By Mitzi Dean, Minister of Childhood and Family Development
For years, families of children and youth who are neurodiverse and those with disabilities have struggled under an inadequate patchwork of programming in B.C.
I’ve heard from parents who are struggling. Some are not able to access any supports because of where they live, or the diagnosis their child has. One mother told me that she waited years for a diagnosis for her child, missing out on supports during a very crucial time for development. She had to shop around for individual therapists and be the case manager for her child – all while managing two other children, elder care and a part-time job. She was stressed about being responsible for the outcomes of her child’s therapies, and even more stressed when the therapies suddenly stopped during the pandemic.
As someone with thirty years of experience in social work and community agencies, I believe that we need a provincial safety net to better support families.
Our ministry began this work in 2019, consulting with 1,500 families, advocates and community partners, including organizations and parents of children and youth with Autism. We have heard – over and over again – from parents, advocates and the Representative for Children and Youth, in multiple reports, that the programs aren’t working and we need to move to a needs-based system.
In 2023, we will be opening family connections hubs in two regions, with full implementation province-wide in 2024. These will be one-stop shops staffed by multidisciplinary teams with a focus on meeting a child or youth’s individual needs. Parents and caregivers can visit the hubs and get supports without having to individually hire and organize services themselves. And services will be available immediately for families – whether they don’t yet have a diagnosis, are on a waiting list for assessments or are currently receiving funded supports. As part of the transition to the new system, families who receive individualized Autism funding can continue that funding arrangement until 2025.
I know that, for many, this change can’t come soon enough. To ensure we get this right for all families we must continue to take a thoughtful approach. I’ve also heard from people who are concerned about choice — and I want to assure them that we know parents and caregivers are the experts on their children. That’s why flexibility will be built into this new approach to services.
There is still more work to do and there are more conversations to have. In the coming months, my ministry will be hosting information sessions to provide more details, and we welcome input and questions. I am grateful to our community partners and agencies and to families as we make this transition to ensure better services for more children and youth in the province.