youth and rural communities.”

Mr Wallace said that suicide is a terrible trauma that visits far too many Australian families every year. He welcomed the Senate inquiry as an important opportunity for concerned individuals and organisations to highlight the measures that Governments and community organisations can undertake to prevent suicide, and to advocate for greater assistance in providing targeted programs and services, especially for those at high risk of suicide.