Wimmera welfare officers, chaplains in schools at risk

Horsham West Haven Primary School president Karen Maybery and welfare officer Stacey Hallam are worried about the future of welfare services. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

Horsham West Haven Primary School president Karen Maybery and welfare officer Stacey Hallam are worried about the future of welfare services. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

THE future of student welfare officers and chaplains at Wimmera schools is under threat following Federal Government and High Court decisions that have put the roles in doubt.

The government had intended to fund a $245-million school chaplaincy program.

Last week, the High Court ruled the government would not be able to fund the chaplaincy program in government schools.

In the Federal Budget, schools lost the option of appointing secular welfare officers.

Horsham West Haven Primary School president Karen Maybery said the school’s welfare officer Stacey Hallam played a vital role in the school community.

“We’ll lose those relationships that we’ve already established with our welfare officer and families,” she said. 

“It would be to the detriment of the families at the school.”

Mrs Maybery said the school was waiting for further advice regarding the future of the welfare officer position.

Miss Hallam said she was concerned for student welfare if the role was no longer funded.

“It’s a bit of uncertainty for me, but at the end of the day I feel for the school and the children who come to the school,” she said.

“They’re using this service and they’re going to be disadvantaged if it can’t continue.”

“I think both chaplains and welfare officers could work well, but I think it’s important that schools have the choice of who to employ.” - Horsham West Haven Primary School president Karen Maybery

Mrs Maybery said without a welfare officer, extra burden would be placed on teaching staff.

“The workload is going to fall back on the teachers, the assistant principal and the principal,” she said.

“Then they are not focusing on what they should be doing – teaching children – they’re focusing on the needs of families.

"It frees them up so much more with Stacey here.”

Miss Hallam said her job was to deal with a range of issues including relationships, home, economic and other parenting issues.

“Families might not feel comfortable enough to go to a teacher or the assistant principal or principal to discuss these things,” she said.

“We see really positive outcomes for children and families, which is really nice to see.”

She said she had built up important links with welfare agencies.

Mrs Maybery said she did not believe the role necessarily needed to be secular, but stressed the independence of schools.

“I think both chaplains and welfare officers could work well, but I think it’s important that schools have the choice of who to employ,” she said.

Natimuk Primary School, Horsham Primary School, Dimboola Memorial Secondary College and Horsham West Haven Primary School are among Wimmera schools with secular welfare officers.

Balmoral Community College, Horsham College, Donald Primary School, Rainbow Secondary College, Goroke P-12 College, Kaniva College, Hopetoun P-12 College and Warracknabeal Secondary College all have chaplains employed through inter-denominational Christian service Access Ministries.

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