I was contacted by a lady this week who had been utterly dismayed to hear media reports that St Brigid’s Family and Community Centre in the city might be suffering the chop of An Bord Snip Nua (the report has advocated closing the Family Support Agency, the State body with responsibility for funding some 107 family resource centres across the country, saving an estimated €30 million).
This lady is one of the literally tens of thousands of Waterford people who have benefited from the counselling and support services at the Yellow Road institution over the past twenty-five years and, as I’m withholding her name and not identifying her in any way, I know she won’t mind me sharing her story with you. For the purposes of this story, we’ll call the lady in question Maura.
Maura had initially been advised to contact the Centre some years ago by a friend to avail of their Citizen’s Advice facilities. Her marriage had broken up and she needed some guidance about how to put her financial situation on a sound footing so she received assistance from the Citizens’ Information Centre about her entitlements. She subsequently received invaluable free legal advice regarding her separation from her husband.
Alcohol had been a major factor in the break-up of her marriage and Maura was still suffering from the emotional effects of living with an addict for many years so she spoke to St Brigid’s personnel about some counselling. She received that counselling, which she found to be her salvation, for a number of months, while two of her children benefited greatly from the support of Alateen, a group for teens coping with alcoholism in the family, which meets regularly at Brigid’s. These days, Maura has moved on with her life, though she remains deeply indebted to the Centre for the many free and confidential services she availed of there. In her own words, “I was going through a living hell at the time and I wouldn’t have survived without St Brigid’s”.
One of the largest family and community centres in the country, St Brigid’s helps with an average of 10,000 people per year, from all walks of life, offering them high quality social work, childcare, family and counselling services . It provides advocacy on behalf of the marginalised in our society from a community development perspective. Indeed, its name has pretty much entered into the Waterford vernacular: I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard of people in dire straits ‘dropping in’ to St Brigid’s for some advice and help.
Which is why I’m utterly disgusted at the prospect of St Brigid’s and also the city’s Sacred Heart Centre closing. As if we didn’t already suspect, this really does demonstrate, close to home, where the priorities of our Government lie when it comes to disadvantaged people.
The grim reality of this damn recession is that social problems are on the rise and families are under more pressure than ever before. The supports provided by family resource centres are the only lifeline some of them have.
The main aim of St Brigid’s, as with its counterparts around the country, is to combat poverty and disadvantage – and Lord knows we’re seeing plenty of that at the moment! But the situation is going to get worse before it gets better and when the fog finally clears this country is really going to feel the effects of cutting such essential services. Research from the US, for example, indicates that investing just $600 in targeted early childhood education in disadvantaged communities saves society on average $15,000 per child in lower future crime rates.
I truly acknowledge that cutbacks – and dire cutbacks, at that – are needed if this country is to re-establish its viability. But this recommendation by An Bord Snip Nua, though presented in terms of closing an expensive State agency, is a cut that we cannot afford to make.