MLA calls for government to scrap new autism funding plan

Fix existing system

Why would the government change something that is working well? Parents of children with autism have been asking this question.

As we know, they forge an incredibly difficult path. First, there is the diagnosis. Often, parents wait between 18 months and two years to have a diagnosis rendered. Sometimes, it has even been longer.

Once the official diagnosis is given, parents will try different therapies and activities to try to find the right combination to help their children. The current provincial funding can be used, at the discretion of the parents, for behaviour interventionists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists or physical therapists, out-of-school support and family counselling.

All those therapies are covered by the current model and are used by the parents in the best interests of their children.

That’s all about to change.

The provincial government is ending the direct funding to families with autism in 2025 as it transitions to a new service system.

One of the goals of the change is to include all neurodiverse children, and this is a great aim.

Having said that, doing so without adding money to the entirety of the system will detrimentally affect children with autism and the therapies their families depend on for them. Essentially, adding more children to the system without adding dollars means less is available for everyone.

So far, despite this concern being raised repeatedly by the official Opposition in the Legislature, and by parents and their advocates, Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean, has not committed to any additional funding for the changes.

This fundamental transition is to a “one-size-fits-all” hub model. It has been used unsuccessfully in Ontario, with that province’s waitlist for diagnosis increasing by more than 200%.

The decision to move from individualized care to the hub model was made without broad consultation with parents or care providers. Also, future service locations of the hub model are expressing concerns about being able to deliver the care necessary, without significant increase to funding, as well having more care providers.

Childhood and Youth Advocate Jennifer Charlesworth, noted the hub model brings about some positives, as well as some negatives,

“What I am worried about is we are talking 2024-25 and a very fundamental shift and what can be done for those experiencing a current crisis,” she said. “What are the planks that can be in place now? I am mindful we have huge challenges, including the workforce shortage. I do think the hubs will eventually be helpful. Even if they have individual funding, this will help coordinate.”

As it stands now, the individual funding looks like it won’t be there once the hubs are up and running. That means parents, instead of being able to book treatment themselves with the provider of their choice, will have to access all treatment through hub centres.

For the families of autistic children I know, this is not a welcome shift. Threatening their funding and independence is akin to re-traumatizing these families all over again.

That is why I have, along my B.C. Liberal colleagues, continued to press government to move away from the hub model change and improve the current system the way it is.

For example, there is agreement that the diagnosis process should be made faster, as this is the pinch point to accessing care. So add more diagnostic behavioural specialists to expedite diagnosis but keep the care in an individualized way.

My question this week is:

How should funding be allocated for the families of autistic and neurodiverse children?

I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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