July 30, 2019 11:46 pm
Updated: July 30, 2019 11:51 pm

UCP commits to new ‘engagement groups’ after report on Persons with Developmental Disabilities program

The Alberta legislature on Saturday, June 9, 2018.

Emily Mertz, Global News
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The provincial government promised to create two new “ongoing engagement groups” on Tuesday after a report was released on a large government program meant to support adults with developmental disabilities in Alberta.

The engagement report from the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) review panel gathered input from thousands of people affected by or involved with the program.

The UCP government said it was committing itself to more dialogue in an effort to improve communication with those impacted by the program.

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“Thank you to all Albertans who participated in this engagement, and to the members of the PDD review panel for their hard work and leadership,” Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said in a news release.

“Our government has carefully considered the report, and will work with the disability community and the two new engagement groups to improve the province’s PDD program.”

The government said it will create the Disability Advisory Forum, which will see self-advocates, families, Indigenous communities, service providers, community disability workers and others provide Sawhney with advice on issues that are important to Albertans with disabilities. The government said the first such forum will take place in the fall and that “membership will vary depending on the topic under consideration.”

The government has also committed to establishing the Service Provider Partnership Committee in order to better connect the Alberta Council of Disability Services (ACDS) and the Ministry of Community and Social Services “to alleviate administrative challenges and other operational concerns.”

“We are pleased government is taking steps to ensure ongoing collaboration with service providers in the community disability sector, and we are looking forward to being involved,” said ACDS CEO Andrea Hesse. “Working together on this new committee will inform improvements and strengthen services to benefit Albertans with developmental disabilities.”

The NDP’s community and social services critic, however, said she was disappointed that it appears the UCP dismissed the panel reviewing the PDD program before it could make any recommendations.

“This move is a slap in the face for the disability community,” said Marie Renaud. “To fire the panel before they could present their recommendations is a message of utter contempt from this government to the tens of thousands of Albertans who rely on this aging provincial system.

“Endless engagement means no action.”

Watch below: NDP MLA Marie Renaud said she believes the review panel looking into Alberta’s Persons with Developmental Disabilities program won’t be able to continue to work to make recommendations on how to improve the program.

Renaud also expressed concern over the future of PDD funding and whether the UCP will maintain current funding levels in its budget.

Global News reached out to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community and Social Services for comment on the NDP’s criticism.

The panel’s members held public engagement sessions in eight communities across the province late last year in an effort to generate the feedback needed for the PDD review panel’s report.

The government said over 1,100 people attended the sessions and almost 1,200 people completed an online questionnaire for the review.

Feedback focused on how the program fared in terms of eligibility, access, service delivery, training of staff involved in providing services and communication between those who provide services via the program and those who access those services.

“Participants shared varied perspectives and experiences, often differing on what they thought was most pressing or important or the exact nature of the problem,” the report said. “Despite this diversity, there was consensus across all groups that improvements can be made in each of the key topics under review.”

The review was commissioned by Alberta’s previous NDP government in January 2018 in order to look at ways to improve supports for people with developmental disabilities.

READ MORE: Alberta government launching review of Persons with Developmental Disabilities program

Watch below: On Feb. 29, 2016, Sarah Kraus filed this report about Albertans being encouraged to share their thoughts on how to ensure the safety of people with developmental disabilities.

For 20 years, the PDD program has offered supports to about 12,000 Albertans with matters such as home living, employment, community access and specialized community supports. The program also aims to support Albertans with disabilities’ “self-determination and inclusion in community life.”

Below are some of the highlights from concerns raised about the PDD program in the report released on Tuesday.

Eligibility

The report found that while may people who use services provided by PDD said it was a “key contributor to a good quality of life,” there was also “broad consensus and strong support to change the PDD eligibility criteria so more people can get help.”

“Many saw the IQ requirement as a barrier to eligibility and suggested PDD take a more holistic approach when assessing an individual’s need for support,” the report read. “They pointed out people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disabilities may need help with daily activities even if they have an IQ over 70.

“Some suggested removing the IQ requirement completely or keeping it as a consideration with more weight applied to an individual’s ability to perform the skills required for daily living. Many also questioned the need for a disability to appear before the age of 18 to get PDD support, citing those who experience brain injuries after age 18.”

Other respondents expressed concerns about differences in eligibility between the Family Support for Children with Disabilities program and the PDD program.

Access

The PDD report found that “individual circumstances vary” when it comes to access issues.

“As circumstances or needs change over time, an individual’s ability to access supports and services may be impacted,” the report reads. “Availability of information, transition between programs, changing needs over time and geographic location (e.g. rural areas) were cited as challenges related to accessing supports.”

Service delivery

The report’s authors said that “one of the most common criticisms from engagement participants related to funding decisions.”

“Some people noted it is not uncommon for individuals with similar support needs to receive different levels of funding, adding to a perception the program is not administered equitably,” the report read. “Self-advocates, families and service providers all agreed that, in many cases, service and funding decisions are made by people who have limited knowledge of the individual receiving services.

“This may contribute to a belief PDD services are inadequately tailored to an individual’s needs and vision for their life.”

Workforce

The report noted that respondents “expressed appreciation and support for the community disability workers who provide services, as well as PDD program staff.”

However, the report also noted that “all groups spoke of challenges with recruiting community disability workers and the negative impact staff turnover has, especially for those receiving PDD supports.”

Communication

The report found that there were “different opinions about the quality of communication and engagement with the provincial PDD program.”

“At the system level, many expressed appreciation for recent engagement with the disability community, particularly the 2015-16 review of the PDD Safety Standards,” the report read. “Others stated a need to improve communications and the quality of information provided, noting the need for more accessible materials and interpretation services.

“Many said they do not understand how the PDD programs works — its policies and processes – or how funding is determined and allocated.”

Click here to read the report in its entirety.

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