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24 September 2009 Edition

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The 'cut, copy and paste' of shorthand, shortsighted economics

FIGHT THE CUTS: Family Resource Centres throughout Ireland provide practical support to communities

FIGHT THE CUTS: Family Resource Centres throughout Ireland provide practical support to communities

SNIP’s next cut – Family Resource Centres

The ‘Bord Snip Nua’ report contains harsh proposals, not least the prospect of scrapping the Family Support Agency which funds 107 Family Resource Centres throughout the 26 Counties. It’s false economy when you take into account the contribution these Resource Centres make to communities and families across the State, including training, education and affordable childcare for participants in any of the activities facilitated through the centres. The project is about the self-empowerment of families and communities. Just when this project would have been at its peak in terms of relevant input into the sectors worst hit by the recession, along comes the ‘cut copy and paste’ of shorthand, shortsighted economics. 


By Ella O’Dwyer

The facilities provided by Family Resource Centres are extensive and relevant; advice, information, education and training, utensils that since the 90s, prepared lone parents and young mothers who couldn’t afford an education to prepare to re-enter the workforce. In recession that forward looking approach is even more important and makes for a very intelligent preparation for the post recession Ireland. But it’s not just about forward thinking and strategy - it’s also about people.
Fintan Brunkard is a Community Development worker with the School Street Family Resource centre. “The Resource Centres around the country were set up in the 90s under the Department of Social Welfare and since 2003 they have been funded directly under the Family Support Agency, the body that the McCarthy Report recommends closing. In times of economic crises you see more family break-ups and more stress brought on by financial strain.  In our centre we have facilities for counselling 20 people and working with 30 young people. We have affordable childcare facilities for 40 kids. We also work with the local Residents’ Association. Most Resource Centres would have two or three fulltime staff paid for by the Family Support Agency and a voluntary Bord of Management and some centres have staff paid by Fás.”
The Family Resource Centre National Forum (FRCNF) is the umbrella organisation supporting these centres, networking with Family Resource Centres throughout Ireland. The aim of the Forum is to represent the views of all Family Resource Centres nationally and provide practical support to the centres.  The Resource Centres are campaigning, with the aid of the Forum, to have the proposed cuts prevented. Packie Kelly, Chairperson of the FRCNF is critical the An Bord Snip Nua recommendation to close the Family Support Agency in an effort to save the Exchequer money. “This recommendation is presented in the report in terms of closing an expensive state agency, a luxury we can no longer afford,” he says. Given the range of services conducted in the centres and the range of unpaid services conducted by families themselves, for instance the number of carers who work in the home for free, the government has been doing quite well in this area financially.
 “We have been campaigning through the National Forum”, Fintan Brunkard says, “and holding events and making contacts in all the affected regions of the city and throughout the country. We’ve also written to Ministers and the National Forum met with Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanifin. She’s very vague on the whole thing, saying on the one hand that she supports the work of the centres but very non-commital in terms of where she stands on the proposed closures. We don’t really know where we stand and we’ll be in the dark – like everybody else until the next budget in December.
“I’ve been working at this centre long enough to know the value of the services provided here and it would be a disaster for the local community if the Resource Centre were to be closed down. I also see the value of the Support Agency in lending support to the centres and that too should be maintained. There is a need for a designated agency like that when you think about the amount of centres and the amount of people being catered for.”
Sinn Féin has also championed the Resource Centres’ case. “We’ve had the support of Sinn Féin and Labour mainly”, Fintan says.  “Aengus Ó Snodaigh spoke in support of us at an event we held in Cherry Orchard and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin recently issued a statement supporting.”  In a statement issued last Tuesday week after a meeting with representatives of the National Forum, Ó Caoláin said, “It is the least well off families and communities who benefit most from the Family Resource Centres and have the greatest need for their services. These are the very people who are suffering most in the recession and will suffer from proposed cutbacks. To allow these Centres to be targeted for cuts would be scandalous.”
A motion tabled to Dublin City Council by Sinn Féin Cllr Críona Ní Dhálaigh calling on the government to continue supporting the Family Resource Centre Programmes was passed this month. Ní Dhálaigh is a councillor for the south West Inner City, a constituency that houses three Family Resource Centres – the School Street centre, Fatima Family Resource Centre and the Mercy Family Centre. In her motion Críona also called for the Family Support Agency to be maintained and insisted that, if any changes are to be made to the Family Resource Centre Programme or the Family Support Agency, the Family Resource Centre National Forum must be consulted on the way forward. “The Government should absolutely refuse to cut funding for the Family Resource Centres. In fact it should be enhancing their work and facilitating the establishment of more centres. Sinn Féin across the State will oppose cuts to these Centres and hold the Government fully to account on the issue.”
The Family Resource Centre National Forum estimates that last year community and voluntary groups used family resource centres over 16,000 times to hold meetings alone and over 10,000 adults availed of education and training courses in the centres. A lot of people will lose out if these resources are taken away and again it will be the most vulnerable who will be hurt.
As Cllr Ní Dhálaigh put it; “Family Resource Centres are fighting for their very existence. At a time of growing unemployment with more and more people becoming marginalised and socially excluded, it is incomprehensible that any government committee or body would recommend that such centres be shut down.”

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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