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Demand for Family Resource Centres rises

Annual report shows increase in the use of Family Resource Centres

A significant increase in the demand for Family Resource Centre services has been evidenced in the 2011 annual report on their work. According to the report, the number and extent of responses that these centres are delivering to communities is a result of the economic downturn.
The Family Resource Centre (FRC) programme is mainly funded by the Family Support Agency which operates under the auspice of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
With 106 centres located in disadvantaged areas across the country, the centres work to promote enhanced health; active learning; economic security and an improved participation in society.
The work of Family Resource Centres is implemented by a small group of core-funded staff, (on average, each FRC has just over two paid staff), with some additional staff positions being funded through other funding streams. FRCs commonly recruit volunteers to work alongside paid staff.
Initially developed as a pilot in 1994, and subsequently mainstreamed in 1997, the average FRC includes 28 volunteers.
Chairperson of the FRC’s National Forum, Claire Dineen, outlined how the demand for services has resulted in centres tailoring programmes to suit the changing needs of society.
“The nature of people’s engagement with us has shifted, while there is still demand for jobseeker support, many people are now looking to us for ways to connect with their community.
In particular, people are seeking to be involved in initiatives such as men’s sheds and support groups for people in long-term unemployment or with mental health issues,” said Ms Dineen.
She explains that in ‘a noticeably testing environment’, Family Resource Centres have responded to an increase in demands by ‘providing a greater level and range of interventions to communities’ in the hope of servicing the needs of a community.
“Last year, we delivered 24 per cent more training and development courses than in 2010 and, collectively, we helped to form over 300 new community groups. These interventions are ensuring that individuals and families don’t become isolated and unsupported as the impact of the recession deepens.”
With the majority of new community groups established with the help of FRCs last year focusing on young people and on men, these services are in demand now more than ever.
Mary Jackson, project-coordinator with Tacú Family Resource Centre in Ballinrobe, noted that this centre was following the national trend with regard to the demand for services.
“From our own point of view we have noticed that more men are accessing our projects. Particularly those unemployed from the construction industry who are looking to re-train and up-skill,” explained Mary.
Talking about the increase in demand for services as a result of the recession, Mary states that Ballinrobe’s demand for services is up ‘50 per cent on last year over’. However, Ms Jackson partly attributes this increase to the centre’s relocation to the central location of Main Street, Ballinrobe.
Agreeing with Ms Dineen’s comments on the importance of these centre’s services, Mary explains that it is very important for families to have somewhere to go where they can be ‘sign-posted’ when dealing with issues such as, bereavement, child protection and drug addiction.
“More often than not we are the first point of contact for families and we aim to signpost people in the right direction. We are receiving a Family Support Worker from the HSE this year which will be a big bonus for us,” said Ms Jackson.
Ms Dineen takes up where Mary left off explaining that early interventions that typically involves assistance with family budgeting, directions to mental health services and relationship counselling can help families to deal with issues before they turn into ‘insurmountable problems’.
“If the level of intervention we currently offer is not maintained, more families will fall through the net, leaving graver and deeper problems to be addressed by the state in the future,” explained Dineen.
To date, FRCs have tried to meet demand by restructuring programmes and increasing the engagement of volunteers in their work.
However, due to year-on-year reductions in budgets, the balancing act previously performed by these centres has become incredibly difficult.
With the Family Support Agency merging into the new Child and Family Support Agency, it will be important that the effectiveness and relevance of Family Resource Centres be reflected in future restructuring.
“It is essential that the Family Resource Centre programme remains a flagship programme within the new Agency and retains its own budget, management structure, data collection system, policy and practice. That way, Family Resource Centres can continue to offer a basic safety net in the difficult times that lie ahead,” concluded Ms Dineen.