By Victoria Stone-Meadows
Casey City Council may spend thousands of dollars a year on placing chaplains in community spaces if a proposal put forward by Korus Connect, a division of Access Ministries, is accepted.
Casey Council passed a motion to investigate placing chaplains in community spaces at a council meeting on 20 December 2016 specifically to target “at risk” youths.
The motion, put forward by Cr Amanda Stapledon and supported by Cr Rosalie Crestani, has council ponder the value of placing chaplains in public places like shopping centres and sporting clubs.
The motion specifically called for a meeting between council and Access Ministries’ community engagement branch Korus Connect to further discuss the program.
The meeting between council and Korus Connect took place at the Casey Council offices on Tuesday 31 January 2017 in which Korus Connect presented their proposal to supply chaplains in Casey.
The proposal from Korus Connect aims to have the program pilot launched this year with chaplains placed in locations identified by council.
The proposal also outlined the cost of supplying the chaplains, with one full-time chaplain working 35 hours a week costing a total of $71,525 per year.
Korus Connect also proposed a ‘community conversation’ session be held prior to the program launch that involves community groups, government representatives, schools and members of the public.
The community conversation would see the groups come together to discuss the program at an estimated cost of $3550 for venue hire, catering, and the hiring of a facilitator.
While this funding may not be entirely supplied by council, Korus Connect suggested a range of funding options including council, bank grants, Federal Government grants, and other community and corporate-based avenues of funding.
Korus Connect is the community engagement arm of Access Ministries which run the controversial chaplains in schools and special religious education programs in Victoria.
In 2014, Access Ministries was caught supplying religious education material in schools that breached the regulations of the Victorian Education Department.
The debacle led to the Victorian Government changing the way religious education is provided in state schools.
Councillor Steve Beardon, who opposed the motion to introduce the chaplains at the council meeting in December, is appalled by the cost of the program.
“They charge $70,000 or more a year just for one, so it’s not even time donated as good will,” he said.
“This raises so my questions to the religious or Liberal aligned councillors pushing this, and any other councillor.”
“Don’t you think trained psychologists, counsellors and social workers are better equipped to support the most vulnerable in our community?”
Former Casey Council Chaplain and Casey Neighbourhood Watch chairperson Rob Ward speaking on behalf of Korus Connect said it could be challenging for young people to access services and chaplains could help.
“The word chaplain carries different meanings to different people, and it is positive for many,” he said.
“It’s a bit of a leap to get people especially young people to see a counsellor or a psychologist and a chaplain is often a soft entry into that role.”
“A chaplain is often the human face between the needed professional services, and provides the soft entry.”
Mr Ward said the funding of the chaplains would ideally be a whole community responsibility but Korus would like to see Casey council take the lead.
“These things are up in the air, and what we are looking for is a sustainable effort and would like to see a community response,” he said.
“We are all impacted if people are losing their way, and we shouldn’t be putting our hand to council and government all the time but council can play a significant role in facilitating this kind of work.”
However, Cr Beardon said the cost of the program as a gateway for services that are already funded by council cannot be justified.
“Council has trained youth workers, and funds many organisations with trained psychologists,” he said.
“To those councillors pushing chaplains, do you think this money could be better targeted hiring a school GP or dental nurse?”
“I would like a demonstrated tangible benefit to any investment with ratepayers’ money.”