Parents worry end to Parent Link Centres will leave gap in vital services

The Alberta government announced it will replace the Parent Link Centre programming with a new Family Resource Network.

Providers have until mid-January to apply for new Family Resource Network

Parent Link Centres offer a variety of programming for children and parents, which many see as essential to healthy communities. (Submitted by Fort Saskatchewan Families First Society)

Kina Schoendorfer had six-month-old twins and a two-year old daughter when she first came across a Parent Link Centre in northeast Edmonton. 

"It was a lifeline. I can't see it any other way," Schoendorfer said in an interview with CBC News. "I don't know where I would be without them." 

The mother of three young children said staff and programs at the Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre helped her through postpartum syndrome. 

"I just always felt like I was not a good enough mom. And there were times when I had those thoughts of suicide."

It was as simple as dropping her kids off for the Early Start program for two hours. She went home, took a shower, did a load of laundry and had a moment of quiet. 

"And that's, I think, when it all kind of clicked — that I needed outside help. There was no way I could have done it myself or gotten out of it myself." 

The Parent Link Centre offered at Norwood is one of 130 such programs in the province slated to be cancelled early next year. 

The Alberta government announced last week they will be replaced with Family Resource Networks by March 2020. 

Lauren Armstrong, press secretary to Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz, said the current parent link system is a patchwork of services across the province.

The new approach aims to create a more standardized system, she said, noting that the current programming stops at age six in some areas. 

The government estimates the change will save $12-million a year.

Kina Schoendorfer and her three children have been going to the Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre for several years, benefitting from classes through Parent Link. (Submitted by Kina Schoendorfer)

But parents and administrators in several districts are worried about what the change means for future programming.

Kelsey Rockwell, a mother of two young children in Lacombe, said the programs have been extremely valuable for her family. 

"My children and myself have come to know and love the staff at each of the programs we had the privilege of attending," Rockwell wrote in an email to CBC News. "My heart literally drops in grief when I think about not having our parent link programs available."

'It's a lot to lose'

It will be up to each centre to re-apply for the new funding model by mid-January 2020. 

Heather Boonstra, executive director of the Fort Saskatchewan Families First Society, said parents tell her the Parent Link Centre is "essential programming."

She's hopeful the new model will let them deliver similar programs seamlessly so nobody falls through the cracks. 

Lauren Fagen, executive director of the Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre, agrees parent link programs are vital to healthy communities but she's embracing the transition as a chance to reevaluate the current programming and identify gaps.

"We're not seeing this as cuts but an opportunity to re-envision the programs and services that exist," Fagen said.  

"We're pretty excited," Fagen said "It's the first time in my career in Alberta in 15 years that I've seen a revisioning of our sector and quite frankly it's long overdue." 

Kelsey Rockwell and her children attend a Mother's Day event at the Parent Link Centre in Lacombe. (Submitted by Kelsey Rockwell)

The province's expressions of interest process lasts until mid-January, during which time current providers can apply for new contracts under the Family Resource Network.

They are expected to announce the successful applicants by next March.