Parents of children with autism seek to avoid ‘disaster,’ protest B.C.’s new funding model

Click to play video: 'Parents of children with autism demonstrate outside David Eby’s constituency office'
Parents of children with autism demonstrate outside David Eby’s constituency office
No let up in the pressure from parents and caregivers of B.C. children and youth with autism. A group of them rallied outside the Vancouver office of the Attorney General on Friday, demanding the provincial government halt their plans to change their support funding. – Apr 29, 2022

Dozens of parents of neurodiverse children, and their kids, protested in Vancouver on Friday, calling for a reversal of the B.C. government’s decision to change its autism funding model.

In October, the province announced it would phase out its existing structure, which provides autism funding directly to families, in favour of a centralized service hub model.

Parents gathered outside of B.C. Attorney General David Eby’s office said that framework could lead to “disaster” by dismantling the successful, individualized care plans families have set up for their children.

“The government now wants to destroy those and herd those kids into government buildings to get whatever the government decides is better for kids,” said Louise Witt, whose 18-year-old has autism.

“They replaced waitlists for diagnoses with waitlists three times as long for services. We cannot go down that road.”

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As of 2019, the province provided $22,000 in funding per year per child with autism up to the age of six, and then $6,000 per year per child between the ages of six and 18. The amounts are stable “regardless of the child’s needs,” according to a report by B.C.’s Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth.

Parents could “squeak out every dollar,” said Roxanne Black, and manage the suite of programs and personnel accessed by their child.

“It’s fiscally responsible, it makes sense, we buy our own services, we pick our own people that work with our kids, in our own communities,” said the mom, whose 19-year-old son has autism.

“With these hub models, autism doesn’t end at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon. We provide treatment around the clock for our kids.”

Click to play video: 'Parents of children with autism take fight over funding to Victoria'
Parents of children with autism take fight over funding to Victoria

The government’s new funding model is set to roll out between now and 2024, with four new family connections centres operating this year. The hubs will offer a range of wraparound services from speech language pathology to behavioural intervention, said Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean.

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“At the moment, services are locked behind a diagnosis,” she explained. “In the new system, children and youth will be able to receive services much earlier in their development and we know that’s critical to their development in the future.”

Dean said the centralized, needs-based model fits the recommendations of both the B.C.’s representative for children and youth, and the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth.

Parent advocates outside Eby’s office said they’re concerned about the “brain drain” of highly-skilled autism specialists from B.C. and object to the government’s changes not only for their own children, but little ones to come with additional support needs.

Dean said she’s heard from many families who don’t want to be “case managers” for their children, or live in parts of the province where there are no autism services at all.

“We saw when the pandemic hit that this system is not viable, it’s not sustainable and that left many families in a situation of crisis,” she told Global News. “It’s really important to listen to families and we want to make sure the transition is successful.”

Dean said the ministry will continue to engage with families and service providers as the new system rolls out, and parents are encouraged to provide

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Witt, Black and other parents, meanwhile, said they won’t back down as their kids will not be “collateral damage” in the province’s “gutting” of autism home teams. Legal action, they said, is not out of the question.

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