The Family Support Agency provides support for families under the Family Resource Centre (FRC) Programme. The aim is to combat disadvantage and improve the functioning of the family unit. Key services provided by FRCs include:
Information, advice and support for groups and families at local level.
Assistance to community groups (such as training and the shared use of facilities).
Education courses and training opportunities.
Childcare facilities for those attending courses provided by the FRC.
A key role for FRCs is in providing information and advice. In 2010, over 136,000 people were advised directly by an FRC and a further 56,000 people were referred onwards to other information providers. The VEC's and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) were the services to which people were most frequently referred.
FRCs have a broad range of involvement with children and young people and work closely with many local schools. The range of interventions include early childhood care and education, initiatives to retain children and young people in school, breakfast clubs, homework clubs, youth cafés, community based youth work, facilities and services for young people, work with particular target groups of vulnerable young people and work on issues of particular concern/risk to young people e.g. alcohol and drugs prevention, etc.
The Agency also provides funding to voluntary and community organisations providing marriage, relationship, child and bereavement counselling services. Some 600 organisations are funded each year. These services aim to support people deal with difficulties they are experiencing in their relationships, to help children whose lives have been affected by parental separation and to support families who have experienced the death of a family member. Over 20,000 individual counselling sessions were delivered within FRCs in 2010.
Looking to the future, the Family Support Agency will, along with the HSE's Children and Family Services, form an integral part of the new Child and Family Support Agency, due to be established in 2013. Plans for the transition to this new entity are well under way. I believe this will provide for greater integration of these complementary services, with their shared aims of supporting parents and families and ensuring the welfare and protection of children are adequately safeguarded.