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Cash crisis at Norwich families charity

FamiliesCounsellorAn award-winning family support service in Norwich has seen its funding slashed and faces the prospect of being forced to close in six months.

Norfolk and Norwich Families' House has seen half of its £300,000 running costs lost at the stroke of a civil service pen as the Department of Education and Skills (DfES) announced it will not be providing any funding this year.

The news of the crisis facing Families' House, based in Ber Street, Norwich, comes at a time when other locally-based charities have also suffered funding crises.

Both of Families' House main services, the Family Support Service and the Private Law Supervised Contact, are under threat. These services provide one-to-one and group support for mums and dads who need help with parenting skills and a safe environment for separated families to meet up.

General manager Aliona Laker and her team have been told by the DfES that they can apply for funding again in the 2007 budget round, but by then it could be too late.

Family Support Service staff hours have already been reduced to a bare minimum and the service is unable to take new referrals.

In April it was reported that Families' House was concerned that its supervised contact service, which provides separated parents with a safe and comfortable environment in which to meet their children, would fail to get funding from a separate DfES pot of £7.5 million for contact centres. The charity has also now learned that this is the case and no money will be forthcoming.

Rosemary English, one the charity's founding trustees said it was set up to provide encouragement to families in difficult times.

She added: “In addition, there was a need for a safe and friendly environment, with a warm welcome for young children, where they could meet parents in what would often be quite stressful circumstances. It would be a tragedy if this vital work came to an end.”

FamiliesHouseLogoFamilies' House will now be reliant on grants from charitable trusts and donations from the community. This funding is very welcome, but unpredictable.

All Norfolk MPs have been vocal in their support and Norwich South MP Charles Clarke, Norwich North MP Ian Gibson and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb have been active in trying to resolve the current funding predicament.

Two years ago, Families' House received a grant from the DfES Parenting Fund, which enabled the charity to expand its Family Support Service. The money underpinned the Norwich Family Friends befriending scheme and enabled the establishment of Parent Support Groups and more intensive one-to-one assistance.

Since the funding cuts, the Family Support Service has had to scale down its activity and is only able to continue with Norwich Family Friends and very limited one-to-one and group work.

The Family Support Service is currently looking after 44 families with 89 children. A further 15 families with 32 children are on the waiting list for support.

The expansion provided a vital service to families. One parent who attended the Parent Support Group programme, who cannot be named, said: “I am so glad that I have got the group to come to - it keeps me going.”

Another said: “I was able to get closer to my daughter again after learning some parenting skills. We hugged each other for the first time in a long time.”

Norfolk and Norwich Families' House was one of the Guardian newspaper's Charities of the Year 2004 and was the Lord Mayor of Norwich Civic Charity for 2003/04.
Pictured is the counselling service at Families House.
Adapted from an article in the Norwich Evening News.


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