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Pastoral Care Review

This year, the Board commissioned an independent review of non-religious pastoral care and service development options, which has now been completed and considered by the Board.

The review, which can be accessed here, was extremely comprehensive and examined the provision of pastoral care services in various sectors in Ireland, including healthcare, prisons, the defence forces and education. It looked at the providers of these services, how they are structured and funded, and how professional chaplains are selected and remunerated. It also looked at the approaches taken by humanist organisations in other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland, Norway, and Denmark. The report also examined the history of the HAI’s involvement with pastoral care, and sought current members’ views, both by way of a survey of the entire membership, and by focus groups with those members who expressed interest, plus interviews with members of the Board and staff.

The survey of 840 members had a 10% response rate, and on the question of whether they would be interested in providing voluntary humanist pastoral care and being trained to do so, 25 responded positively. 10 HAI members participated in two focus groups, and provided useful ideas and insights. Based on the low level of response to the survey, the review suggested that the provision of pastoral care services may not be a priority for HAI members.

The report produced a number of options for the Board to consider. The first option was “Do nothing”. The review found that developing effective pastoral support services is not easy or straightforward, and requires dedicated resources and governance structures. If the provision of these services is not a priority for members, and the HAI’s resources are already under pressure, the Board might decide not to pursue the development of pastoral care at this time.

If the Board were to make pastoral care a priority, then the review recommends a step-by-step approach, which is set out in detail. To gain access to professional chaplaincy roles as non-religious chaplains would entail persistent lobbying and campaigning, and require dedicated staff time and a voluntary steering group.

The review concluded that the most promising avenue to pursue would be a pilot project to provide voluntary non-religious pastoral care in a hospital setting. This approach would require engagement with a suitable hospital, recruitment and training of volunteers, putting in place a clear agreement between the hospital and the HAI, and providing ongoing support for the volunteers. The pilot project would provide “proof of concept” and, if successful, could be extended to other hospitals.

The Board considered the options put forward, and saw great merit in the “step-by-step” approach. However, in reviewing the strategic and operational goals for the rest of 2022, and for next year, and taking into account the HAI’s limited and stretched resources, the Board concluded that it would not be possible to prioritise the development of a pastoral care programme at this time. The Board would like to acknowledge the excellent and valuable work done by the consultant, Marjo Moonen, and believes that the review and the options put forward will be very useful when planning gets underway for the next Strategic Plan which will take the HAI into 2024 and beyond.

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