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Kelowna non-profit supporting children with special needs loses provincial funding bid

Starbright Children's Development Centre in Kelowna, B.C., says it's set to lose provincial funding this spring, after it lost its bid on a provincial contract to provide services for youth with special needs in the Central Okanagan. (Starbright Children's Development Centre - image credit)
Starbright Children's Development Centre in Kelowna, B.C., says it's set to lose provincial funding this spring, after it lost its bid on a provincial contract to provide services for youth with special needs in the Central Okanagan. (Starbright Children's Development Centre - image credit)

An Okanagan non-profit care provider that lost a recent bid for provincial funding says families of children with disabilities aren't being given a clear transition plan away from its services.

The warning comes as the B.C. government reorganizes the delivery of its supports to families of children and youth with special needs, a change it says will give better access to care.

Established in 1996, the Kelowna-based Starbright Children's Development Centre delivers intervention services such as speech and language pathology, physical therapy and inclusive child-care.

Its primary source of funding has been B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development, which also funds similar programs province-wide.

In October 2021, the ministry announced plans to concentrate funding on a few "family connection centre" hubs that will act as centralized service providers for different regions.

Starbright bid on a contract to become the sole provider of services for the Central Okanagan — but found out earlier this month it had been unsuccessful.

Now, it's unclear on what comes next: Starbright says it won't have the money it needs to continue operations after termination of its contract with province.

"We have not been able to get a transition plan from the ministry ... so we can guide parents," said Starbright president and board chair Carol Meise. "That's what's so frustrating."

'Highly specialized staff'

Meise says the ministry has told her the contract and funding for her non-profit will end on March 31.

However, the ministry told CBC News in an emailed statement Tuesday it had granted Starbright an extension, without providing further details.

Meise said the province hadn't told her about the extension, nor what will happen to her 60 staff members.

"The level of communication [from the province] has been very minimal," she said.

Kelowna, B.C., resident Susan Peters is worried about what will happen if Starbright has to shut down or can no longer support her 18-month-old daughter, who has Cockayne syndrome, a rare genetic disease that causes premature aging and learning delays.

"We have a highly specialized staff [in Starbright]," she said. "[The province] has not taken into consideration that intensive intervention that is needed."

Transition to new provider

On Jan. 5, the province announced that youth services provider ARC Programs Ltd. had received the provincial contract to operate the family connection centre in the Central Okanagan.

ARC Programs CEO Shane Picken says his company will do as much as it can to accept children enrolled in Starbright's programs.

"We will be involved in an orderly transfer of services then, and hopefully there's no gap between what they're receiving now and what they will receive in the future," he said.

The province also announced family connection centre operators in three other regions, including Prince Rupert‒Haida Gwaii, Terrace‒Kitimat and Bulkley Valley‒Stikine. It said it will extend the one-stop-shop model of service delivery to the rest of B.C. next year.