Growing concerns over new ‘hub’ service model for B.C. children with support needs, disabilities

Vancouver –

The province is facing growing questions and concerns over a decision to move to a new service model for B.C. children with support needs and disabilities.

Advocacy groups and parents are worried about what the change will mean for their current supports, and they’re calling for more consultation.

The government has said the new “one-stop family connection hubs” will provide services from birth to age 19, and will not require a diagnosis.

Individualized funding for families to use for support will be phased out by 2025, when the government said hubs will be available province-wide.

The president of the board of directors for Autism B.C., Kaye Banez, said her nine-year-old son Lazarus, who is on the autism spectrum, has benefited from the support provided by the individualized funding. She said at the age of four, he was able to start developing his musical talents with the help of a behavioural interventionist.

“From there, he just bloomed,” she said. “He has this ability to see music at this capacity that is beyond average…music is his language.”

Banez said after an autism diagnosis, children under six are eligible for $22,000 each year in funding supports for approved resources. Children over six receive $6,000 a year.

“It is so critical to have that option to be able to form a team that actually addresses your children’s needs,” she said. “We had a lot of calls from parents who are deeply disturbed about taking away that autism funding…a lot of despair that the system that is working for them is being taken away.”

Down Syndrome B.C. (DSBC) has also released statements on social media that expressed concern about the change.

“Releasing a ‘plan’ with no details of execution has only added to the stress and uncertainty experienced by families of a child with a disability,” the group said. “DSBC will continue to advocate for family directed care that serves the needs of all disabled children.”

Banez said her group only had a half-hour conversation with the minister of children and family development in the days leading up to the announcement, and she is calling for more direct consultation.

“There (have) been no answers from the government about the specific logistics about how these hubs are going to be operating,” she said, “When you say that immediately my child will have services, what do you mean by immediately? How are needs going to be assessed?”

The issue has also been raised over the past two days in the legislature, with leader of the opposition Shirley Bond calling the move a funding “clawback.”

Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean told CTV News she understands that families have concerns.

“What I really want to express to families is the service will still be there,” she said. “We have a long transition time, and we’ll support families in making the move from the current really fragmented programming into the new system.”

Dean described the new model as a “public system that creates a safety net,” and added not everyone lives in areas where they have the supports they need, and some aren’t able to put together the team their child needs on their own.

“We’ll be talking to families as we work through their transition,” she said. “We’re still working out how the implementation is going to roll out.”

The first hubs are scheduled to open in 2023, in northwestern B.C. and the central Okanagan, before becoming available province-wide the next year.

Salmon Arm parent Zev Tiefenbach said he found it hard to find supports for his son, who has Down syndrome and other complex needs, and is hopeful that may change for others.

“To me, the big benefit of the hub system that they’re proposing is that it’s needs-based,” he said, and added he reached out to the ministry about two years ago with his concerns, and they contacted him prior to the announcement to see if he would provide feedback. “What the ministry does for implementation is going to be very, very, very critical.”

Tiefenbach said when his son was around four years old, they tried to find supports to help him with eating, walking and talking.

“We started to look around for what services were available to him through the public system. And there was not much,” he said. “So he was getting maybe a minuscule amount as compared to what was needed for him to be able to reach those kinds of benchmarks…we were a little bit astounded that we couldn’t get access to kinds of services, critical services for his development.”

The province said the new system will be able to help around 8,300 more children, and when the first two hubs become available, families currently accessing individualized support will be given the option to opt in. The government said they can also choose to continue with their current support, but that option will only remain until 2025.

Banez said there are also concerns about timely access to services under the incoming hub system.

“We have seen this in other jurisdictions, where wait lists upon wait lists are happening for thousands of children to get services,” she said. “Not just children who are autistic, but for the whole disability and diverse needs community.”

Banez said Autism B.C. is encouraging families to get in touch if they have concerns.

“My son Lazarus is nine, and he’s had the same behavioural consultant since he was three years old,” she said. “To lose that support, I cannot even fathom how I would explain that to him.”

This website uses cookies and asks your personal data to enhance your browsing experience.