As B.C. increases funding to foster families, parents of kids with complex needs feel left out

Mother Klara Cramer cares for her son Tomas at their home in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Mother Klara Cramer cares for her son Tomas at their home in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Klara Cramer was forced to give up her career to become the full-time caregiver of her four-year-old son Tomas, who has complex care needs.

After the province announced Thursday it will boost monthly payments for foster parents by up to 47 per cent, Cramer and other families are calling for funding for biological parents of kids with complex needs.

"There is no help. We receive no benefits. We cannot claim unemployment insurance," said Cramer.

Tomas was born with a rare genetic mutation called GRIN1. He cannot walk or speak and has to be fed through a special tube Cramer inserts into his stomach several times a day. He suffers through dozens of seizures every day.

"If you imagine a forever infant stuck in an ever-growing body ... right now, I'm currently sitting here holding in my arms 35 pounds of weight," said Cramer.

Cramer describes the hardship of caring for her son without any provincial support:

The burden is so heavy that Cramer and her husband have considered surrendering Tomas to the province.

"People who do not live our daily lives can never comprehend how profoundly affected it is," said Cramer.

Cramer says if she wasn't the biological parent but rather the foster parent of her son, she would be receiving over $3,000 a month to care for him.

"All I want to say to [Minister Mitzi Dean] is please come and spend 24 hours with one of our families so you can see what we have to do daily to keep our children out of the foster system," said Cramer.

More support for biological parents

Brenda Lenahan, the co-director of the B.C. Complex Kids Society, also has a son with complex care needs.

She says there is a base amount of funding for all kids in foster care, and on top of that, there are different levels of extra support based on the complexity of the child's care needs.

"That's the province recognizing all the extraordinary costs, all the barriers," said Lenahan.

Lenahan says while the new funding for foster families is welcome news, the province needs to do more for biological parents who are caregivers.

Especially because taking care of a child with complex care needs often means forgoing paid work, as in Cramer's case.

"It doesn't make sense on any level not to support children to be in their homes when families want them to be at home with them," said Lenahan.

Submitted by Brenda Lenaham
Submitted by Brenda Lenaham

Thursday's funding announcement includes foster parents and those providing out-of-care or kinship care when the child lives with a relative or family friend, with the goal of reuniting them with their parents when possible.

B.C.'s Minister of Children and Family Development, Mitzi Dean, said on CBC's Early Edition Friday they have increased funding for respite programs for these parents in the province's 2023 budget.

"We absolutely know that these parents face really big challenges. They make real sacrifices to take care of their children."

Dean says she would be happy to meet with Cramer.