A CHAPLAIN has been sacked from her three Perth schools following Barnett government education cuts.
Karen Hearty worked for six-and-a-half years at Inglewood primary, and seven-and-a-half at Noranda and Hampton Park. She was told last week this week would be her last.
Despite joining WA’s growing unemployment queue, Ms Hearty is more concerned about the welfare of students now left without pastoral care.
“During my time at these schools, parents died through illness or tragic accidents, siblings attempted suicide and other pupils passed away,” she says.
“Children need help to deal with grief and the chaplain was a way of them talking to someone outside their family—sometimes it’s easier that way. I was at those schools for years and built up amazing relationships with the pupils and teachers. That will be hard to replace.”
An Inglewood local for 27 years, she also offered help regularly to around 25 Inglewood primary students.
The WA education department announced this week the number of government schools to receive chaplaincy funding will be cut from 357 to 247.
It’s a different story for religious schools, with 25 more schools receiving chaplaincy funding over 2015 and 2016, taking them to 60 Catholic and 54 independent schools.
Inglewood P&C secretary Mark Edwards says chaplains offer more than a sympathetic ear: “Karen helped organise charitable events, including a special collection for disadvantaged kids overseas, and assisted kids with learning difficulties and behavioural disorders,” he says.
“She was a non-judgemental, non-teaching voice that will be sadly missed. Her absence leaves children at risk.”
Despite the High Court ruling in June it was constitutionally invalid for the federal government to directly fund chaplaincy organisations, the Abbott government confirmed last week it was setting aside $242 million over the next four years to fund the services.
It will have to provide those funds via state governments. The federal government also changed the rules to ban secular counsellors from receiving funding: chaplains are not allowed to proselytise (preach and recruit) but must have religious foundations.
“Chaplains provide much needed pastoral care and emotional support to students who experience the trauma of family break up and other difficulties at home or at school,” says Maylands Labor MP Lisa Baker, whose electorate is hit hard by funding cuts.
“The Barnett government is a Scrooge for forcing school P&Cs to foot the bill for these essential services or risk their chaplain services altogether.”
She’ll table petitions on affected schools in state parliament.
Inglewood principal Lesley Bell had hoped to increase chaplaincy hours to two days a week before the Budget cuts were announced: “It is a very valued service,” she says.
“We are sad to see the cut in the program and next year will talk with our supportive community and P&C to see if we can get any other sort of funding.”
by STEPHEN POLLOCK