Schools need psychological services as a matter of urgency rather than chaplains

The government's new $220 million investment into school chaplains, announced on Sunday, could be better spent on evidence-based psychological services to meet the serious mental health needs of young people, according to the Australian Psychological Society.

Executive Director of the Australian Psychological Society Professor Lyn Littlefield said, "There is an urgent need to assist young people in schools but research tells us the major issues they have are psychological and therefore they need professionals who are trained to deliver appropriate, evidence-based services."

A 2009 National School Chaplaincy Association (NSCA) report showed that the majority of issues school chaplains deal with are of a psychological nature, including anxiety and depression, alcohol and drug use, physical and emotional abuse and neglect, suicide and self-harm.

"The evidence shows young people need support for complex personal problems and mental health issues; yet chaplains are not professionally qualified to undertake this work and by their own account they very rarely refer students for specialist assistance," Professor Littlefield said.

She said the Australian Psychological Society was very concerned that school chaplains were undertaking counselling with young people in schools that was outside their boundaries and training as spiritual and religious personnel.

She added that the government had announced additional funding for the school chaplain program despite evidence there are serious flaws in the program and by doing so, the government was breaching its obligations to young people to provide professional care that met best practice standards.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) is calling for the government to:

  • Acknowledge that the prevalence of mental health disorders in Australian children and young people is unacceptably high
  • Make the delivery of timely and accessible student psychological support services a national priority
  • Ensure that each school in Australia meets the APS recommended ratio of one full-time psychologist to 500 students
  • Commit a significant proportion of youth mental health funding towards the establishment of a national research strategy to identify the most effective model of student support services in Australia
  • Establish a working party to develop a national postgraduate school psychology program at universities around Australia to meet the training needs and workforce supply demands of the student support services sector
  • Reconsider the amount of funding allocated to the National School Chaplaincy Program and review whether this money could be better spent on designing a more comprehensive and effective student support services system.

For the full copy of the Australian Psychological Society's Submission to the Consultation Process for the National School Chaplaincy Program (1 July 2010) go to:

The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 19,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.

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