The futures of some early childhood and parent programs in the St. Albert region are uncertain after the province announced changes to its funding model.
Shelley Passek, executive director of the St. Albert Family Resource Centre, said they are losing their funding for their home visitation and family support programming and will have to reapply to the provincial government in the hopes of being granted the money.
“It's an uncertain time. It's scary, because I don't want to lose the program. And I don't want families to lose the service,” Passek said.
Passek said annually they serve 1,909 people overall, with 365 families accessing the family support and home visitation services and 1,553 using the family life education programming.
“We have many families who access our service, right. So they would be without that service in our community unless there was somebody who picked it up, so that leaves a huge gap. So that's scary and it makes me very sad. So it's been a real time of uncertainty,” Passek said.
Passek said these programs are important to children and young families.
“It provides support and it builds capacities in our families and in our community,” Passek said.
Many parents come in to combat isolation or help children develop things like fine motor skills, emotional social development or language skills. Parent coaches help families who may have questions with nowhere else to turn or help a parent get through a difficult phase of their life.
In November, early childhood service centres across the province received notices that the funding structure for their programs was changing and that by the end of March they would no longer be receiving funding for some of their early childhood programs.
The province aims to change the model for early childhood funding and is consolidating and realigning the way Children’s Services delivers prevention and early intervention services, including those at Family Resource Centres, across the province.
Lauren Armstrong, press secretary for the minister of Children’s Services said in a news release the government will be launching a new model for the services in the spring.
“We can’t continue to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done – some of these contracts haven’t been reviewed since 1995 and it’s resulted in an a disconnected patchwork of services across the province,” Armstrong wrote.
Passek said they have reapplied for the funding under the new model and hope to be able to continue the services out of the St. Albert Family Resource Centre.
“On April 1, that funding will end. So effectively, we wouldn't have the family support or home visitation program any longer. However, with the restructuring of the funding, they put out a new grant system called the family resource network. We've applied for that. And we're hoping we're successful in that and that we'll be able to carry forward our family support and home visitation programs,” Passek said.
Armstrong's statement said the province will launch the new family resource network as of March 31, “which will rectify the service gap that can exist after age 6 and align with the precedent-setting Well Being and Resiliency Framework (WBRF), to help at-risk kids grow up to lead productive and meaningful lives no matter where they live or how much income their family has.”
Right now, organizations have applied for funding under the new program and will find out in the spring if they will be continuing to provide services to their communities.
“We expect many current service providers will be successful applicants – in many cases they are already using the cutting edge practice model (WBRF) and partnering with other agencies to create a continuum of services,” the release said.
Passek said she understands the government wants to make sure uniform services are being delivered across Alberta.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Passek said of the new program.
“But every community is different. Every community has different needs. So the needs of St. Albert families would be could be quite different than the needs of someone from Fort Saskatchewan or Gibbons, so you have to take that into consideration too, is the needs of the community,” Passek said.
Out in Sturgeon County, the organization currently providing those same services to parents will be ending their community support in the spring.
The Sturgeon Community Resource Network, which has been receiving funding for 23 years, did not meet the requirements for the new program.
Laura Schmidt, manager of family and support services for the Town of Gibbons, said they were not able to apply for the funding and will end their services to the community at the end of March. They received $150,000 through the program, which funded the salaries of three employees who will be losing their jobs.
The province is switching to a “hub and spoke” model for the new system and has grouped areas of the province into different regions for services. Sturgeon County has been grouped with Fort Saskatchewan and an organization out of Fort Saskatchewan has applied for the funding to service the region.
The funding the Sturgeon Community Resource Centre received went toward information and referral services, and early childhood development.
“We work with professionals to help provide information and referral to resources. We work with a lot of clients from young to old and helping them connect with either financial resources, housing resources, and information about counselling support,” Schmidt said.
The manager also said they did early childhood development programs for families in the Sturgeon Region.
St. Albert NDP MLA Marie Renaud said reapplying for the grants creates uncertainty for these vital programs.
Renaud said organizations across the province are competing for $57 million, which is 25 per cent less funding than was previously available.
“This is why there is no certainty, there is no continuity,” Renaud said.