By KATHERINE MAY.
As a parent you want to protect your child, wrap them up and keep them safe, shelter them from the storms that lie ahead. I have a four year old and at the moment I am lucky enough that he talks to me about his problems, his fears and his hopes. But I am acutely aware that I won’t always be his confident. A day will come when problems arise and he needs others to talk to, friends, his father, a teacher, a school counsellor perhaps. And I welcome this because emotional support, sharing, and brainstorming problems is healthy, it’s the best way to move forward.
So when my son goes to school it will be a relief that there will be someone there who is a qualified counsellor, someone with experience in mental health issues and who has been chosen for the job based on skills, experience and merit. I will feel some comfort knowing that if one day my son has sexuality issues, or my daughter an unplanned teenage pregnancy they will feel able to approach the school counsellor, who will listen without judgement.
This is how I felt until a few weeks ago, when I heard that Tony Abbott has linked faith to funding in public schools.
He has reverted back to John Howard’s school chaplaincy policies, leaving hundreds of competent counsellors who do not identify with a “faith background” out of work. It frightens me that it is the government themselves insisting on workplace discrimination on matters such as religion that should have no more relevance than race, sexual preference or face shape when choosing the right candidate. Religion and spirituality are deeply personal and as such should remain out of public institutions as we strive to make them fair and inclusive. Should nurses, doctors, policemen and University lecturers all be religious too?
The schools affected will now be faced with the dilemma of losing funding or compromising on their secular philosophies.
It scares me that the government are choosing religious ideology and Christian indoctrination, or bowing to lobbyist pressures rather than providing best possible emotional support for all our children.
I’m deeply concerned that when our children are facing real issues like domestic violence, anorexia or pregnancy, the one person they reach out to for help (if they do at all) may not provide that safe, non- judgemental space, or may not even be trained in mental health issues. Some of the most common teenage concerns including homosexuality, sex before marriage and abortion would present obvious difficulties for a person of faith to provide impartial support. Running the risk that they might miss a crucial opportunity to make a difference, or worse still have a negative impact through their response. In a society where teenage suicide is a leading cause of death in young people, the stakes are too high to play political games using our children as pawns.
This is 2014, this is a multi- cultural, multi faith country where children should be entitled to a school experience free of any religious or political bias. Where variety should be embraced, and where parents should be able to choose a secular school with a counsellor funded by our taxes, just as they can chose a religious one with a chaplain. What next, will the counsellors also have to be white, liberal voters too?