It has come to the attention of the Atheist Foundation of Australia that Coles Australia is supporting an initiative called "Stock Up for Hope" which will see funds channelled through to Scripture Union QLD for the purposes of expanding access to the NSCP (National Schools Chaplaincy Program).

The Atheist Foundation of Australia represents the fastest growing and now second largest demographic in Australia according to the latest census. The AFA commends Coles Australia for the many initiatives which assist in the community such as Cancer Council, Guide Dogs Australia, Boots for Kids and Sports for Schools. It may well be that Coles Australia has in fact become involved in this chaplaincy funding initiative in error or without adequate consideration for the real impacts.

To assist them in reconsidering their position on this, here is some feedback from other organisations in regards to the provision of chaplaincy services instead of qualified child psychologists.

Australian Psychological Society position of NSCP

"Although the APS is aware that school chaplains represent an alternative approach to student support in government schools in the way of spiritual and religious guidance, the APS believes that, when chaplains work outside of this role, the risks to both students and schools are immense and will ultimately result in significant costs both financial and human.

There is clear evidence that school chaplains are engaging in duties for which they are not qualified;

There is clear evidence that church organisations and ministries are supporting school chaplains in their boundary violations;

The NSCP promotes a combination of religious guidance and mental health service provision, which is in contrast to mainstream evidence-based service provision;"

NT Ombudsmen Report into the NSCP

"Throughout this report several breaches by the chaplains were identified and in particular blatant defiance of DET Executive directives relating to the continued provision of services to a child during the defined suspension period.

In considering the types of chaplaincy services provided it was interesting to find that all of the five schools under the scope of this investigation, with the exception of the senior school at Taminmin High School, permitted the chaplains to provide one-on-one services when this was contrary to the position held by the DET Executive. As was established in reviewing the chaplain school diaries the nature of the one-on-one sessions was of a highly sensitive nature and quite concerning. The chaplains have also been privy to the confidential information about students discussed during the wellbeing team meetings even for those without parental consent."

QLD Teachers Union position on the NSCP

"The QTU regards the placement of chaplains in general education, welfare and counselling programs as extremely inappropriate in State Schools. While the Education Minister might believe that chaplains can replace qualified counsellors, members know that they cannot. Students need support staff who are properly qualified, such as guidance officers, not well meaning amateurs. The issue has to be what’s best for the children not what’s the cheapest."

As you can see, condemnation of the program is widespread. Coles are currently experiencing a high level of negative comment on social media as a result of this decision. Attempts to assist in the funding of the chaplaincy program are of concern to those we represent. In the current economic climate, there have been many examples of large corporations walking back a position once they became aware of the potential ramifications of being linked to an initiative or activity which as indicated above, is clearly a negative outcome.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia requests on behalf of its members that Coles Australia reconsiders its involvement in this initiative which provides funds to this activity.

Michael Boyd
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
PO Box 1062
Lane Cove NSW 1595

Phone: (08) 8835 2269
Email: [email protected]

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