Parents say B.C. cuts to early-years programs for deaf children putting kids at risk

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Families of B.C. children who are deaf and hard of hearing say cuts to funding for crucial, early-age language programs could leave thousands of kids behind as they enter school.

Parents say the funding gap is driven in part by a doubling in the number of children accessing the programs, along with the elimination of a targeted funding program.

READ MORE: ‘It’s heartbreaking’: Kelowna mom on cutbacks to services for deaf children

They also say it could result in the end of early-intervention programs, including the province’s only preschool that teaches in American Sign Language — necessary to give their children the skills they’ll need to be on a level playing field come school age.

“There’s so many more children that are requiring early intervention services, but the amount of funding hasn’t increased at all,” said Mallory Jack, parent of two hearing impaired toddlers.

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“The lack of funding will impact a lot of families negatively around the province. Services are being reduced drastically, our daughters’ programs are being cancelled basically indefinitely.”

Those programs have included access to sign language instruction, a speech pathologist and a deaf mentor for the girls.

Parents created an online petition last month calling for a funding boost, which has already garnered nearly 37,000 signatures.

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Month of Giving Back: Deaf Children’s Society

Matt Kalenuik, whose daughter Zoe goes to the Deaf Children’s Society Preschool, says the facility only has enough funding to stay open for about two more months.

“To provide early intervention services in this province, they need about $6 million to $9 million per year, and they’re only giving about $1.7 million,” he said.

“[Kids are] going to go into mainstream school without early language acquisition, the’re not going to be socialized, they’re not going to have the tools to communicate with their peers, and these kids are going to end up costing more money later on.”
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In a statement, the Ministry of Children and Family Development said it is reviewing its funding for specialized programming.

READ MORE: Deaf child’s parents to launch human rights hearing against N.L. school district

“We recognize the importance of early language development … for children who are deaf and hard of hearing,” said the Ministry.

“These pressures are being considered as we proceed with developing a new child and youth with special needs service framework.”

But with decisions being made at the speed of government, Jack said she fears the results could be too late for some children.

“Kids can have language deprivation if they’re not given appropriate access to language, and in the first five years that’s when language acquisition is the most important,” said Jack.

“If they’re not getting it properly in that first five years it can cause long-term problems for them … language is the foundation for everything.”