ACT News and Resources

Free Early Intervention Resources for Home | Submit Summer Activity Opportunities

Submit your Listing to ACT’s Community Events Page

With social distancing measures still in effect, the range of options for the summer are limited. To help families find what is available, ACT is gathering information on virtual summer camps and fun activities for school-age kids to be posted on a new Summer 2020 BC Community Events page. If you have a camp, program or event to share with families who have children with a range of special needs, please submit your resource. Please note that we are looking for more specialized resources that will address the needs of neuro-diverse children.

Make a Submission Here


Early Intervention Resources for the Home Environment

blankThere are thousands of children across Canada whose autism assessments have been delayed for several months at this point. As the wait time for a publicly-funded assessment in BC was up to 60 weeks even before the pandemic, forcing families to seek a private diagnosis at a cost in the range of $3,000 – $4,000, many families are highly stressed. To help families find ways of engaging with their young children who have either just been diagnosed, or where autism is suspected, ACT has gathered resources on our COVID-19 Page. These suggestions, illustrated by great videos, are focused on play based interventions. Even if a child does not have autism, these suggestions are helpful to encourage communication and social development and have been developed by world leaders in this field.

View ACT’s COVID-19 Waiting for Assessment Resources


blankLooking for some fresh ideas on how to engage your young child who has either been recently diagnosed or where you have concerns about social communications?

Perhaps you work in public health, IDP or in a CDC which has been forced to close? We would welcome professionals forwarding this resource to families who are awaiting a diagnosis or early intervention services.

Don’t miss the free recording of Dr. Pat Mirenda and Dr. Paola Colozzo of UBC: “What Can I Do with My Child All Day? Strategies for Supporting Young Children” It provides a guilt-free framework for thinking about how to encourage engagement in the home – setting realistic expectations for overstretched parents.

We urge parents to watch it – it’s only an hour – and hope that early intervention providers will share the link with their families and help them identify the ideas/resources that are a good fit for their child. The PDF Handout contains example activities, resources, and websites.

Watch this Presentation


Resources to Encourage Social Communication

In addition to the free web stream above, the links to the programs below provide families tips on what to do to encourage social communication while they are waiting for a diagnosis. Ideally there is an early educator, a speech pathologist, or an Infant Development Program worker who knows the child too, and can provide advice remotely. We are not suggesting that parents become therapists, but these programs provide more sharply tuned approaches to parenting.

For children who have a language delay these resources will generally be easier to implement. For those who go on to be diagnosed with autism, it is often harder for families, but the techniques are the same. They are geared toward play and fun!

blank Autism Navigator is a unique collection of web-based tools and courses that uses extensive video footage to bridge the gap between science and community practice.

blankThe Early Start Denver Model is a relationship-based early intervention model created to work with very young children with, or showing signs of, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).


Challenging Behaviors: Positive Behavior Support is Key!

The resources below focus on helping families re-consider the challenging behaviours that some of their children engage in. Usually these behaviors occur because the child is frustrated, as they do not understand and can not communicate what they want. The approach of Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is very helpful to change a negative dynamic in the home and ACT has a number of free online videos that can help families understand how to support their child with practical information that is parent-friendly. While you may need more professional support to really take advantage of this approach, watching these videos will help you become a better informed consumer of professional services.

Positive Behavior Support: What Parents Need to Know!

Brenda Fossett, PhD, BCBA-D

Toilet Training for Children with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities

Pat Mirenda, PhD, BCBA-D

Solving Sleep Problems in Children with ASD

Beth Ann Malow, MD, MS

Visual Support Strategies for Individuals with ASD

Brenda Fossett, PhD, BCBA-D

View all PBS videos


COVID-19 Resources on Autism and Special Needsblank

ACT is continuing to update information on advocacy efforts and resources on our COVID-19 page. We welcome your suggestions for new resources at info@actcommunity.ca.

View ACT’s COVID-19 Page

Early Years Letter to BC’s Representative for Children and Youth

Concern is growing among those supporting families with children with special needs across B.C. at the lack of an effective response from MCFD to the continuing crisis. The Early Years Conference Committee has written a passionate appeal to Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth, Representative for Children and Youth: “We hope that you and your office will commit to a collaborative investigation resulting in a report including recommendations and help us bring needed reforms to our province. We look forward to an update. The time is right for change.”

Read the letter below.

