Sunday, January 21, 2007

Another local service destined for the cutting block?

It's been a bad week it seems for local services that provide assistance to those in the most need in Prince Rupert. Earlier on this blog, we recounted the situation at KAPS, the local anti poverty society that is threatened with closure due to a lack of volunteers.

The latest problem in the community could be at the Berry Patch, a local Child Care resource which may have to close its doors due to funding cutbacks. With the Federal government redirecting chid care monies directly to the parents now, the province having lost some 455 million dollars destined for delivery over the next three years says that they are in the unenviable position of being faced with challenges.

Challenges is never a good word when it comes down to funding services, as it always seems to result in a downsizing, redirection or closing of an in place service. Considering the nature of economic events of late in the city, taking away services from those that seem to need them the most, is not something that will be easily replaced or addressed.

The Daily News had the details of the issue, the reaction to the decisions and what the local organizers hope to do to get Ottawa and Victoria's attention, all of which was featured on the front page of their Friday paper.

Cloud over the Berry Patch as cuts threaten its future
By James Vassallo
The Daily News
Friday, January 19, 2007

It’s every parents dream that their children will have more opportunities than they did, but for those kids born this year, there will be at least one less critical service to call on to achieve that end.

In less than ninth months, the provincial government-funded Child Care Resource and Referral (CCRR) programs, which includes The Berry Patch in Prince Rupert and Q.C.I. Child Care Resource and Referral on Haida Gwaii, will be closed.

“It’s an attack on rural communities,” said North Coast MLA Gary Coons who intends to make the issue front and centre at his party’s rural caucus meeting next week in Courtenay.
“This is a huge community asset and with the demographics we’ve got and the needs we have for this community, this is a vital service.”

In a form letter dated Jan. 5, 2007 CCRR providers were told by Minister of State for Child Care Linda Reid that the cuts would need to be made in light of the elimination of the federal government’s Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) agreement. Instead of giving the money to the provinces, the feds sent the cash to parents instead in the form of a $100 per month benefit.

“The expiration of the ELCC agreement on March 31, 2007 represents a loss of more than $455 million in federal funding over the next three years,” writes Reid. “Obviously, this presents the province with a challenge.

“Moving forward, we want to ensure that we come up with the best possible solution for B.C. Families and this requires a thoughtful approach. To that end, maintaining programs and services that support the most vulnerable children and families has been the key consideration in our decision-making process.”

CCRR programs like The Berry Patch — which provides referrals for parents looking for child care, advocates for quality child care locally, provides information on what’s available to parents, helps those in need fill out child care subsidy applications, offers toys and resources through a lending library, provides parent education and a support network when dealing with various issues — were not considered among those services that support the communities most vulnerable.

“Child care providers have been looking for a comprehensive plan for provincial child care, and instead the government has dismissed this essential service (and) Minister Reid and the B.C. Liberals sat back and watched as the Harper government gutted federal funding,” said Coons.

“This gives child care operators no option but to raise their fees or close their doors. Parents will try to find the extra money to cover an increase in fees, but for many that is going to be difficult, or simply not possible.”

The impact on local CCRR’s will be felt as soon as Oct. 1, 2007. The Berry Patch serves the communities of Hartley Bay, Kincolith, Kitkatla, Metlakatla, Oona River, Port Edward, Port Simpson and Prince Rupert. The Q.C.I. Child Care Resource and Referral Program services those in Masset, Old Massett, Port Clements, Queen Charlotte, Sandspit, Skidegate and Tlell.
A new program with significantly less funds has been proposed by the province to instead serve communities like these around B.C.

“This action by the BC Liberals, once again highlights this government’s attack on rural communities, as the $14 million provincial budget may be reduced to $3 million with an emphasis on ‘regional centralization’,” said Coons. “This will force most, if not all, rural CCRRs to shut their doors.

“This cut to $3 million would not fund one region at current levels.”

The Berry Patch is encouraging supporters to write letters to the MP and MLA, the federal political party leaders, the premier, prime minister and provincial and federal cabinet ministers who could impact the decision. The cuts will be made official when the provincial budget is passed in February.

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