BRISTOL - As state legislators prepare to vote on a long overdue state budget Thursday, the director of Bristol’s three Family Resource Centers fears the final budget will include drastic funding cuts to FRCs statewide.
There are 74 FRCs in Connecticut, each based at a public school. In Bristol they are located at South Side Elementary and West Bristol and Greene-Hills K-8 schools.
Linda Rich, Bristol FRCs director, described the concept as “the parents’ homeroom, where all parents are welcome.” They provide early intervention, developmental screening, and a host of other academic, social, and support services to children from birth through eighth grade, and their families.
“The idea is the school is the easiest and best place to reach families in need, so the teachers can teach and don’t have to do social work too,” she said.
Rich said Gov. Dannel Malloy’s current budget proposal recommends a 50 percent funding cut to the 74 FRCs statewide.
“In the past the governor has been very supportive of early childhood education and support, but it’s a difficult financial time,” she said.
Rich said the Bristol FRCs are completely grant funded, with the state grant of $100,000 for each one providing the bulk of their funding. The state grant also provides leverage to obtain grants from other sources.
If funding is cut in half, about half the FRCs in Connecticut will likely have to close, she said. “We don’t know how they are going to decide which half to eliminate. We could keep one or two open or Bristol could lose all three.”
Rich said she has reached out to get the support of Bristol’s state representatives.
“I am 100 percent behind the Family Resource Centers as they are a valuable resource to our communities,” said state Rep. Cara Pavalock, R-Bristol, who noted that the details of the budget proposal to be voted on Thursday were not released ahead of time “so I have no idea what the effects will be.”
State Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, said, “Providing resources for families and caregivers as they work to shape our children into caring, responsible adults is one of the most important things we can do. Family Resource Centers work hand-in-hand with our schools to ensure that children in need have proper clothing, school supplies, food, and healthcare.”
“Funding Family Resource Centers is not a luxury, but a necessity for the families and schools they serve,” Martin said. “If these centers are forced to close because of funding cuts, it will create a negative ripple effect that will be felt throughout the community.”
Rich also had families who benefit from the FRCs write letters of support to the legislators and the governor.
In her letter, Mary Hicking described what the West Bristol FRC has done for her and her six children since they moved to Bristol in 2005, through such programs as Raising Readers, Reading is Fundamental, and Parents as Teachers (PAT).
“My children received countless books over the years from the numerous reading programs held by the FRC, books that I otherwise might not have been able to afford,” she said.
When her now 13-year-old son showed early signs of a speech delay, PAT was able to get him into a speech program through the school district before he was even in pre-kindergarten, allowing him to start kindergarten on the same level as the other children, Hicking said.
She talked about how the FRC got her involved in its People Empowering People program, which gave her the much needed confidence and communication skills to join her child’s PTA and serve various positions, including president.
“So many times when money was tight the FRC was there with open arms. They have provided my children with coats, school supplies, Christmas presents, and numerous other items. They have even provided us with food when we needed it. They make the school a welcoming place and I don’t know what parents would do without it,” Hicking continued.
“FRCs change lives!” wrote South Side parent Misty Diakon.
“When I had my twins, I went from one to three children. I could not afford to put them in programs that cost money as I had three children to support. We were able to participate in free playgroups, the Raising Readers program, and so much more,” Diakon said.
“I now work in the school system and see the other side of the FRC,” she said. “When we call them for anything, they never say no. They find a way to make things happen. They care for the students and families in Bristol. Many families would lose so much if the FRCs were not funded appropriately.”
In her letter, Mary Helen Levesque, Greene-Hills grandparent and parent, described how her family benefitted from the FRC’s reading programs, grandparents programs, playgroups, food and gifts in times of needs, and more.
“They help me with peace of mind with personal problems and guide me to the proper locations,” she said.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.