Requesting reassurances from MCFD for desperate families of children with special needs – A request to Premier Horgan

Sent via email March 31, 2020

Dear Premier Horgan,

I am writing to bring to your attention an accelerating crisis among families supporting children with special needs. You may not be aware that these families have not received any additional support from the B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis – indeed there is no information on MCFD’s website that acknowledges that these families can expect any help.

As Executive Director of ACT – Autism Community Training, I have been receiving anguished emails from families across British Columbia and enquires from concerned professionals. ACT is a not-for-profit based in Vancouver that provides information and training to the families of over 18,000 children diagnosed with autism in B.C., as well as to thousands of families who have children with other diverse special needs. For the past few weeks, we have been working frantically to promote our free resources to those supporting children and adults with special needs including a web cast on Anxiety, Autism and COVID-19, scheduled for April 2nd. As a group, our families have high levels of anxiety. We are asking that you take action to have MCFD provide them with enhanced support and to communicate this on the MCFD website so we can reassure them that concrete steps are in process.

April 2, 2020 is World Autism Day, it is also the five year anniversary of the death of Robert Robinson, killed by his mother, who then committed suicide, when she was told by the Prince Rupert office of MCFD that there was no help available for her severely autistic son. There are undoubtedly hundreds of B.C. families who are now extremely desperate. The staff of MCFD, particularly in the area of Children and Youth with Special Needs (CYSN), require leadership from their Minister to empower them to support these families. If any ministry is blocking flexible support for these families, this must be rectified to avoid future tragedies.

MCFD’s own data on the number of special needs children who normally receive MCFD services and/or funding, and who are currently without support, indicates the significance of this omission.

These vulnerable families have lost access to school, respite workers, childcare workers and behavior interventionists and are struggling to support their high needs children at home. Often these are single parent families living on the poverty line. Some have more than one child with special needs. Many have written ACT, copied us on their letters to government or posted messages on our Facebook page describing their concerns. These can be viewed on our ‘Advocating for BC Families’ section of our Coronavirus resources page – look for the button ‘Community Feedback’.

I am particularly concerned that without action on the part of MCFD that more children will be taken into care by Child Protection when they could be supported through CYSN services. MCFD has an unfortunate record, stretching over many years, of neglecting resources for children with special needs, especially for children who do not have autism. CYSN has no resources to respond to COVID-19 without special funding. It clear that without additional measures, Aboriginal children are at particular risk of being apprehended.

MCFD has been alerted to the need for a response. On March 18, 2020, ACT sent the Minister of Children and Family Development, Katrine Conroy, recommendations on how to respond to the fears of families by increasing direct funding and loosening the normal restrictions. In the two weeks since we sent recommendations, families have been given no assurances as to MCFD’s preparations to respond to the needs of their vulnerable children. It is noteworthy that the Minister of Social Development Shawn Simpson has engaged with families of adult children. The Minister of Education has also been proactive. But there is a total information vacuum on the special needs section of the Ministry of Children and Families’ website. In contrast, the Alberta government has responded responsibly

At a time when many levels of your government have done a remarkable job demonstrating transparency and compassion, it is extremely disappointing to see the lack of engagement of MCFD with the families of vulnerable children it is mandated to support. Thousands of families cannot be expected to spend hours waiting to get through by telephone to their local MCFD office or the Autism Funding Branch – which in any event have been unable to provide specific information. These families are desperate to hear specifics from Minister Conroy as to when their needs will be recognized and addressed. This support needs to be detailed on MCFD’s website.

Families need practical support at this time when all families are feeling significant stress – none more than those who are struggling to cope with their very high needs children.

Please contact me at dpugh@actcommunity.ca if I can provide any clarification about these concerns.

Thank you for all the positive efforts your government is taking – they are very appreciated by all British Columbians.

Sincerely,

Deborah Pugh
Executive Director

ACT – Autism Community Training – Building Informed Communities
204-2735 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC V5K 1Z8
phone: 604-205-5467 | toll-free: 1-866-939-5188 | fax: 604-205-5345 www.actcommunity.ca