In December 2020, British Columbia’s representative for children and youth released a report titled ‘Left Out: Children and youth with special needs in the pandemic.’
In her report Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth stated:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the fragility of our support systems for children and youth, exacerbating long-standing problems and layering on new ones. For the tens of thousands of B.C. families who rely on supports and services for children and youth with special needs, the pandemic illuminated a crisis decades in the making.”
The report urged the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) to provide more immediate services and funding for children and youth with special needs. Those services and funding are items Autism BC has been waiting for since the report was published, and items the organization believed should have been addressed in the 2022 provincial budget.
“There’s nothing new,” said Julia Boyle,” executive director, Autism BC. “There’s no new programming.
“There are no new initiatives for these families that have been identified as being left out from current services.”
Boyle added the MCFD appeared to have picked just a few key suggestions from Dr. Charlesworth’s report. “They’ve disregarded all of the other advice and recommendations,” said Boyle.
“They’re basing their decision off of the report, but they totally disregard many of her other recommendations.”
She further stated families with special needs children feel left out regarding the MCFD’s plan to move away from an individualized funding model for families to a needs-based community hub model called Family Connection Centres (FCCs).
Pilot programs for the FCCs are set to open in Central Okanagan and northwestern B.C. next year, with others to open across the province in 2024 and 2025.
“We have not had any meaningful consultation with the ministry about it,” said Boyle. “We’ve had meetings, but they’re not actually engaging in what we would call consultation. They’re just informative meetings.”
She added how the MCFD is making announcements and releasing information affecting families with special needs children has been confusing.
“It’s causing so much stress and anxiety for families and service organizations like Autism BC because we have no sense of what it is they’re doing and how they’re releasing this information.”
One of the eight points for immediate government action identified in the report was to rapidly develop and roll out a family-engaged, plain-language communication strategy in the MCFD patterned after the family-engaged model used by Community Living BC (CLBC).
CLBC is a Crown corporation working with individuals, families, service providers, community and government partners in supporting adults with developmental disabilities. It also supports adults with autism or fetal alcohol syndrome disorders.
Another point of action called for children and youth with special needs family networks, advocacy groups, community service providers and funding ministries to meet regularly and consult on emerging needs, barriers to services, and access to supports.
The report stated this must include Indigenous organizations and communities.
Dr. Charlesworth wrote: “These and other measures will help families in the short term, but will not fix a system that in some cases has not adjusted support levels in 30 years.
“They will not fix the unfairness of a system that does not consider a child’s actual needs when deciding what supports they will receive. They will not fix a system that leaves uncounted thousands of B.C. children and youth with special needs with no services whatsoever, solely because they don’t fit into the right boxes for eligibility.”
The Capital News has contacted Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean’s office for comment on this story, but so has not received a response.