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The importance of school chaplains

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Mr Coe for bringing this matter of public importance before the Assembly today.

On many prior occasions, Madam Speaker, I have stood in this chamber to discuss the wellbeing of young people. In many cases, the issues that they face are complex, and in many regards, they are growing increasingly complex. Just last week, I moved a motion in this Assembly calling upon the ACT Government to make a formal commitment to better supporting and funding programs for kids in what are called the middle years – ‘the developmental stage between early childhood and adolescence, in which children undergo dramatic social, emotional and physical changes’, including ‘the most intense period of brain development during a human lifetime’.

More and more, ‘typical “youth issues” are presenting in children earlier in life and resulting in coping mechanisms and responses reflective of adolescent behaviour … the onset of puberty is beginning earlier … [and] young people are also engaging in risk behaviours earlier’.

At the same time, the number of children and young people who are in need of mental health services is also increasing. As we learnt last year, owing to demand, Menslink has now opened its services to primary school-age boys, with those aged 10- to 12-years-old making up 12 per cent of this support group’s client case.

Children and young people currently face challenges that their parents probably never imagined. For example, though no one knows for certain, it has been estimated that one in five Australian children aged 8 to 15 may have experienced cyberbullying. This is defined as harassment or intimidation that takes place online. Bullying, sadly, has probably always been around, but the spread of technology and the prevalence of personal devices such as mobile phones mean that things like intentionally hurtful statements, vicious rumours, humiliation, embarrassment and threats can now follow children and young people wherever they go, including what was once the protection of the family home.

Yesterday, Madam Speaker, I shared in this place the harrowing story of a young boy whose parents claim that, for three-and-a-half years, he has been physically assaulted by other students at school, including being punched, pinned, dragged, strangled and more. Understandably, this small child has developed anxiety issues requiring professional counselling. In short, Madam Speaker, our children and young people sometimes face enormous challenges, and nearly always they face challenges that at least feel enormous to them.

In the midst of such a climate, those who provide pastoral care for children should be honoured and supported. Today I am grateful to add my voice of support to the chaplains that serve in our schools.

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