Burns Lake residents who were hoping to ask questions to the president of the College of New Caledonia (CNC) last week about the transition of family programs were left disappointed.
The president of CNC, Henry Reiser, cancelled the meeting he had scheduled for Nov. 12, 2015, at the Lakes District campus.
Reiser said the reason for the cancellation was that he decided to wait until he obtained more details from government about the transition of the integrated family support services (family programs).
“Government has not come back yet with what the plan on their side is going to be; the minute that they do [get back to us] we will reschedule that community meeting so that we have answers for the community that are outside of our control,” he said.
Earlier this year, the CNC’s board of directors decided to transfer all family programs offered at the Lakes District campus to other agencies by March 2016. These programs have benefited hundreds of families in the community – through early childhood intervention programs, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) prevention, complex development and behavioural condition diagnosis, and a host of other initiatives. The programs have been funded through contracts with government agencies such as the ministry of children and family development.
Over the last 25 years, the Lakes District campus has developed a successful hub model of service. The late Clyde Hertzman – described by The Globe and Mail as a world leader in early childhood development – described the family programs offered at the Lakes District campus as “one of the most sophisticated and highly implemented hub models in the province.”
Community leaders are now worried that once these programs are transferred to other agencies, some of the services might get cancelled.
“It goes back to the [new] contractors to decide what services will remain and how they will look in our community, so a loss and change in services may potentially happen, and if those services aren’t retained in our community, you’re going to be looking at a significant increase in vulnerability in families,” said Joan Ragsdale, member of the Lakes District Family Enhancement Society (LDFES).
The Village of Burns Lake has also expressed concern about the transfer of family programs.
“With these programs cut by CNC, the services could be fragmented, dismantling the incredibly valuable and award-winning hub model of service that was created by local workers and refined for over 20 years,” said a village press release.
When asked if the new funders would be required to keep all contracts together and provide the same kind of services in a single location, Reiser said, “We don’t know that, so we can’t comment, but that’s what our request to government has been all along.”
Reiser said CNC has been working with government to try to ensure that the transition of the family programs is done in a “smooth and timely manner” to an appropriate agency.
“When we talked to government, we explained to them what we are providing,” he said. “We are hopeful that government will ask for the same services in the proposal process and in a single location.”
If for some reason the transition still hasn’t occurred by March 2016, however, CNC will continue to provide the family programs until they have been successfully transitioned, said Reiser.
“We are also concerned about the families that have been touched by FASD and we want to make sure that they have the same opportunities as anybody else does,” he added.
The College of New Caledonia has made a series of cutbacks to address a deficit of $2.8 million in its 2015/16 operational budget. However, the decision to transfer all family programs in Burns Lake had little to do with money.
“The core business of CNC is education, and the core business of the province and the health care system is supporting the family and social programs,” said Reiser. “We’re comfortable with the government and the health services executing their core businesses; our core business is education and that’s what we want to focus on.”
The college is in the process of restructuring its operations across all of its campuses. According to CNC, this restructuring will help improve administrative efficiencies and provide consistency to student services and educational experiences.
Reiser said he encourages all Burns Lake residents to attend CNC’s community meeting once it has been rescheduled.
“We really want the community to participate in these community sessions so that it gives us an opportunity to explain what we’re doing and it gives them [community members] an opportunity to give us their input,” said Reiser.
Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold, who has been actively trying to find a solution for the cutbacks at the Lakes District campus, has stressed how important it is for the community to stand up and hold decision makers accountable.
“We need to advocate and hold decision makers accountable; we need to stand up and advocate for our post-secondary institution, and we need to stand up for those who don’t have a voice.”