[caption id="" align="alignright" width="130" caption="Federal Member for Ryan, Mrs Jane Prentice"][/caption]

Earlier this week, the Federal member for Ryan, Mrs Jane Prentice gave this speech in the House of Representatives in support of school chaplaincy.

I rise today to place on the record my strong support for continued federal government funding of the National School Chaplaincy Program, a program which could be in jeopardy if the current case before the High Court challenging the federal funding of this important program is successful.

Of course, it is not appropriate for me to talk about the matters in dispute before the High Court and I will not do so. However, I wish to place on record my support for the work that is undertaken through this program and the very real benefits that flow to our schools and to our communities.

The National School Chaplaincy Program is not a religious program; it is a program based on supporting students and teachers in times of need and it is a program so many schools throughout the electorate of Ryan rely on. However, let us look at how this program actually works and what these school chaplains actually do for our children.

I quote from an explanation of the work of school chaplains:

School chaplains are in the prevention and rescue business: helping students find a better way to deal with issues ranging from family breakdown and loneliness to drug abuse, depression and suicide. They provide a listening ear and a caring presence for kids in crisis and those who just need a friend.Working alongside other caring professionals in state schools, chaplains care for young people through pastoral care, activity programs, community outreach and adventure-based learning. School chaplains help students to feel a sense of belonging in the school and help students deal with personal issues such as self-image, personal crises, loneliness, grief and loss. School chaplains provide encouragement and support for students who are struggling with a variety of issues, and offer a friendly listening ear for all students, staff and parents, in the good times as well as the bad.

A recent article which wrote about a teacher named Andrea Eadie who quit teaching to become a school chaplain perfectly illustrates that this program is about helping children, not about religion. The teacher had kept a student in because he had not done his algebra homework, and all of a sudden he asked her if she had ever known anyone who committed suicide. She then learned that his uncle had killed himself the night before.

Ms Eadie said that that was when she realised she wanted to help children with the deeper issues. She quit teaching, qualified as a counsellor and signed up to be a school chaplain. She now works three days a week at Patricks Road State School, in Brisbane’s northern suburbs, as a chaplain—and she said she takes her position of trust incredibly seriously, as I am sure all our chaplains do. As Ms. Eadie explained:

We abide by a code of conduct as anyone else working in a school does, we certainly don’t take it upon ourselves to force religion on anyone. I have three children myself. My guiding question is always, ‘What would I want a person of another faith to say to my child?’ I always try to answer any questions in a respectful way.

Those are the words of a chaplain and they highlight the program’s importance. It is far better and more effective to have resources in our schools to try to address youth issues when they are prevalent and to have programs in place to prevent larger problems and more serious ones from developing. Let us not be short-sighted: remember, the right help at a crucial moment in a child or teenager’s life can prevent a lifetime of problems, which can be much more costly to our society.

The loss of a child’s life in any circumstances is a tragedy. It is a serious indictment of our society that suicide is a leading cause of death among young people, second only to motor vehicle accidents. Many of my school principals have said to me, ‘We don’t know what we’d do without our chaplain.’