Early childhood services operator shut down by Alberta government

Early childhood services operator shut down by Alberta government
WATCH: Families of hundreds of Alberta school kids are in disbelief after an investigation revealed a not-for-profit program was misusing government funds. As Jill Croteau reports, the government shut the organization down and turned the file over to police.

Families of school-aged children with developmental delays are in disbelief after learning the early intervention program they rely on has been shut down. Big Plans for Little Kids is a not-for-profit organization funded by the Alberta government.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange made the announcement late Thursday afternoon, saying the organization was found to have used government grants for things like electronics and holidays.

“I’ve taken away their accreditation, I have not approved their ability to operate next year,” LaGrange said. “Beyond that, I have ensured my department will look after every single one of those children.”

READ MORE: Lack of before-, after-school spaces in Alberta: child care experts

Roughly 400 children are impacted by the decision. The province took the rare move of closing them down after a third-party forensic audit revealed some concerning expenses. The minister said their department is handing over the file to the police.

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“I find it so disappointing to see an organization misuse funds like this, especially taking them away from vulnerable children,” LaGrange said.

“It is so disheartening to see this could happen. I am very troubled by it.”

Jennifer Allan lives in Beiseker with her three children who have autism. They all required early intervention programming from Big Plans. She said their speech therapists and behavioural supports provided exceptional help. But she was shocked at the financial expenses revealed in the report.

“These kids are going to start to fall through the cracks and those cracks are already big enough,” Allan said.

She was upset at the thought that the money allocated for her children was actually being used inappropriately for personal purchases.

“Apple TVs? Yeah I can see you needing a TV within the office, but not four of them,” Allan said. “How somebody could be on a vacation laying in Hawaii enjoying the beach knowing that these kids are striving to find therapy — it just blows me away.”

Big Plans received funding to provide a certain number of hours of instruction for each child. According to Allan, that fell short.

“That government money was allocated to my kids and someone else spent it.”

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“We only got an eighth,” she added. “In the report it says 475 hours and I’m lucky if my son got about 200 of those hours last year.”

READ MORE: Education minister signs order banning seclusion rooms in Alberta schools

No one from Big Plans returned Global News’ request for comment. In a letter to parents, Board Chair Brent Devost said: “they are pursuing a reversal of the province’s decision, and have concerns about the accuracy and tone of the report.”

Below: Read the entire audit of Big Plans for Little Kids Ltd.