BOW VALLEY – With Bow Valley Parent Link set to close its doors by end of March, its current team is doing everything it can to ensure the communities of Banff, Canmore and Exshaw have proper early childhood services.
While the Town of Canmore has officially filed an Expression of Interest (EOI) to carry on delivering those services, but it’s now a waiting game as administration and Parent Link employees prepare for the new Family Resource Network, with clarity in funding and services likely not coming until a week before April 1.
“The new vision is for a network of children services and different organizations can apply for different pieces of the network, and organizations will be funded for a service, not a program. Collectively this network of services will be called a Family Resource Network,” Lisa Brown, manager of social community development, told council last Wednesday (Jan. 14).
“Under the new vision, there will be approximately 61 family resource networks across the province. Communities that are in close geographic proximity are considered one network area. Network areas are categorized as small, medium or large based on population and land size. Our network area, which includes Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise and the MD of Bighorn, is considered a small network area.”
The new program, Brown explained, will be a "spoke and hub" model with services considered as spokes. The hub would be responsible for evaluating and coordinating spoke services. Brown said only one organization within a network centre will receive provincial funding to provide hub services, whereas multiple organizations can provide spoke services.
The Family Resource Network will also include a new funding model, which required the Town of Canmore, and any other organizations in the Bow Valley hoping to provide services, to compete for funding through the EOI process.
“[We’ve applied] for four services: parent education service and that’s 1FTE [full-time employee] to do parent education with a focus on 0-6, but the scope is 0-18; family support, that’s 1FTE and that will be that in-home support service is going to be apart of that ... so it’s more targeted support,” said Brown.
“We are applying for a social connection service and that’s going to be 2.1FTE. That will be like the drop-in, so we’re hoping to have a social connection piece for families with children 0-6, we’re hoping to have a social connection piece for children 7-13 years of age and then we’re hoping to do social connection from 14-18.”
The EOI deadline was Monday (Jan. 20) with the evaluation period set to finish on Feb. 14.
“If we do make it to the next step ... then we start negotiating cost. The negotiation phase goes from Feb. 17 – March 20. They haven’t told us when we will hear – I’m assuming shortly after the negotiation phase because we’re supposed to start service on April 1,” said Brown.
The Town of Canmore received notice the province of Alberta was terminating its Parent Link funding in November. Along side this, the Town of Banff also received notice its Children Services grants would be terminated. These grants amounted to $68,000. The combination of the two services resulted in $560,000 in early childhood education funding across the entire valley being discontinued.
The Family Resource Network estimated cost of providing services for children aged 0-18 years is $350,000 to $499,999, but staff at Parent Link and the Town of Canmore won’t know what the valley’s funding will look like until likely the end of March.
Mayor John Borrowman said he has confidence in the Brown and her team, who have completed a lot of work in a short amount of time, in order to submit the EOI by the deadline.
“I have really strong confidence in the work you’re doing and your team – I choose to remain optimistic that this will chose to remain a positive transition for the Bow Valley community,” said Borrowman during the Jan. 14 council meeting.
Councillor Esmé Comfort echoed his sentiments, albeit tearfully.
“I’m very distressed about this,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I just have to say, I always applaud your efforts to maintain what pieces of the programming you can keep … I have to also express my disappointment in the provincial government in not recognizing the importance of early childhood services.”
Brown told the Outlook the last few months have been akin to a grieving process.
“It’s been an adventure definitely for everybody, it was very difficult for the staff when there was so much uncertainty. Now I think we’re starting to have some clear next steps,” she said.
“It’s almost like a grieving process, we’re not at this acceptance piece so this is where it is, we’re going to make sure we do good services in the community, we’re going to make sure we fill the gaps that need to be filled, and we’re hoping that we have enough resources to do it well.
“We know that there will be something, we just don’t know what it will look like, and something even if its not with us, that’s a good thing for our community. And I think we have the best possible staff right now to work us through this transition period and to launch something new like a Family Resource Network – the team is highly skilled, caring, empathetic and careful.”