A proposed change to the funding system for children with autism, Down Syndrome and other neurological conditions has triggered a wave of protest from parents concerned about losing their ability to manage their families’ care.
Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean announced the change in late October, promising it would be a gradual shift to a regional hub system that would not depend on a child’s diagnosis. The program is to begin with service hubs in Northwest B.C. and the Central Okanagan starting in 2023, going province-wide in 2024.
B.C. Liberal critics have questioned Dean all week about what they call a “clawback” of individual financial support, reading letters from parents outraged about the change, from a network of private service providers that Dean describes as a “patchwork system.”
Opposition leader Shirley Bond said the change creates years of uncertainty. One of letters she read in question period was from a parent named Meaghan:
“Here’s what Meagan had to say,” Bond told the B.C. legislature Nov. 3. “‘The choice that you have made to target the province’s most vulnerable children also extends to the thousands of female service providers who run their own businesses. The blatant lack of community consultation and critical thought that went into this decision would be laughable if it wasn’t so utterly devastating. Going after disabled kids, mothers and female business owners is appalling’.”
Other parents argue that direct funding has allowed them to work with known service providers, and the change came as an unpleasant surprise as they struggled to keep their children supported through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dean said her ministry is listening to parents and organizations such as Down Syndrome B.C., whose president Tamara Taggart described the shift as “a slap in the face” for people depending on provincial support.
“We’re not taking supports away from children and youth,” Dean said. “We’re making choices to invest even more in children and youth. We’re building a system. We’re actually creating a safety net for children and youth, and we’re reducing barriers. We’re not locking services behind two years of waiting for a diagnosis. We’re delivering those services there and then.
“Many families with children and youth with autism tell us they can’t find services. The pandemic has really highlighted for us how fragile those services are, that families weren’t able to receive them during COVID.”
B.C. Liberal MLA Peter Milobar said Thursday the “patchwork” represents individualized care, and focused on the impact of hub centres for people in remote and northern communities who may have to travel hours to a service centre in Prince George.
“Families are worried about lining up at hub centres just like they are at walk-in clinics,” Milobar said.
Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth issued a report in late 2020 about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with special needs.