School welfare officers face cuts if federal government changes go ahead

SCHOOLS are bracing themselves to lose their welfare officers, if proposed federal government changes go ahead.

Catholic organisation Centacare employs 15 welfare workers deployed to schools in the diocese, 12 of which are in Ballarat.

Ballarat Centacare manager family relations Jacinta Cook said it had opted for welfare workers in schools in place of religious chaplains.

"I can't believe welfare in schools is being cut," Ms Cook said.

“We didn’t go down the chaplaincy path as schools indicated what they required was welfare focused staff, able to manage the myriad of issues children and families face."

Centacare provides welfare workers to 22 Catholic schools in the diocese as well as Invermay Primary School.

"This program will finish and it may be reinvented at a later date, but it won't be soon enough to keep our staff."

Lumen Christi principal Murray Macdonald said the school's student welfare officer worked two days a week, with one day funded by the government and the other by the school.

With 324 pupils, Mr Macdonald said two days was barely enough. "The role is integral to the well-being of the whole school community. We need those skills for wellbeing and support," he said.

Dunnstown's St Brendan's Primary School may also lose its welfare officer, who works at the school half a day a week.

Principal Chris Kavanagh said the school was assessing if the school could fund and keep the welfare officer.

Alfredton Primary School principal Laurel Donaldson said the demand for a welfare worker was at least double what the officer worked.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has proposed to continue funding for school chaplains but not student welfare workers. Ballarat MP Catherine King said the decision should be up to principals, parents and school communities to decide what is best for their students.

nicole.cairns@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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