A Statement from Deborah Pugh, ACT’s Executive Director
I have been asked a number of times just what happened at the Minister’s Advisory Council on Children and Youth with Support Needs set up in the Spring of 2021 by MCFD Minister Mitzi Dean. Having signed a non-disclosure agreement, I am not free to provide details. However, I can share my critique of the process which led me to resign in July 2021. [Read my resignation letter]
My expectations of the Council were never high, shaped by 25 years of participating in MCFD’s community consultations in my capacity as a parent, as ACT’s Executive Director and now as the grandmother of a child with a genetic condition. However, I am observing a new low, in terms of MCFD’s willingness to listen to families. The previous Liberal government virtually ignored the needs of children with disabilities and their families, haphazardly and stealthily cutting funding and programs to meet their budgetary goals. In contrast, the NDP government appears determined to dictate to families a whole new system based on “Family Hubs”. Their process negates the diversity of family and child needs and the complexity of system change. This process is being promoted as “‘consultation” but MCFD’s tight control of meetings using Zoom technology, yet another consequence of the pandemic, smacks of a rubber stamp.
In the MCFD session held on November 29th, for example, parents were not permitted to see each other or share comments via the chat in response to what was largely a lecture by MCFD representatives. One parent described the process to me as “putrid”. This degree of control appears to be key to MCFD’s effort to repair the damage done to the tattered reputation of the long promised ‘Framework for Children and Youth with Support Needs’. The rallies, avalanche of protest letters, and the 21,000 signatures now added to the petition presented to the legislature on November 24th, have clearly spooked the government which appears totally unprepared for the degree of outrage their “framework” has ignited.
As Rob Shaw explains in his brilliant analysis, Consultatio post facto, “The NDP has adopted a bad habit of going through the motions of consulting, only to plow ahead regardless of objection or concern.” Shaw points to the searing letter from the First Nation’s Leadership Council which echoes sentiments from across the BC disability community that “Inviting us to your town halls, after you have made your unilateral decision – a decision that is inconsistent with the UN Declaration and not based on any UN Declaration analysis – demonstrated how disastrously off-course your approach is”.
The current consultations can be seen as the third stage of MCFD’s deeply flawed process. The first was in 2019 when families explained in a series of meetings how their children were being denied therapy to address their disabilities and families were struggling without respite. Many expressed that the current system is not working. An overview of the concerns can be seen here. The assumption that all families want and need the same supports is reflected in the final statement: “Families regard a one-stop, hub infrastructure as ideal.” Given the current level of protest, that is clearly an inaccurate statement.
The second phase of MCFD efforts to create a community consultation ‘paper trail’ followed the first year of the pandemic in Spring 2021. Throughout the pandemic, MCFD’s senior staff and former Minister Katrine Conroy were harshly criticized for their failure to support families dependent on CYSN services, as revealed by researchers from Simon Fraser University. Following the re-election of the NDP government with a majority, Mitzi Dean was appointed as the new MCFD Minister. Ms. Dean, whose background includes being a child protection social worker, quickly moved to create the Minister’s Advisory Council on Children and Youth with Support Needs. The Council members were a group of committed not-for-profit leaders and parents of children with a range of disabilities who struggled to provide a reality check to government.
Beginning in May 2021, I was a member of the Minister’s Advisory Council. Minister Dean attended, backed by a large number of MCFD staffers – few of whom had clinical understanding of children who needed therapeutic/medical supports. MCFD representatives smiled a lot but none of the serious concerns raised penetrated the shell of their conviction that ‘Hubs’ would be the magic bullet for all families and children. It felt like we were listening to an exercise in magical thinking as opposed to a well developed plan of action. I remain frightened at the chaos that this plan, if implemented, will trigger.
In July, I resigned, after a number of sessions in which we received no information on budgets or staffing for these ‘hubs’, despite persistent questions. Cancelling the autism funding programs was never mentioned but as no new funding had been committed, it was obviously central to the plan. Ethically, I could not lend legitimacy to the process by remaining on the Council. I wrote a second letter to Minister Dean on August 9, 2021, again raising concerns and calling for “ethical equity, otherwise the push will be on to remove responsibility for providing therapy to children from MCFD.”
MCFD’s continuing unwillingness to heed warnings from ACT and from many others, demonstrates how resistant senior bureaucrats within MCFD are to the concerns of families struggling to protect their children with disabilities. This has been evident throughout the pandemic. This is a ministry, and a minister, which see families of children with disabilities through the lens of child protection. Even frontline CYSN social workers with expertise in the complexities of providing therapy and support to families of children with disabilities are ignored. Few are left in the higher echelons of the Ministry with this expertise. I don’t think MCFD expected this degree of opposition because they don’t understand the implications of what they are proposing.
Clearly senior bureaucrats, like Deputy Minister Allison Bond, believe they can force a new system on families of children with disabilities. It is ACT’s view that it is time to move families of children with disabilities out of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and to provide CYSN with an expanded stand-alone budget, that is fully funded with cross party support to guard against inflation. Our children deserve no less.