Monday, March 29, 2010

Budget cuts in Canada mean demise of organization that supports families, child development

From The Victoria Times Colonist in Canada:

A provincewide organization that distributes millions of dollars for literacy, nutrition, parenting and family-development programs says it will have to close its doors because the B.C. government has cut financial support.

Success by 6, a community-led initiative that has distributed more than $23 million to B.C. children's programs since 2003, said it won't be able to operate after next March because it has lost provincial support.

Government confirmed yesterday it had reduced the group's annual funding this year from $5 million to $2.5 million. The province will eliminate funding entirely in 2011.

The government money had been used to form unique three-way partnerships with business and non-profit groups. B.C. United Way locations matched the province's $5 million a year, and local credit unions provided an additional $400,000.

Success by 6 provided grants to around 400 community organizations a year, such as the Victoria Conservatory of Music's music therapy program for children with Down syndrome.

Almost 70 child and family organizations on Vancouver Island received money in 2008.

"Success by 6 is a really important initiative and it will be a huge loss to the community if they close," said Liz Bloomfield, executive director of Victoria's Single Parent Resource Centre, which used $20,000 from the organization to secure a matching grant from Telus. The money runs a program in which isolated mothers are matched with community mentors to learn parenting skills.

The provincial government has been slashing spending in almost all of its ministries this year as it struggles to hit a deficit target of $1.7 billion.

The province reduced its support to Success by 6 because it is already spending millions to fund all-day kindergarten, along with StrongStart early-learning centres, said Mary Polak, minister of children and family development.

But critics say those government programs target child development at around the age of 4 or 5, whereas Success by 6 begins at the newborn level, where mothers and babies begin to bond and form early healthy habits.

"This was the brainchild of the government, United Ways and credit unions, so yes they can be applauded for being partners but it doesn't remove [government's] responsibility for deciding to leave," said Jan White, the program's south Island co-ordinator.

"It's like leaving a marriage -- what do you do with your other partner?"

For now, the government appears to be leaving more money on the table -- more than $5 million from partners -- than it saves by cutting support.

That doesn't make financial sense from a government that has encouraged public-private partnerships, said Michael McKnight, president of the United Way of the Lower Mainland.

"Even though we've raised significantly less money in the last couple of years, we've maintained 100 per cent of our commitment to the partnership," he said.

"Yes, money is tight. But I guess it depends on what your priority is. In this case, government chose not to support kids in this particular way.

"For the government it doesn't sound like a big deal, but to that mom with two or three kids, it means the world."