May 7, 2020

Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth

British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth Sent via email: jennifer.charlesworth@rcybc.ca

Dear Dr. Charlesworth,

RE: Early Years Conference 2020

Listen Together, Learn Together, Act Together

We are writing to thank you for your excellent Keynote Address at our 2020 Early Years Conference in February. Your presentation emphasized the importance of the early years and the life‐long benefits to children, their families/communities and to society in providing the right services and supports at the right time, early in life to ensure the best outcomes. We appreciate your commitment to children and youth and the work your office is doing to support them and their families, in particular those most at risk. We also appreciate your invitation to work with you to bring about needed reforms for children with disabilities and their families.

In our discussions following the presentation we were heartened by your interest in your office conducting a formal report of services for young children with disability in BC similar to other reports conducted with other vulnerable populations. You noted it has been decades since such a review of services and supports for young children and their families in BC had been done and it was long overdue. As a collective we fully endorse a review that considers the needs all families of young children with disability, including indigenous, non indigenous, rural and remote.

Since that conference, our province has undergone massive changes due to the COVID‐19 pandemic. It has revealed how torn the fabric of service is to our most vulnerable populations. Services were limited, inflexible and inadequate before the crisis. We see the impact of inadequate care reflected in deaths in long‐term care homes. It is also reflected in the tremendous burdens of unmet needs experienced by children with disabilities and their families. Many families are faced with increased stress, mental health challenges, isolation, family violence and food insecurity. We believe that, going into the pandemic, had our systems of care been solid and the coordination and supports been in place to meet the diverse needs of children and families, the burdens of today would be more easily managed and infused with hope and knowledge that there would be an end at some point.

ACT BC has done significant advocacy for families of children with Autism and The Family Support Institute, Inclusion BC, BCEdAccess and BC Parents of Complex Kids have been working hard to bring direct concerns from parents to MCFD. Very little to date has been accomplished to address real and growing concerns now highlighted by the crisis of COVID‐19.

The Province can do better. We know from families and service providers what is needed. We know that low incidence populations benefit from provincial rather than regional oversight, when standards of service and care are developed, monitored, trauma‐informed and evaluated; when staff training is valued and supported; when families are fully involved in all decision making processes there can be success.

There is no excuse for needs to be met in one region and completely unmet in another; when one family can access needed support and others cannot; when one staff person can access training and another works with little or no qualification for what should be a highly skilled job. There is huge and unnecessary inequity throughout BC. This can create devastating and life‐long consequences for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. Future changes should include, with family input, determining which services families deem are essential for our youngest citizens and their families.

We hope that you and your office will commit to a collaborative investigation resulting in a report including recommendations and help us bring needed reforms to our province. We look forward to an update. The time is right for change.

Sincerely,

Early Years Committee

Diana Elliott, Co‐Chair, Provincial Advisor, Aboriginal Infant Development Programs, Victoria, BC

Stacey Walsh, Co‐Chair, Social Worker, Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, Vancouver, BC

Yvette Bolduc, Advisor, Training Coordinator, Aboriginal Head Start Association of British Columbia, Duncan, BC

Tanya Brown, Team Leader Early Years, Mother Bear Child Development, Shéwaynewas “Growing Together” Family Program, Ayas Men Men Child and Family Services, Squamish Nation, North Vancouver, BC

Dana Brynelsen, Community Representative, former Provincial Advisor, Infant Development Program of BC, Retired, Halfmoon Bay, BC

Kjerstin Dunk, Infant Development Consultant, South Cariboo Infant Development Program; Cedar Crest Society, 100 Mile House, BC

Jason Gordon, Provincial Advocate, BC Association of Child Development and Intervention, Kelowna, BC Kristina Hiemstra, Director, Interprofessional Continuing Education, UBC, Vancouver, BC

Amy Mullis, Strategic Communications Lead, HELP, School of Population and Public Health, UBC, Vancouver, BC Judie Sahadeo, Infant Development Consultant, Langley, BC

Mary Stewart, Sessional Instructor, Faculty of Education, UBC, Vancouver, BC; Instructor, Early Learning and Child Care Program, NorQuest College, Edmonton, AB

Michele Tardif, Supervisor, Sources Infant Development Program, Surrey, BC

Mandy Young, Provincial Community Engagement Coordinator, Family Support Institute of BC; President, BC

Prader‐Willi Syndrome Association, New Westminster, BC

Angela Wrede, Syilx Early Years Lead, Okanagan Nation Alliance, Westbank, BC

Why is the response of the BC Government to children with special needs so weak?

blankThe lack of action on providing an emergency response to even the most marginalized families of children with special needs reflects long standing attitudes within the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) to children with special needs – essentially they are not a priority. However, in the midst of this international pandemic, when all levels of government are taking radical steps to protect citizens, it is shocking to see, virtually unchanged, this chronic resistance to the need to mobilize to protect vulnerable children. Six weeks into the withdrawal of all of the essential services that have kept families functioning, MCFD and MOE have yet to announce steps to provide wrap-around service to the province’s most vulnerable, despite the promises made in a joint letter from Minister Katrine Conroy (MCFD) and Minister Rob Fleming (MOE) on April 14th.

