Family Resource Centres in Laois witness 'unprecedented' demand

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Family Resource Centres in Laois witness 'unprecedented' demand

Treo Nua Family Resource Centre in Portlaoise, Laois

Family Resource Centres in Laois and around Ireland have witnessing ‘unprecedented’ demand for family supports, food parcels and mental health services as a result of Covid-19.

There are two such centres in Laois – in Mountmellick at the MDA centre and in Portlaoise at Treo Nua in Knockmay.

A new survey by the Family Resource Centre National Forum has found that income levels at the centres dropped steeply while their services were needed most by vulnerable communities.

"The vast majority of Family Resource Centres have experienced a sharp increase in demand for their services since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with particularly high demand for parent and family supports, food parcels, and counselling and mental health services. At the same time, the income generated by FRCs has fallen steeply" the forum has reported.

Below: MDA Mountmellick, home to the town's Family Resource Centre.

There are 121 FRCs in Ireland to support families in communities experiencing poverty and disadvantage.  

The survey shows that 83% of them have experienced an increase in demand for their services over the past three months, with a significant majority of those (62%) witnessing an increase in demand of more than 25%.

Almost every centre - 93% of them, lost the income they usually get by hiring out rooms to local groups and taking in fees for training courses. 74% of them experienced a decrease of more than 25%.

There are also concerns about reopening.

Clare Cashman is Chair of the FRCNF.

“FRCs in Laois and nationwide are experiencing significantly increased demand for their services and supports, at the same time as experiencing a decrease in income. There has been a sharp rise in demand for mental health supports, food and essential home supplies, activity packs for families, and check-in calls for vulnerable and isolated members of local communities.

“FRCs have adapted quickly in response to Covid-19 restrictions and to meet emerging needs within their local communities. Laois FRCs are playing a central role in the local community response, and the Covid-19 pandemic has copper-fastened their significance as a source of essential support to thousands of families nationwide. In the months to come, as the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic becomes more apparent, FRCs must be adequately funded and resourced to meet the demand for their services," she said.

Lighting a Candle for Centres and Communities

At 11am on Friday, June 12, all 121 FRCs across Ireland will light a candle in their centres, in recognition of the huge community response to Covid-19, and the ways in which communities have been impacted by the virus.

“Many of the communities in which we work are still reeling from the aftershocks of the 2008 recession,” said Clare Cashman. “There has been a huge demand on public finances in the past three months, but our message to politicians is clear: cutting investment in the most vulnerable communities now will wreak havoc in the years ahead. We need to ensure communities are supported now to properly recover and bounce back from Covid-19.”

In their survey responses, FRCs described the new measures and work processes they have put in place in response to the Covid-19 crisis. The top three trends in this regard were:

FRCs are playing a key role in collecting, preparing and providing food for families and individuals in need. Almost all FRCs are now providing food packages, food vouchers or cooked meals to families in their local area, with some providing food for hundreds of families on a weekly basis.
FRCs are providing activity packs for families – with a focus on home-schooling and entertainment for children.
FRCs are undertaking regular check-in calls with vulnerable members of their local communities, with many FRCs contacting hundreds of people each week.

When asked how Covid-19 restrictions have been impacting on their local community, FRCs identified a number of key trends, as follows:

A negative impact on poverty, unemployment and social exclusion.
Increased demand for support, including from new service-users.
Serious concerns about the current increase – and anticipated ongoing increases into the future – in demand for mental health supports.
Greater collaboration between diverse agencies and support groups; and a strong community spirit evident in response to Covid-19.

Re-Opening Concerns

In relation to re-opening, the survey shows that FRCs are concerned about the suitability of their existing premises to ensure staff and service-users can attend safely; ICT capacity and access amongst their staff and service-users; and the increased costs and reduced income arising from the changed circumstances brought about by Covid-19.

When asked about the longer-term impact of Covid-19, the top three concerns raised by FRCs were as follows:

How FRCs can continue to provide group activities, such as Parent and Toddler Groups, alcohol and addition support groups, summer camps, etc. This was raised as a concern by over 37% of FRCs.
Loss of income and increased costs (due to the need to change ways of working in the aftermath of the crisis). This was raised by one-third of FRCs.
Changes required to physical premises to ensure they comply with all health and safety guidelines post-Covid-19. 21% of FRCs pointed to the need for more space, new signage, etc.

The Family Resource Centre programme has been in operation for over 25 years, and is currently funded by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.  Further information is available at www.familyresource.ie.