Charity says axing troubled Belfast family project ‘false economy’

A protest was staged at Stormont on Monday over the end of the project
A protest was staged at Stormont on Monday over the end of the project

A charity programme which was recently praised by Arlene Foster is to draw to a close.

The Intensive Family Support Service (IFSS) will be wound up by March 31 leading to 47 redundancies according to Extern, which runs the scheme.

It said that the Belfast-based project was set up as a three-year pilot in 2014, with the option of extending it for another two years.

Its work includes sending staff out to visit more than 230 families who suffer problems ranging from drug and alcohol addiction to criminal histories, and Extern warned that the failure to extend it was a “completely false economy”, because the help it provides takes pressure off other public areas, such as the justice system.

It was funded by five departments – health, justice, communities, education and economy – which each paid £360,000 per year; a combined total of £1.8m.

The charity had been seeking assurances that the programme would continue, and DUP leader Arlene Foster wrote to it about two weeks ago, praising the “transformative impact” it has had on users’ lives.

However, she added “we do not have a functioning Executive and thus there is no budget in place” – something she blamed on Sinn Fein.

Without this departments “cannot commit” future funding, Mrs Foster said.

Whilst Extern yesterday said its users now represent “the first casualties of [the] Stormont collapse”, both the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care Board stressed it was a pilot scheme, which was always scheduled to end on March 31 this year.

The latter said it had “at no time given any notice of extension of the contract”, and had been “actively engaged” with Extern since January about the conclusion of the pilot.

A protest involving the Nipsa trade union, was staged outside Parliament Buildings on Monday over the end of the project.