B.C. set to end direct funding for children with autism by 2025, moving to overall hub model

Click to play video: 'New service system in the works for B.C. neurodiverse children'
New service system in the works for B.C. neurodiverse children
The province says it is working on new service system to benefit neurodiverse children and youth by providing supports with or without a diagnosis or referral. – Oct 27, 2021

The provincial government is ending the direct funding to families with autism in 2025 as the province transitions to a new service system.

For children under the age of six, the province currently offers up to $22,000 per year.

Click to play video: 'B.C. government releases new support model for neurodiverse children'
B.C. government releases new support model for neurodiverse children

The funding can be used for professional help, behaviour interventionists, administrative costs related to managing service providers and family counselling/therapy.

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When asked on Wednesday whether families would receive the same amount of money in 2025 as they do now, Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean did not answer directly.

“Their children will still get services. The hub model is very inclusive for children with various diagnoses, not just autism,” Dean said.

“We are announcing this today, giving families plenty of time to deal with this transition. The funding does not end until 2025. By 2025 the approach for all families with support needs will be to get service through the hubs.”

Click to play video: 'Variety Week: Funds for private autism assessments'
Variety Week: Funds for private autism assessments

For those six to 18 years old, there is a maximum of up to $6,000 per year for each child. The funding can be used for behaviour consultants or analysts, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists or physical therapists as well as for out-of-school support, life skills programs and behaviour interventionists.

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AutismBC board president Kaye Banez says her organization was caught off guard by the announcement. She says they met with Dean on Oct. 15 and were told the announcement would come sometime in the next “six to 12 months.”

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Variety to fund autism assessments'
Health Matters: Variety to fund autism assessments

Banez says many families already have services they can rely on and it is unclear whether they can keep the services through 2025.

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“It doesn’t feel like a fair decision to make,” Banez said.

“Learning the individualized funding will be phased out is very concerning for many families. These families have established the support their families need through the stability of the individual funding. The children are striving with customized support.”

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Variety Week: Autism fund grant gets Tayla help with diagnosis sooner

The organization is still trying to interpret what the province means when it speaks about “needs-based.”

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Banez acknowledged that there are other families that could benefit from the hub model, especially those continuing to wait for an autism assessment.

On average, the waiting period for an assessment is two years. Banez says she doesn’t know if the hub model will reduce wait times, especially with staff shortages.

Click to play video: 'Wait for autism assessment grows'
Wait for autism assessment grows

“The hub model could work for some families. We are hearing families can’t get individual support because it is not available in their communities,” Banez said.

“We do have concerns if there are already shortages; how will this adequately support families? Will there be long waitlists? How long do people get services? Will there be a limit on therapy? Will there be a limit on kind of support?”

The province’s advocate for children and youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, says making hubs closer to people’s homes and providing more needs-based services is a good move.

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But Charlesworth says they are concerned about what happens during the interim period, considering the model will take four years to bring into place.

The youth advocate also notes the stress will be greater on the families already with services than those still waiting.

“The big challenge that I am concerned about because of our advocacy is there are families feeling very stressed,” Charlesworth said.

“What I am worried about is we are talking 2024-25 and a very fundamental shift and what can be done for those experiencing a current crisis. What are the planks that can be in place now? I am mindful we have huge challenges, including the workforce shortage. I do think the hubs will eventually be helpful. Even if they have individual funding, this will help coordinate.”

The province says the program offers broader support for neurodiverse children and youth and those with disabilities.

Currently, children have to wait for help until they are diagnosed.

As a first step, hubs will open in two areas — the northwest and Central Okanagan — starting in 2023 before being launched provincewide in 2024.

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The current model also does not support children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder even though they may have high needs.

“What a parent with autism will be able to do is walk directly into a hub and have a look at the services available based on the needs,” Dean said.

“And work together in partnership to create a package of services, whatever those services may be. The parents will then not be responsible for the ongoing hub management of those services.”

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