A vital service for families across Renfrewshire is at risk after funding for three areas is set to end in March 2018.

Families First operate in specific areas of Renfrewshire giving assistance to vulnerable families who, through no fault of their own, need help and support to give their children the best start in life.

Emergency funding will expire in March 2018 and will bring an end to the services in Johnstone, Foxbar and Gallowhill.

They help families who may have run into difficulties, be it emotionally, financially or physically, which prohibit them from doing, what some people may consider the simplest of things.

Launched in 2013, Families First brought a range of council services together into one group to make it easier for families to access. They initially began operating in Ferguslie and Linwood but the scheme was rolled out to Johnstone, Foxbar and Gallowhill in 2016.

Johnstone resident, Donna-Marie Woods has launched an online petition to help save the service which has helped hundreds of families since it’s inception.

Photo: Donna-Marie

Donna-Marie said: “They bring communities together and help families through tough times whether it’s providing a listening ear, or giving financial advice or even helping people get back to work.

“Many families face challenges on a daily basis and when they’re in a crisis, Families First offer support and help the families grow in confidence to push through the hard stuff.”

Donna-Marie found herself facing the prospect of becoming a single parent of two children while still on maternity leave with her second child who was only 15-weeks-old at the time.

She said: “Families First helped me get back on track when I was on maternity leave and they helped sort everything out for us. They told me what help was available and helped me overcome bad anxiety.

“They were also there when one of my twins was in the hospital with meningitis.”

Families First, which is free to use, have a large range of services and provide assistance with things such as benefits claims, debt and budgeting advice, letter writing, energy saving advice and how to save money.

Support can be provided with childcare including help with finding a nursery place. If you have children at school they can give support with planning the school day, helping children with their homework and support when completing applications for clothing grants.

They also help with educating parents on how to prepare healthy meals, how to keep fit, how to maintain positive relationships and can provide advice on where to go if you need help regarding your health.

One main service Families First provide is baby and toddler clubs.

Donna-Marie is a qualified nursery nurse but stopped working two years ago to become a stay at home mum to her four young boys.

Photo: Donna-Marie’s boys aged 5, 2 (almost 3) and the twins are 11 months old

She said: “They run clubs like Babbling Babies and Talking Toddlers, it’d be a shame for them to close.”

“They also run workshops and fun clubs for our children encouraging families to get out, learn new skills and meet other people. Essentially they take away some of the loneliness sometimes many parents face and give our children something to look forward to.

“If this service was withdrawn from our community there would be nowhere for families to turn to for advice and support or assistance in a crisis, there wouldn’t be any of these clubs for our children.

“These ladies deserve a pay rise but instead are faced with losing their jobs. If we stand together maybe we could turn it around and the service could continue for many more years to come.

“We need to save our Families First services.”

Labour’s Kevin Montgomery, a councillor for Paisley Southwest, said: “As one of the Councillors for Foxbar I am dismayed at the potential loss of this vital service. I have already been contacted by a number of constituents to tell me of their concerns over the loss of the service and also to praise the work of Families First.

“Families First has been recognised in external evaluations as having a substantial and positive impact on families and children.

“To ditch these programmes that are proven to work is a terrible blow to the families and the Foxbar communities. Myself and other Labour Councillors will be fighting to reverse this wrong-headed decision.”

A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “The Families First teams in Gallowhill, Johnstone and Foxbar were established through temporary funding, which is scheduled to end in March 2018.

“Any decision on the possible extension of the funding for these services will be considered as part of the Council’s budget planning early next year.”

If you wish to support Donna-Marie’s petition, you can view and sign it here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-families-first-johnstone-renfrewshire.