Parents angry with the B.C. government over its proposed changes to autism supports took their concerns to Victoria on Wednesday, rallying on the grounds of the provincial legislature.
Parents and advocates for children with autism say the proposed move to a “hub” model, rather than direct funding to families, will leave their kids facing long wait lists and reduced services.
“My child is going to be condemned to a waitlist. And when that happens, (Children and Family Development Minister) Mitzi Dean, I need you to understand you have doomed my family to regression, self injury, elopement and any other number of problems,” Jennifer Newby, the mother of two boys with autism, said.
“You need to get this right.”
Under B.C.’s current model, children under the age of six with autism are eligible for $22,000 per year in direct funding, while kids aged six to 18 are eligible for $6,000.
Parents say that money allows them to access critical early intervention services, and controlling how it is used allows them to curate services to their kids’ unique needs.
The province’s plan would eliminate those direct payments and replace them with a centralized service hub for all families seeking special needs supports it says will provide easier access to resources.
“Our children are getting the support they need right now,” parent Vanessa Taylor said.
“My biggest fear is not being able to get the support team that we’ve worked for years to get in place,” added Tracey Werry, another parent.
Psychologist Dr. Glen Davies, director of the Able Development Clinic, co-director of AIMS at the Pacific Autism Family Network said hub models have been tried in Ontario and Australia, where they have resulted long wait lists for treatment.
He said British Columbia’s current model of direct funding has underwritten a system that has grown from just a handful of autism professionals to over a thousand in the past two decades, and a high degree of satisfaction among parents.
“This is really a measure of success, not something to overhaul,” he said.
“They didn’t talk to the families, they didn’t talk to any of the orgs representing autism, and they didn’t talk to any professionals in the autism field — to create a plan of this scale without consulting with the people directly involved was really the height of arrogance.”
The issue landed on the floor of the legislature, Wednesday, with interim opposition leader Shirley Bond, who spoke outside at the rally, again pressing the NDP to reconsider, and hold in-depth consultations with parents and advocates.
“It’s not an unreasonable ask,” Bond said.
The B.C. government maintains the hub model will provide more support for neurodiverse children, along with those who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
“Services will be delivered through an accessible, culturally safe one-stop point of access, that are based on the unique needs of each of the children and youth,” Dean said.
The NDP’s program is slated to be phased in by 2025, but with years to go before then parents have vowed to keep fighting the plan, which they say will pit families with special needs against one another as they compete for resources.