Accurate Information Critical – An Update on MCFD and MoE’s Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

ACT apologizes that last week we reported that MCFD was not providing emergency respite to families receiving autism funding. According to multiple sources within MCFD, that was initially the case. However, we missed an MCFD update that clarified that children receiving autism funding are now considered eligible for the $225 a month.This means that $900,000 must meet the urgent needs of some 30,000 families, including 18,000 who receive autism funding.

Unfortunately, many parents are reporting their social worker has said they will not receive the funding. This is not surprising as the $900,000 Emergency Fund is supposed to serve the most challenged with a total of $675 for three months. This means that only 4.4% of families can be supported by the Emergency Fund – 1,333 families to be specific – clearly an insufficient response on many levels to the thousands of families in crisis. And, as only 4.4% of families can benefit, it is unfortunate that many more will be contacting their social workers only to be disappointed.

The confusion around the Emergency Fund has brought home to the ACT team that MCFD’s information, now that it has begun to flow, is becoming difficult to navigate or analyze, with documents sometime arriving by email or on their website, and at times being replaced without clarification 

ACT has decided to collect all relevant MCFD and MOE documents and keep them on a special page of our website so families, and the organizations that support them, can track the commitments the BC government makes to our families. This page will be ready later this week.

ACT is also urging MCFD to send parents updates directly through the Autism Funding Portal, and by email for those who don’t use the portal. This information should also be translated. This would allow social workers to prioritize families who do not have internet access to keep them informed. MCFD could also share information via service providers for families who receive medical benefits. We hope that in future MCFD will alert us when they have new information to share with families. In case that doesn’t happen, please update ACT at [email protected], when you see new developments. 

It is worth acknowledging that the pressure that families are bringing to bear on the provincial government through their advocacy efforts are having an effect. Families and professionals should continue to contact the provincial government. The letters we are receiving from across the province make very real the confusion and distress of families supporting children with diverse needs. In contrast, the Ministry of Social Development and Community Living BC have done a much better job of being compassionate and transparent.  

In the meantime, it is ACT’s assessment that neither the Ministries of Education or Children and Family Development have taken significant measures to support families in crisis. Some families are being offered the option of putting their children in foster care in the absence of enough in-home or school-based supports – an appalling prospect.  

This blog written by a behavior consultant who serves highly vulnerable families captures the situation that community-based providers are facing – not all families have the same degree of resiliency and many children cannot be supported remotely.  Those who have high needs cannot manage without significant wrap-around support from both schools and MCFD. MCFD Minister Katrine Conroy and Education Minister Rob Fleming are due to meet this week. Observers are hoping that they have been properly briefed by those who are working directly with families in crisis and that it translates to more than $10 a month per family. 

MCFD’s rigidity is fueling parent petition – now nearly 7,000 signatures 

A petition to MCFD has reached nearly 7,000 signatures, and is continuing to grow, fueled by parental fears that their children with autism will lose their therapy funding if MCFD continues to refuse to extend the children’s contracts. The primary request is that MCFD allow families of children with autism to have more time to spend their treatment funding, given COVID-19 has shut down most therapy services. 

Is the BC Government Listening to Families of Children with Diverse Needs? 

There is a growing conviction among families and professionals that Minister Katrine Conroy is profoundly out of touch. The number one question that families want Minister Conway to address is why she is refusing to allow a contract extension that would not add costs for MCFD? If she is not blocking an extension, what arm of government is responsible?  Why has the Premier not stepped in? 

Is MCFD trying to balance its books by clawing back autism funding? 

Autism Funding Programs cost government $85 million in 2018/2019. In the absence of an explanation, many families believe that MCFD, a chronically underfunded ministry, is using this opportunity to claw back millions in unspent autism funding at a time when the majority of affected families are preoccupied with survival. Ironically, MCFD, which is tasked with protecting vulnerable children, may be the only B.C. ministry that saves money during COVID-19, while these children and their families suffer the most hardship. 

ACT’s advocacy efforts will continue  

ACT continues to call on Minister Katrine Conroy and Premier John Horgan to provide clear, compassionate and rapid support measures to families desperately trying to care for their vulnerable children. We urge families and the professionals who support them to let them know that this is not the time to focus on balancing government budgets at the expense of the most vulnerable. To read the letters from families that ACT has been copied on, see Community Feedback on COVID-19.  

Share your advocacy efforts with the diverse needs community  

We invite the diverse needs community, including professionals, to share your feedback to government on ACT’s Facebook Page or by email to [email protected], if you wish to remain anonymous. We have especially appreciated the insights of Children and Youth with Diverse Needs Social Workers. And we would like to hear from school district staff who are taking the initiative to provide in school support. 

COVID-19: Practical Advice, ACT’s Advocacy, and Specialized Resources

ACT is gathering information to support families during the COVID-19 crisis, including resources specific to those who are neuro-diverse and useful general resources. Our COVID-19 Resources page will be updated as new resources come in.