Lac La Biche County’s Family and Community Support Services department, the office that oversees the area’s Parent Link operation, still has no news about planned changes to the program’s provincial funding.
“We haven’t heard anything from the province, so we are continuing as the status quo until we hear more,” said Colette Borgun the Lac La Biche County councilor assigned to sit on the FCSS board.
Borgun and the board met on Monday night, she said, but have no new news on the information received before Christmas that funding would be altered drastically for the province-wide Parent link program that, according to provincial government statistics, served more than 105,000 Albertans last year in the 59 Parent Link Centres across the province.
Help for families
Locally, and in those community’s province-wide, the Parent Link programs offer early childhood development options to families of children from newborn to six years of age. The Parent Link programming, which began province-wide in 2004, also offers a chance for parents and guardians to network with one another.
Late last October, the Kenney UCP government issued a statement that the end of March 2020 budget would not include the direct funding for the Parent Link programs as they stand today. In several news releases and information items sent to municipalities, provincial officials have hinted that the specific Parent Link funding would be split into other community group that may provide similar services.
Details on exactly what any changes could mean financially have not been explained by the government, leaving the local Parent Link — and the others, in limbo.
Lac La Biche County councilors have pledged they will step in to fund the child and family service should the province pull the funding completely. Council has even gone so far as to make formal notice of motion that the municipality will continue to support the Parent Link program.
The municipality’s manager of recreation and community services, Darrell Lessmeister, says families using the program and staff working within it can expect the full support of the municipality.
“We can and will provide the services,” said Lessmeister when asked what the program would look like locally if provincial funding was cut. But he went on to say that municipal offices have very little to go on from the government or their provincial representatives. “We’re hoping that by March we’ll know what funding is there and what is not being funded — but the County needs to keep funding for it.”
Provincial not municipal
In standing up for the Parent Link funding — even “stepping up” to pay for it if the province “downloads” the expense to the municipality as Mayor Omer Moghrabi has already said — Lac La Biche County councilors say they want the community to know that they didn’t put the proposed changes in place, but they will try to fix any issues that arise. The optics … and some comments from community members … might make it look like the funding changes are part of the municipality’s budget. And that’s information councillors want to set straight.
“Lac La Biche County is not cutting the funding. We want to maintain it,” said councilor Lorin Tkachuk. “We want to make sure that this service is still there at the same level — it might not be called Parent Link, but it’s still all the services that are offered.”
The provincial government’s 2020 budget announcement is expected to be made at the end of March to coincide with the government’s fiscal year.