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Parent Link funding fizzling out March 2020

*Updated Nov. 14 at 10:15 a.m. Parent Link Centres across Alberta are left wondering what the future holds after the province announced they would no longer financially support their programming starting March 31, 2020.
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Provincial funding for Parent Link Centres will expire March 31, 2020.

*Updated Nov. 14 at 10:15 a.m.

Parent Link Centres across Alberta are left wondering what the future holds after the province announced they would no longer financially support their programming starting March 31, 2020.

The Alberta Children’s Services Ministry notified municipalities on Nov. 4 that as of March 2020 the province will be cancelling approximately 450 grants and contracts with 300 organizations that operate Parent Link Centres and similar programs. This includes centres in Bonnyville and Cold Lake, which fall under the Lakeland Parent Link Network contracted through the City of Cold Lake.

Parent Link Centres provide free programming and resources for families with young children. Both locations have daily activities such as baby group, stay and play, and arts and crafts, among others.

"Over the last few years we've had between 300 and 500 different users every year, that's parents and children," detailed David Beale, director of the Bonnyville and District FCSS. "For the last year, we had a little over 7,000 visits ticked off; that's people through the door and includes registered people and any guests that may have come along that aren't registered."

According to the City of Cold Lake, in 2018 there were over 22,500 visits to the city’s Parent Link Centre.

"(Cold Lake Parent Link) is one of the busiest centres in the province," stated Cold Lake CAO Kevin Nagoya. "We have high numbers of people that use the facility, and this will have an impact to the community, no doubt."

Many of the local Parent Link Centre's programs are run out of the Bonnyville Parent Child Centre, however, there are some occasions where they take their ventures off-site, Beale noted, including visits to the BonnyLodge.

In a letter to the community, Bonnyville and District FCSS board chair Lorna Storoschuk wrote, “While there are many unknowns at the moment, the clear intention is for the support services for families to continue.”

This will be accomplished through the creation of a new service delivery model known as the Family Resource Networks (FRN). It’s expected to start offering programming April 1, 2020. The full extent of the FRN is unclear, however, the province has encouraged municipalities interested in getting on-board to submit an expression of interest by Jan. 16, 2020, something City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland isn’t sure they’re ready to do.

Beale explained that these new FRN's will provide a variety of services, even ones Parent Link Centres don't currently offer.

"It's a broader range than what Parent Link was providing," he detailed. "The news is they're changing the service delivery model to a completely new model and those who are delivering the services are looking at these new instructions on how to apply to deliver the new model and sorting out how this would work in our town."

Communities that agree to take-on this venture will be lumped into a region with other municipalities. For example, Cold Lake is expected to work with Barrhead and Athabasca centres, while Bonnyville has been placed with Vilna.

“There are a lot of unknowns at the moment – including whether we ultimately want to submit a bid (expression of interest),” Copeland said in a press release. “We still need to learn exactly what the government’s new vision will look like to see if we can deliver the services they’re looking for. With about 23 per cent of our population 14 and under, services for youth and children are very important to our community, and we still support Cold Lake and District FCSS in its effort to understand the government’s new service delivery model and any changes it may bring.”

He continued, “Our community values these services and we will look at all opportunities available, understanding that the government of Alberta may have new priorities for programs and services for children, youth, and family."

Currently, municipal councils offer financial support for these services in addition to the funding they receive from the province. What that will look like in the future has yet to be ironed out.

"At this time, some decisions will have to be made as we move forward with the future of the Parent Link program as we see it today and how it will be delivered as we move forward. City council will review those and see what the community wants... as well as funding expectations of how much it will cost to deliver those services without grant funding," detailed Nagoya.

He noted, the city shares "a pot of money with the region," which includes Cold Lake and Bonnyville.

There's roughly $150,000 in money that's provided through that grant. The city enhances those dollars in order to provide additional hours in the evenings and weekends.

"They wanted to enhance those hours because of the tremendous success the program saw, so there was some enhanced funding provided by the city," Nagoya stated, adding if the city were to continue to carry on the Parent Link programming "as it's seen today" the municipality would be left footing the bill.

Before council can make a decision on which direction they will take, they need more information.

"The city, right now, is taking a seek to understand approach of what the Government of Alberta would like to see with this new service delivery model and the evolution and to see what we do today could be tailored to that and can we re-tweak some of the stuff that we're doing in order to provide something more enhanced in order to mesh well with what the government's terms of reference as well," noted Nagoya. "It's about seeing how we bridge the gap between the two of how we do it today versus how the government would like to see it done tomorrow and how we can mould to that and move towards that."

Storoschuk stressed in Bonnyville FCSS' letter to the community, the Bonnyville centre will continue to offer their services until the contract expires in March.

This change won't impact either Bonnyville or Cold Lake FCSS, or the Bonnyville and District Daycare Centre run out of the Bonnyville Parent Child Centre.

"(When it comes to) the FCSS program, the Government of Alberta has said it will be maintained at our current funding level, it wasn't affected by these recent rounds of change," expressed Beale.

He added, "There are a lot of unknowns, so the message I would like to see clear is the province is promising that there will be services delivered in Bonnyville for parents and families. We just don't know how, who, or where."

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