A small rally was held outside Chilliwack MLA Dan Coulter’s office on Friday (April 29) to protest changes to autism funding in the province starting this month.
The rally was one of several in B.C. including at housing minister David Eby’s Vancouver office, which was attended by BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon.
Tina Naples and her son Declan Reid were at Coulter’s office with signs that said “More Choices and More Kids Not Less” and “Save My Home Team – Families Deserve Choices.”
Critics say the changes take choice away from families who are funded directly and they select what services they need. The new model will be a hub, so-called “family connection centres” were families can access services.
The new model does not require a diagnosis so that all neurodiverse children can be helped.
“Under the current approach, services are locked behind a diagnosis,” B.C. Children and Families Minister Mitzi Dean told The Progress Friday. “For many parents this causes a delay. If you think of a parent of a three- or four-year-old who is noticing some kind of an issue, they have to get a diagnosis and that can take up to 18 months or two years.”
The first four “family connection centres” are to open in 2023 in Kelowna, Terrace, Smithers and Prince Rupert. The ministry wants 40 such centres around the province starting in 2024.
Naples, who also happens to be a behaviour analyst, said her son Declan is autistic has a “home team” that the family have gotten to know over the years. But under this new model they fear they will lose that.
“They are taking the same amount of money and spreading it thinner,” Naples said. “They don’t have the funds to support the model they are advertising.”
Lindsay Parrott is also a behavioural analyst who was at Coulter’s office with a sign that said “Fund Families Not MCFD.”
“Now each student has a diagnosis receives a chunk of money and they can use it however they want,” she said. “[This change means] they aren’t requiring a diagnosis.”
But Dean insists that having funding “locked behind a diagnosis is leaving far too many children behind.”
Dean added that the changes come at least in part from a recommendation by B.C.’s representative for children and youth. The new model was announced in October 2021 with implementation set to begin this month.
BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon calls the changes “clawbacks.”
“There’s still time for the NDP to listen to families and reverse their planned cruel clawbacks,” Falcon said in a press release. “Parents know better than government what services are best suited for their child’s specific needs.”
Some critics have said B.C. is going to a model like the one in Ontario where there are long waitlists for services, but Dean said that is not true.
“Our system is not like Ontario’s, our system is being built for B.C. families,” she said. “The Ontario system is still based on a diagnosis.”
The government has launched an online survey open until Sept. 9, and includes a “service framework and service descriptions summary” of the new program and the goals of the family connection centres.
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