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COVID-19 pandemic pushing B.C. families with special needs to the limit, advocates say

Click to play video: 'Pandemic proving very challenging for some special needs families' Pandemic proving very challenging for some special needs families
WATCH: COVID-19 pandemic proving very challenging for some special needs families – Jan 8, 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges into its second year, advocates and experts say children with special needs and their families are seeing some of the toughest impacts.

A recent study by Simon Fraser University researchers surveying nearly 240 such families found they are facing risks others aren’t during the pandemic, and they’re stretched beyond their means.

Thirty four per cent said their child’s aggression had worsened during the pandemic, while 37 per cent said they were worried their child might hurt another family member.

Read more: COVID-19 disproportionately affects children and youth with special needs: B.C. report

Nearly one in 10 said they were considering putting their child in government care.

Tracy Humphries, chair of BCEdAccess said the strain on the mental health of children and families can not be overstated.

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“I had families contacting me over the break, asking if I thought they would extend it,” she said, “and if I thought maybe it would be extended they were planning on putting their children in care, because they couldn’t manage any longer with no services or help in the home.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Pandemic negatively affecting children with special needs' Coronavirus: Pandemic negatively affecting children with special needs
Coronavirus: Pandemic negatively affecting children with special needs – Dec 3, 2020

The impacts on families of children with special needs are over and above those faced by other British Columbians during the pandemic, such as lost income or employment.

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Karla Verschoor, executive director of Inclusion BC, said the pandemic has exposed underlying issues these families have faced for years.

Read more: Parents of Ontario special needs students claim they’ve been given no guidance for new year

“This has put such a harsh spotlight on some long-term underlying causes of systemic failures, it gives us a unique opportunity to chart a path forward with that new clarity on that information,” she said.

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“It has united the voice of families, community organizations, advocates, researchers, in a way I haven’t seen in my 15 years.”

Click to play video: 'Kids with special needs face more challenges during pandemic' Kids with special needs face more challenges during pandemic
Kids with special needs face more challenges during pandemic – Sep 14, 2020

Advocates are calling on the province to increase flexibility for how funding can be used, such as allowing it to be used for exercise equipment.

They’re also calling for better transparency and information about what resources are available to families.

READ MORE: New study says B.C. government must focus on children’s mental health in COVID-19 recovery

And, crucially, said Grace Iarocci, director of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Lab, they’re calling for more access to respite care for families.

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“If we don’t give them a break and they don’t get the support, that’s where we get that nine per cent of families who say we can’t take this anymore.”

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