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Cold Lake to bridge the gap by funding Parent Link until end of April

Cold Lake FCSS
The City of Cold Lake has decided to fund the local Parent Link Centre for the month of April. File Photo.

COLD LAKE - The local Parent Link Centre will remain open for another month after the City of Cold Lake agreed to fund the program to the end of April.

In late 2019, the provincial government announced they would be allowing the funding for Parent Link Centres across Alberta to fizzle out and would be replacing the program with the Family Resource Network (FRN) model.

This meant as of March 31, 2020, the Cold Lake Parent Link Centre would be forced to close its doors. But rather than see their services come to a halt, city council has decided to fund the program for the month of April at a cost of roughly $25,000.

Their intent is to keep the centre's services, which are geared towards families with children between the ages of zero and six-years-old, going until there is more clarity about the FRN.

“To me, I think we should just wait it out and see where this goes. I’m in support of keeping it going… until we know more from the province. That place is so successful,” Mayor Craig Copeland said during council's Tuesday, Feb. 25 meeting.

According to the city, over 22,500 people took advantage of the Cold Lake centre's programming in 2018, with Copeland describing it as "heavily utilized" by local families.

"There's pretty significant visitation and use," he continued, adding the County of Lac La Biche "decided to fund their Parent Link Centre in the interim while all of this is working its way out."

Coun. Kirk Soroka said, "I think the best way to transition through this spoke and hub approach may be to bridge it until there's more fidelity to the information that we have. I would lean towards supporting this and then seeing if the MD of Bonnyville would throw some money at it and help us out a bit."

Currently, the MD doesn't provide Cold Lake any financial support for their Parent Link Centre.

Copeland wondered if this could change based on the program's current status.

In the meantime, the city intends to cover the $25,000 bill, a cost that will ultimately impact their overall budget because, up until this point, the majority of Parent Link's costs were covered by provincial dollars and "topped-up" by the municipality.

"The city is making a cognizant decision to take over the funding envelope of the government's program, because this was their program and you were providing top-up funding," noted CAO Kevin Nagoya, adding despite the fact that it's a provincial program, council could decide to pay for it for now "because the community likes that program."

Coun. Duane Lay brought up the point of whether or not it's the municipality's place to pick-up the tab for a program started by the province.

He said, "If the government doesn't care, I realize people are going to suffer, but this wasn't anything we did."

Although the FRN will encompass some of what the current Parent Link Centre offers, "there's a broader service to the FRNs," Nagoya detailed.

For example, rather than only offer programs for children six-years-old and under, the FRN will focus on those up to the age of 18. 

The city has submitted an expression of interest to become an FRN hub, but they have yet to hear back on the success of their application.

Coun. Jurgen Grau was concerned that by funding the Parent Link Centre for the month of April, the city would be jeopardizing their chances of taking on the role.

Although he didn't know for sure, Nagoya didn't think it would affect the application process.

Before deciding to only fund the program for the month of April, council had been considering offering a two-month extension on their dime.

However, Coun. Bob Buckle wasn't sold on the idea because of the city's current financial position.

Buckle said based on their lack of information about ID 349, Cold Lake is working on a tight budget, and this program is a "nice to have" service.

Council decided to fund the program until April 30 at a cost of $25,000. They will decide whether to continue to fund Parent Link after more information is available regarding ID 349. 

Meagan MacEachern, Bonnyville Nouvelle

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