Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The government needs to invest in community services

I believe that citizens have rights. Economic, as well as civil, and social rights. I believe in a citizen centred rights based society. These rights include the right to a home, to a public health service, access to education at all levels, the right to a job, a green environment and safe communities.

I believe that it is the birth right of all citizens to have these rights. It is also the means to create a fair and equal society. That makes sense in public policy terms. In my view it also makes economic sense. That is of course if you believe the economy should serve the people. The provision of these rights means healthier, more united empowered communities. Investment in communities makes sense.

One of the best aspects of my work as a TD for Louth and East Meath is meeting with a wide range of community and voluntary groups. The work they do is exactly the same work that I was part of in West Belfast.

The Family Addiction Support Network (FASN) operates from a community building in Lois Dubh, Dundalk. FASN is run by Jackie and Gwen McKenna. Cllr Ruairi Ó Murchú and I recently visited them and FASN Chairperson Marian Sloan.

FASN was established in 2002 and it provides a dedicated support service for family members or concerned persons who are impacted by a loved one’s substance misuse across the four counties of Cavan, Monaghan, Meath and Louth. Like so many worthy community responses, FASN grew organically along with the needs of family members who were impacted by a loved one’s addiction behaviour.  
Currently FASN provides the following services,
-      24/7 Out of Hours Telephone Helpline
-      1-1 Support
-      Peer Group Support
-      Access to Counselling
-      Access to Respite
-      Educational Programme
-      Assistance with Drugs Intimidation Reporting

This last service is of particular importance. In communities across Louth, particularly but not exclusively in areas of disadvantage, drug dealers are targeting drug users to pay alleged drug debts. They are also intimidating their family members. In many cases they extort vast sums of money from people who may never have taken drugs in their life.

I’ve met many people struggling with addiction, and they have told me of the fear they and their families endure. They are too scared to approach the Gardaí. This is where FASN can make a real difference.

The trusted relationship between FASN volunteers and the people they work with is what makes it possible for a family to approach the Gardaí instead of enduring threats, intimidation, extortion and even attacks on themselves and their home. The level of support provided by FASN is amazing.  What is frustrating and wrong is the fact that all of this work since 2002 has been done voluntarily.

The network at present has one voluntary part-time Project Coordinator, one voluntary part –time Family Support Specialist, and one part time administrator who is retained via a Community Scheme.
The service is further supported by trained volunteers. Many of them have come through the peer support groups themselves

The project is unique in that all of the other locally available HSE or voluntary supports focus on the person in addiction, while FASN offers a comprehensive range of services to family members. Seanadóir Frances Black’s Rise Foundation provides valuable support.

Recently the FASN project was recognised nationally at the SPARK Social Enterprise Awards in Dublin Castle where it won an award for its efforts at helping  excluded communities get involved in the decision making process.

Jackie McKenna told me: “FASN will only survive with adequate core funding- it is unsustainable on fundraising and volunteering alone.
We do not want to do away with volunteering as this is a fundamental part of FASN but we do require core funding to ensure future generations have enough resources to meet their needs.”

Currently the project receives €7,508 from the North East Regional Drugs & Alcohol Task Force to deliver Counselling, Respite & External Support & Supervision to Peer Led Facilitators. FASN also makes applications to a variety of small funding streams to deliver educational programmes and expand into other counties.

Fundraising to cover operational costs is relentless. It shouldn’t be this way. Their asks are modest. They have prepared a budget which indicates that all of these services across 4 counties can be provided for little over €100,000 per year. That would be money well spent.
The services could be further developed and expanded, at extra cost of course. That also would be money well spent.

FASN directly supports the goals of the National Drugs Strategy – ‘Reducing Harm Supporting Recovery 2017-2015’
FASN needs core funding.
And FASN is not the only project in trouble. The North East Drugs Task Force – has projects across Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan which are also in danger of closing due to lack of funding.

The work done by FASN, like many others across the voluntary and community sector, is patriotic work. Many people would have slipped through the cracks without these practical patriots. The government needs to give them the core funding they deserve. That makes economic sense. Better to fund services now than to have the state pick up the bill for the greater calamities which will visit these communities and families effected by addiction if these services disappear.

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