Growing Together, and the people it helps, are fighting back over coming cuts to its funding from the GNWT.
The resource centre – for families with children five years of age and under – invited Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson to hear its concerns at a Jan. 29 meeting.
Brenda Hall, executive director of Growing Together, said the organization currently gets $53,000 from the GNWT, and the cuts would begin in the 2019-2020 fiscal year until the funding is eliminated after three years.
Hall said the cuts would initially affect what could be offered for children aged one to five years when funding is reduced to $39,750 in the first year.
“So right away, one program day will be cut,” she said. “The next year, possibly I could keep two program days, but you won’t get as much services as we do now.”
In the second year, the current funding would be cut in half to $26,500. In the third year, Growing Together would get just $13,000 before the funding is eliminated the following year.
“That’s not very much money,” said Hall. “Maybe a program for five or six months, and slim, very slim.”
She said Growing Together would not close because of the cuts, but its services to children aged one to five years would drastically change.
Growing Together is funded by the GNWT through a program called the Healthy Children Initiative (HCI), but that is being transitioned to a new program called the Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECIP).
Growing Together also offers services to children aged zero to one year of age, which are funded through a couple of other sources. It is also funded for a literacy program for all children.
Fifteen women turned out at the Jan. 29 meeting to express their concerns to Simpson.
“I wasn’t quite aware of what was happening with this program, let alone how it would affect Growing Together,” he said of the changes by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE). “But looking back I see what they’re doing is they’re re-profiling the money that they have. I think they want to focus on small communities that don’t have licensed daycare providers and they want to use the money to build up capacity in those areas.”
Simpson said places like Hay River – not a small community with no programs, but also not Yellowknife – are sort of getting lost in the mix.
The MLA has received letters of support for Growing Together to take to Yellowknife and heard concerns firsthand at the meeting.
The Growing Together supporters – many of them young mothers – told of the emotional support offered by the program.
“If I didn’t have a place like Growing Together, I would definitely be at risk for more things,” said Diana Smith. “I would be at risk for postpartum depression. I would be more at risk for loneliness, because I’m not from here.”
Samantha Williams, who has lived in Hay River for six years, also spoke of the socializing benefits of Growing Together.
“I would be a hermit, because I don’t have anything up here. I don’t have family up here,” she said. “I would literally never get dressed if it weren’t for the programs here – the cooking classes, the arts and crafts, the ladies here. I would have no reason to leave the house.”
Karen Wall said Growing Together offers all kinds of things to help parents be better parents.
“There’s much more to this program than just coming here and having coffee,” she said.
A couple of women said Growing Together is key to their mental health.
“Were it not for this group I would be so horribly depressed,” said one of them.
Growing Together, which has been operating for 22 years, last year served 275 parents and children in the one-year-old to five-year-old age group.
Hall said the optimum outcome would be to get the GNWT funding cuts reversed.
A search for other funding would have to begin if that doesn’t happen.
“If not the GNWT, somewhere else,” said Hall. “I don’t know. I have to start looking.”
Shelley Kapraelian, director of early childhood development and learning with ECE, provided a written explanation of the funding changes to The Hub.
She noted the department conducted the first-ever formal review of the Healthy Children Initiative in 2015.
“Although the review acknowledged the positive work being done, it also indicated the need to adjust the program to best meet the needs of children who are vulnerable, at-risk and/or who have specific developmental needs across the NWT,” she said.
In 2017, the Healthy Children Initiative started to transition to the Early Childhood Intervention Program. Funding continued at 100 per cent for the first two years, but will fall to 75 per cent in 2019-2020, 50 per cent in 2020-2021, and 25 per cent in 2021-2022.
“When HCI is eliminated in 2022, ECIP will be fully funded,” stated Kapraelian. “The ECIP funding will be proposal-based and both current and new stakeholders will be eligible for this territory-wide funding. The five-year transition period is designed to support programs shifting to the proposal-based funding model. The new ECIP funding will keep the intent of the original HCI funding in that it is not intended to be core funding. While some programs may have received it for a longer period of time, it has always been a proposal process.”
A call for ECIP proposals will be issued this month.