In British Columbia, Suffer the Children
In his government's 2006-2009 Strategic Plan, Premier Gordon Campbell outlined five great goals for his Golden Decade. Goal #3 was to "Build the best system of support in Canada for persons with disabilities, those with special needs, children at risk, and seniors."
Three years later, Campbell and his children's minister, Mary Polak, seem to have entirely forgotten that promise. They've failed to improve supports for children with special needs. Existing systems are being cut, with no effort to resolve chronic service gaps.
Intensive intervention programs for autism have been axed, despite overwhelming need and hard evidence that these programs work well. The ministry's own experts advise that the alternative system of uniform subsidies is not an effective model for many children. It also creates two-tiered access, since only very wealthy families can afford to top up subsidies to get required therapies.
Provincial staff who provide direct services, including oversight, coordination, training and standards for community Infant Development Programs and Aboriginal IDPs are being axed. So is the provincial Supported Child Care office, which was recently created to resolve problems due to a lack of oversight, coordination and consistency in local programs. Staff were given a month's notice, which won't permit the transfer of roles, protocols and resources.
Polak has also cut budgets for child protection and childcare. Even the Special Olympics and a program that sought to reduce the number of children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder were cut.
There's more. Polak has ordered $32 million in cuts to ministry staff who manage and deliver critical child and family programs, with no risk assessment or public discussion about expected impacts. Front-line agencies that deliver children's programs were ordered to cut a further $3.6 million.
Savings from these cuts are not going to expand services to children currently waitlisted or denied urgently-needed therapies (e.g. children with Down Syndrome). Young adults are still denied supports on the basis of IQ, contrary to policy changes promised a year ago. Thousands of children will continue to be denied urgently needed services or waitlisted. The ministry has failed to document the extent of child and youth waitlists and service gaps or to demonstrate any progress in resolving these.
Polak's ministry has now spent over a year restructuring services for children with special needs - again! - with no effort to consult families, who are the primary partners in delivering most children's supports.
We can afford to do better
Premier Campbell has committed $14 billion to new capital spending in his 2010 budget at the same time that Minister Polak is claiming there is no choice but to cut vital children's programs.
And Premier Campbell failed to strengthen supports for children with special needs as promised, despite record budget surpluses in recent years. The children's ministry continues to waste millions in scarce tax dollars on endless restructuring. And Campbell still plans to spend $20 million on bricks and mortar to help construct a new autism building in Vancouver, after B.C. families overwhelmingly stressed in a survey last year that maintaining and enhancing services was by far the top priority.
As parents, we think most British Columbians would agree that British Columbia - the best place on earth - does not need to balance its budget on the backs of vulnerable children. These foolish cuts will destroy lives and cost us far more than they save in the long run.
Militant Moms on the Move
16 October 2009