Family service centres warn of threat from McCarthy report

FAMILY Resource Centres around the country have warned that despite a growing demand for their services among vulnerable families, their future is under threat as a result of the McCarthy report.

The Family Resource Centre National Forum (FRCNF) went on to question the basis for the recommended abolition of the Family Support Agency (FSA) which provides much of their core funding. It claimed that the proposal to discontinue investment in their wide-ranging programmes was “rash” and could have irreversible consequences.

The FRCNF, which represents 107 centres across Ireland, yesterday criticised the An Bord Snip Nua report by economist Colm McCarthy which recommended that the FSA and most of its programme be discontinued in order to achieve annual savings of €30m.

The FSA, which operates under the aegis of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, was established in 2003. It has over 40 staff and in addition to funding Family Resource Centres, it also provides grants to voluntary organisations providing marriage, relationship, child and bereavement counselling services as well as running the Family Mediation service for couples going through separation or divorce.

The committee heard that the FSA has a budget of €35.7m in 2009, of which over €18m is provided in funding to Family Resource Centres.

“McCarthy offers no analysis of the long-term costs of removing family supports,” said the FRCNF’s chairperson, Packie Kelly, adding that Family Resource Centres represented good value for money.

They played a key role in facilitating community participation and social inclusion for vulnerable and marginalised individuals and families and were an integral part of local communities, said Mr Kelly.

Addressing a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs, the FRCNF pointed out that Family Resource Centres were used by almost one million people last year.

Mr Kelly said almost 11,000 people had completed educational courses, while over 6,000 had accessed counselling services. He said such centres had also assisted 600 community groups to access funding, while creating over 200 new community initiatives including youth, adult education, childcare and immigration supports.

He told the committee that Family Resource Centres had already responded to a request by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin, on how it might achieve some savings including a reduction in the number of existing regional and specialist support agencies.

Stephen Murphy, of the St Canice Resource Centre in Kilkenny, said there was a growing demand for their services due to the large number of middle-income families who had recently sought help with their financial problems.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social and Family Affairs said the minister would consider the recommendation of the McCarthy report as part of the estimates for the 2010 Budget.

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