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Lawyer calling on Quebec government to review criteria for ‘exceptional needs’ supplement

Children with disabilities need more help
WATCH: A Montreal lawyer is arguing the government needs to review its rules because many families that have children with severe disabilities are falling through the cracks. Global's Anne Leclair reports.

Most of the families who apply for Quebec’s new supplement for children with exceptional needs are being turned down — 54 per cent to be exact.

A West Island family is now speaking out after being denied the supplement for a second time, despite providing all the required medical assessments. One lawyer argues the government needs to change the rules to stop deserving families from falling through the cracks.

“We received a letter last week that we were refused again and the reason why, we don’t know,” Gideon Wolthaus said.

His five-year-old son Joshua has Down syndrome, cardiac problems and severe brain damage due to cerebral palsy. He can’t crawl, walk or eat on his own, and he can never be left alone.

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His parents spend most of their time and money on therapies that aren’t always covered by the government.

“The physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy — they are very costly,” Wolthaus said. “We were excited when we heard about the supplement because having a son with severe special needs is very expensive.”

While his father works full-time, Joshua’s mother has accepted that going back to work will never be an option.

“I’ve accepted that. I realized this is my role, this is what I’m meant to do to take care of Josh,” his mother Cindy Ho said. “But I just would like what the government promised to give us.”

When the Quebec government introduced a new supplement for families of children with exceptional needs last year, it established a list of seven criteria, all of which Joshua meets, according to his team of specialists.

“He is absolutely limited in all these seven habits,” Joshua’s father told Global News. “Even his doctors say it doesn’t make sense.”

Joshua’s request for the supplement has just been turned down for a second time. A letter from Retraite Québec states: “His situation doesn’t correspond to that of a child who has physical impairments causing severe disabilities that prevent him from accomplishing his life habits.”

“I find it insulting and offensive for my son,” his mother said. “I could live with being rejected time and time again, but not for my son.”

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Quebec’s family minister admits there were more applicants than expected but insists everyone who qualifies for the supplement is getting it.

“We’ve already given out more than $18 million [in supplements],” Family Minister Luc Fortin said, adding that there’s no financial limit.

However, one health rights lawyer claims the program needs to be more flexible — currently, it’s all or nothing.

“It’s sad to see that the parents are facing a heavy bureaucratic burden without being successful to get the subsidies,” Jean-Pierre Ménard said. “The interpretation is too restrictive — if they don’t meet all seven limitations, they get nothing.”

Joshua’s parents are planning to contest the decision again, and invite the minister to come and see for himself that their son has exceptional needs.

“We are very confident that after babysitting him for a few hours, Joshua will be accepted,” his father said.

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“We’re not gonna give up fighting,” his mother said. “We want them to know and see that Josh does deserve to get the supplement.”