Broadly, the BC Government has done an excellent job of meeting the multiple challenges of COVID-19. The Ministry of Health, Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry have provided science-informed leadership. The needs of the homeless, those living in care homes, those caring for seniors in the own homes , women at risk from domestic violence and adults with special needs have received much needed attention and funding, highlighting the chronic funding shortages each sector has long experienced.

Why is the situation so different for families whose children have been stripped of all the services their children rely on? Deborah Pugh, ACT’s Executive Director, has spent 25 years engaged with the special needs community in BC, following many years working as a journalist internationally. This is her analysis of what most families see as MCFD’s and MOE’s grudging response to the needs of all neuro-diverse children.

The reasons for the underwhelming response from MCFD and MOE are complex and deeply embedded within both ministries. They are each very decentralized, with few provincial standards that are rigorously applied to services for children with special needs. This has left both MCFD and MOE struggling to create a coherent provincial response to COVID-19, especially as the upper echelons of both ministries lack an understanding of family realities and do not appear to be benefiting from straight-talking advisors. In recent years both ministries have focused on the attitude that “all children are special”, watering down their obligation to provide highly trained support to neuro-diverse children.

MCFD is particularly limited by years of ensuring its staff and contractors do not document their concerns in their reporting. Ignoring reality is a pervasive problem within MCFD, which may explain why MCFD’s leadership is keeping such a low profile in this current crisis. It has not helped that the NDP government has downgraded support for special needs in its focus on childcare since coming to power, compounding years of neglect by the Liberal government. It is notable that the $225 provided to families for respite has not increased in over 20 years.

Families of Children with Autism Outraged by MCFD’s lack of response

MCFD is especially ham-strung by the Autism Funding Branch [AFB] which has failed to deliver efficient service during its 17 years in existence. The petition asking MCFD to allow the rolling over of autism funding, if families cannot spend it on therapy for their children because of COVID-19, is now approaching 7,500 signatories. As MCFD appears determined to claw back part of the $80 million autism funding program, it will likely be the only Ministry that can point to savings during COVID-19. Given the flexibility that the provincial government has had to demonstrate in the midst of COVID-19 to the needs of other sectors, it is not surprising that some families are considering launching a class action law suit on the grounds of the evident discrimination against children with autism.

MCFD’s COVID-19 ‘Emergency’ response ignores 95% of families

The disconnect within MCFD is reflected in the reactive nature of its response to COVID-19 generally. In the face of fierce criticism of its lack of any response to special needs families, three weeks into the crisis, MCFD’s April 8th press release launched its Emergency Fund for COVID-19. The release failed to acknowledge that fewer than 5% of eligible families will receive $225 a month; $900,000 does not go far when stretched over 30,000 special needs children.

It is impossible to know just how many families are struggling to the point that their children are at risk, but it is certainly far more than 5%. Pity the chronically overworked CYSN workers who have to decide which desperate families on their caseload will benefit. What is most worrying about MCFD’s response is that $225 cannot address the needs of isolated, impoverished families supporting very challenging children who are now dependent on their parents 24/7, without access to school, childcare workers, respite or interventionists. More worrying still are the families who are too stressed in the face of their children’s needs to make multiple calls to their CYSN workers.

A reluctant response from BC’s Ministry of Education

MCFD’s lack of vigorous engagement has been mirrored at the Ministry of Education. Minister Rob Fleming has left it to school districts to decide how to support students with special needs who cannot learn online at home. This week, a month after spring break ended, a few school districts are taking their first, very tentative, steps to accommodate a few students at school, watched carefully by both the BC Teachers Federation and CUPE. Vancouver School District is restricting their efforts to one secondary school with only a handful of students. Surrey SD is also moving very slowly to meet the needs of students who cannot learn remotely. [There is no comprehensive source of provincial data on support to high needs students attending in person, as yet. However, early reports point to a much faster response from private and faith-based schools that from the pubic school system.]

Six weeks after schools closed this is too little, far too late. In BC, we have been told that all teachers, EA’s and administrators have continued to be employed. Surely more can be done for students with high levels of special needs, drawing on Ministry of Health directives to ensure safety, using creativity and compassion.

