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Only 4% of surveyed caregivers support B.C.’s change to autism funding model: report

Click to play video: 'B.C. premier-designate pressured to scrap changes to autism funding'
B.C. premier-designate pressured to scrap changes to autism funding
Critics are putting pressure on premier-designate David Eby to stop the NDP government's plans to change funding for autism and other disabilities to a "hub" system. Kylie Stanton reports – Oct 27, 2022

Only four per cent of survey respondents caring for an autistic child in B.C. support announced changes to the province’s autism services funding model, a new report has found.

AutismBC surveyed 1,563 parents and primary caregivers across the province in April, 96 per cent of whom do not want B.C. to phase out its current individualized funding structure.

Fifty-nine per cent of those caregivers said they would prefer to maintain the status quo and 27 per cent said they would like a hybrid model of the existing structure and the centralized hub model to be phased in between now and 2024, according to the report published Monday.

“Imagine a report saying only four per cent of families want to exclusively access the hubs,” Kaye Banez, AutismBC board president, told Global News.

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“That’s very telling information. From the start, we’ve been saying it, but now it’s not just my voice, it’s not just AutismBC’s voice. It’s the families you’re supposed to be serving.”

Nineteen per cent of survey respondents were from Vancouver or Richmond, 24 were from the North and South Fraser areas, 13 were from the Okanagan, and 10 were from southern Vancouver Island.

Click to play video: 'B.C. premier-designate pressured to scrap changes to autism funding'
B.C. premier-designate pressured to scrap changes to autism funding

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

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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.

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Rollout of the government’s new model has already begun, however, with four new family connections centres operating this year. The province has said the hubs will offer a range of wraparound services from speech-language pathology to behavioural intervention.

“I think our report really speaks to the fears from families that this change will be traumatic for their child,” said AutismBC director Julia Boyle.

“Autistic children and youth don’t deal well with change. It’s really difficult for them to go from the long-lasting relationships that they have with service providers … to a family connection centre.”

Boyle said parents of autistic children and youth are also concerned about the overall capacity of those centres, given “huge shortages” in the current system and long waitlists for specialists.

Click to play video: 'Proposed changes to supports for children with disabilities angers, confuses advocates'
Proposed changes to supports for children with disabilities angers, confuses advocates

Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean has previously told Global News that the needs-based hub model fits the recommendations of both the B.C.’s representative for children and youth and the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth.

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“At the moment, services are locked behind a diagnosis,” she said in an Oct. 7 interview. “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.”

The minister has also 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.

After the report was released Monday, Dean told Global News she met with AutismBC officials that morning to hear their concerns and learn about its findings.

“They agreed with us we need to build a system that doesn’t leave children and youth behind,” she said. “I am listening to families’ advocates, organizations and am taking concerns very seriously.”

Armed with the report findings, Autism BC is asking the province to pause its transition to the hub model until a formal policy review can be conducted.

Dean did not answer directly when asked if the province would consider changing the hub model currently being piloted, but during the pilot, promised the government will look for opportunities to learn and accommodate families in the transition.

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