Why would the government change something that is working well?
Parents of children with autism have been asking this question.
As we know, they forge an incredibly difficult road.
First, there is the diagnosis.
Often times parents wait eighteen months to two years to have this diagnosis rendered – sometimes it has even been longer.
Once the official diagnosis is given, parents will try different therapies and activities to try to find the right combination to help their children.
The current provincial funding can be used, at the discretion of the parents, for: behaviour interventionists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists or physical therapists, out-of-school support, and family counselling.
All of these therapies are covered by the current model and are utilized by the parents, in the best interests of their children.
That’s all about to change.
The provincial government is ending the direct funding to families with autism in 2025 as the province transitions to a new service system.
One of the goals of this change is to include all neurodiverse children, and this is a great aim.
Having said that, doing so without adding money to the entirety of the system would detrimentally affect children with autism and the therapies that their families depend on for
Essentially adding more children to the system, without adding dollars, means less available for everyone.
So far, despite this concern being raised repeatedly by the official opposition in the legislature, and by parents and their advocates, Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family
Development, will not commit to any additional funding for the changes.
This fundamental transition is to a one-size-fits-all hub model.
This hub model has been used unsuccessfully in Ontario, with their waitlist for diagnosis increasing by more than 200%.
The decision to move from individualized care to the hub model was made without broad consultation with parents or care providers.
Furthermore, the future service locations of the hub model are expressing concerns about being able to deliver the care necessary, without significant increase to funding, as well having more care providers.
Childhood and Youth Advocate, Jennifer Charlesworth, notes that the hub model brings about some positives as well as some negatives,
“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.”
As it stands right, now the individual funding looks like it won’t be there once the hubs are up and running.
This means that parents, instead of being able to book treatment themselves with the provider of their choice, will have to access all treatment through hub centres.
For the families of autistic children that I know, this is not a welcome shift.
Threatening their funding and independence is akin to re-traumatizing these families all over again.
Which is why I have, along my BC Liberal colleagues, continued to press government to move away from the hub model change and improve the current system the way that it is.
For example, there is agreement that the diagnosis process should be made faster as this is the pinch point to accessing care, so add more diagnostic behavioural specialists to expedite diagnosis but keep the care in an individualized way.
My question to you this week is this:
How should funding be allocated for the families of autistic and neurodiverse children?
I love hearing from you!
Email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call the office at 250-712-3620.