53,000 unused childcare spots but little response to desperate families of children with special needs

There is no doubt that both MCFD and MOE can mobilize, if necessary. Witness the rapid creation of 59,000 emergency childcare spaces for the children of essential workers in response to COVID-19 – far more than have been needed. According to a CBC report, MCFD said that as of April 16, more than 2,500 child-care centres have a total of nearly 60,000 spaces available but only 3,000 spots have been taken. Many Educational Assistants (EA) for students with special needs were assigned to provide childcare for essential workers. While essential workers must be given priority, the lack of planning or consideration for students with special needs is clear. This is especially hard. since for many children with limited communication abilities, their EA is not easily replaced, as reported by BCEdAccess in their April 8th snapshot.

An opinion piece in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun by two noted clinicians on the response of BC’s education system, sums up the growing sense of abandonment: “many parents of children with special needs are wondering whether the cavalry will ever arrive for them.”

Keeping Children Safe – and out of Foster Care

This excerpt from a letter written by a parent to MCFD, and shared with ACT, explains the crisis that hundreds, if not thousands, of parents are experiencing as they try to keep their children safe:

“My son, who is eight and has ASD, has been thrown into emotional turmoil by the removal of all of the routine and supports (school, his EA, OT, BIs) he previously needed to help him through his day.  He is not able to meaningfully engage through video teaching.  His rigid and literal thinking is exacerbating the problem as he refuses to do any school with me as home is not “school” and I am not his “teacher.”  He has been having multiple meltdowns, yelling, screaming, crying, and hurting his older sister.  He recently told me crying that “There is no future.  I have no hope.  I want to die.”  He is NOT okay.  And by extension neither are we, his family.”

ACT has had confirmed by MCFD sources that CYSN workers continue to tell advocates and families that they have very little to offer at-risk families, advising that they should contact child protection if they are concerned about a child’s safety, that CYSN is not a crisis service. Indeed, this has been the position of CYSN for decades. COVID-19 has not triggered a reset, even temporarily. While families are desperate for help, most, especially aboriginal families, are very reluctant to identify themselves as unable to keep their children safe. They fear their children will be apprehended by child protection and placed into foster care. This means that these families are effectively on their own – a very dangerous situation. Let us not forget that five years ago, a desperate mother of a child with extreme support needs, living in Prince Rupert, took her son’s life, and her own.

There is much discussion, as we all consider the fault lines which COVID-19 has revealed in our society, about how we need deep seated reforms. Surely providing parents of children with a range of special needs, including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, ADHD, Down Syndrome, autism and a number of rarer conditions, of a reasonable support system, is worthy of serious consideration.

In the meantime, Behavior Analyst Courtney Phillips has been in touch with ACT and is offering to help organize families who are in crisis and are being told that their only option is Child Protection, in order to bring more attention to this terrible situation. “Professionals, such as myself, are seeing firsthand the toll that COVID-19 is having on our most vulnerable students and families. Many, especially single-parents, are experiencing a new level of caregiver burn-out and we hear often that families are afraid to ask MCFD for help for fear of having their children taken from their care by Child Protection.”  Courtney can be contacted at courtney.pphillips@icloud.com.

A Different Story at the Ministry of Social Development

In stark contrast to MOE and MCFD, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction (MSDPR) has given a $300 a month boost to adults living on the Persons with Disability Benefit. It has also set aside $35.6 million to subsidize the increased costs of organizations supporting 9,500 adults with a range of special needs living in home shares and group homes. This averages over $1,250 per month per adult receiving services from Community Living BC. This step recognizes that staff cannot be expected to make the sacrifices that families will. A case in point is the recent story from Ontario about a mother of twins who risked her life by delaying going to hospital for COVID-19 treatment, because of the lack of childcare for her non-verbal son.

Unfortunately for children with special needs, they must rely on their hard-pressed, exhausted parents to speak for them. Surely government can do better now. Or must we wait for the Representative of Children and Youth to investigate the aftermath of the BC government’s ongoing systemic failures to support children with special needs during this COVID-19 crisis, which may well continue for many months to come?

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 info@actcommunity.ca, 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 special 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 Special 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 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 info@actcommunity.ca, 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: 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.

ACT’s Update on BC Government’s Response to COVID-19 Crisis for Families
April 16, 2020

blank

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 info@actcommunity.ca.

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 info@actcommunity.ca, 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 info@actcommunity.ca.

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