MCFD and MOE’s ‘relaxed’ attitude to special needs families in crisis
ACT continues to investigate how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting B.C. families with children with special needs, including those with autism. Neither the Ministries of Education or Children and Family Development have taken significant measures to seek out and support families in crisis. Most families struggling with high needs children are not receiving wrap-around supports including access to school and increased funding from MCFD. ACT is concerned that more children will end up in foster care or at risk at home, in the absence of sufficient support. Read ACT’s update and let us know – are you concerned for vulnerable families?
Families in crisis facing complacent ministers
An update released by the MCFD Minister, Katrine Conroy, and MOE Minister, Rob Fleming, on April 14th has announced they will meet next week to coordinate a response. This meeting will be held over a month after the COVID-19 stripped families of children with high needs of all their supports. Neither minister appears to have an understanding of the stark realities that families with special needs are facing across B.C. Meanwhile, concerns within the special needs community are growing that many children are at severe risk and that neither MOE or MCFD are responding responsibly.
Forcing special needs children into foster care
It is appalling that these families are only being offered such limited support and that it is not being extended to all families trying to keep their high needs children in a stable environment. The $225 a month for three months is not enough to transform the lives of those with special needs who are now in crisis.
The practice of successive B.C. governments, over many years, has been to ignore families of children of special needs until they are in crisis. This has forced a growing number of parents to place their children in government care because they can’t ensure that their children are safe at home. Many of those children have autism and a significant percentage are aboriginal. The chronic lack of support is now putting thousands under unprecedented strain and it is doubtful whether there are enough qualified foster homes in the province to deal with the influx of children into care that should be anticipated.
Just as COVID-19 is showing the terrible deficits in care for the elderly, it is exposing the chronic underfunding of support from MCFD for vulnerable children.
Still no concrete initiatives available from MOE
Both the Minister of Education, Rob Fleming and the Premier, John Horgan, have made it clear that school districts are free to decide how to support vulnerable students, including those with special needs. Very few districts to date have issued information to parents of students with special needs to convey to those who are in crisis how they can access practical one-to-one support at their child’s school. Those that have should be recognized for raising the bar.
Time for unions and district human resource departments to step up
A recent snapshot by BCEdAccess indicates that there is no standard response coming from school districts on how to support the many children with special needs who cannot be supported remotely. Their teachers and educational assistants will know who needs to be brought to school. POPARD, the Provincial Organization for Autism and Related Disorder, funded by MOE, has published information to help families contact those responsible in their school district.
Although teachers and Special Education Assistants are still being paid, it is disappointing that neither CUPE or the BCTF has mobilized their members to offer practical in school support to students with special needs. Rather Human Resources departments in school districts appear to be focused on ensuring that school employees are not put under any stress, and the unions have supported this. Yet the Ministry of Health has determined that providing support to children with special needs is an essential service.
There are many teachers and other special education staff across the province who want to engage with their students but are being held back by the constraints of the HR departments at the district level who are responding to union demands. A compromise would be to allow those staff who do not want to provide individualized support to request to be laid-off. If there are union locals who can provide ACT with examples of how they are expediting support we would appreciate receiving these examples at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MCFD’s rigidity is fueling parent petition – now 6,600 signatures and growing
A petition to MCFD has reached 6,600 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.
There is a growing conviction among families and professionals that Minister Katrine Conroy is profoundly out of touch. The Minister has not given a press conference to explain MCFD’s stance. 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?
Autism Funding Programs cost government $85 million in 2018/2019. Many 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 and keeping their children out of government care. 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. It is also time that Minister Rob Fleming issue clear instructions to all school districts that they are required to be pro-active, not merely phoning to ‘check-in’. We urge families and the professionals who support them to email Ministers Conroy and Fleming and Premier Horgan 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 heartbreaking letters from families that ACT has been copied on, see Community Feedback on COVID-19.
Share your advocacy efforts with the special needs community
We invite the special needs community, including professionals, to share your feedback to government on ACT’s Facebook Page or by email to email@example.com, if you wish to remain anonymous. We have especially appreciated the insights of Children and Youth with Special 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 Resources on Autism and Special Needs
ACT is continuing to update information on advocacy efforts and resources on our COVID-19 page. We welcome your suggestions for new resources at firstname.lastname@example.org.