Prince Rupert youth with autism left behind in new provincial system

·4 min read

Prince Rupert families with children diagnosed on the autism spectrum may be left with fewer services after big changes to the neurodiverse system were announced by the provincial government on Oct. 27.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) is bringing in a new centralized service system, based on regional “hubs”, to provide support for children based on their unique needs, regardless of having a diagnosis or not.

Neurodiversity is recognized by the federal government as individuals with neurological conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia.

“… we’re putting children and youth at the centre of our new system and making it easier for families to get the high-quality services they need, regardless of where they live in the province,” Mitzi Dean, minister of Children and Family Development, stated in a media release.

The new system will extend help to approximately 8,300 more children, representing a 28 per cent increase in the number of youth who will be able to access disability support services, the announcement read.

In 2023, the ministry will open hubs in two areas, the central Okanagan and the Northwest. The ministry did not specify where in the Northwest the hub will be located however, the region will include the communities of Smithers, Hazelton, Houston, Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii, Terrace, Kitimat, Stewart, Dease Lake and Stikine.

“When the hubs are open, families in these areas, including families in Prince Rupert, will be able to receive services from the new family connections hubs and get access to the supports and services their children need,” the MCFD told The Northern View in an email. “Those who are receiving autism funding can choose to opt in to the new hub system or continue with the services and supports they currently have. Families who receive individualized autism funding can continue their current funding arrangement until 2025.”

Currently, families receive funds from the government and choose how to spend it on services their child needs.

The individualized autism funding program will stop accepting new applicants in September 2024.

The family connection hubs will use a variety of methods to ensure services reach smaller and more remote communities. Some proposed methods include blends of in-person and virtual approaches, establishing satellite locations and sub-contracting service providers to further increase access to professional services — especially for families who have been trying to access those supports independently, but do not currently have access where they live, the MCFD said.

However, Karin Kirkpatrick, BC liberal caucus member and official opposition critic for children, family development, and childcare, believes the shift to a new system from one that already works for many remote families is a mistake and it will not improve services to those communities.

“These hubs are now not just for children with autism, but they’ll be supporting young people with downs syndrome and FASD (Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders), and a number of other things — which all really need support — but they seem to be dismantling the autism support in order to create these new centres,” Kirkpatrick told The Northern View.

“The current scenario, now, is that families have got their own group of behavioural support and caregivers around them that they have individualized service to support their young person,” Kirkpatrick said. “The biggest benefit of the current system is that parents, who know their children best, are the ones who can assess what kinds of supports and services they need."

“With a young person with autism, that takes a long time to build connection and build community,” she said.

“Then the family will need to bring their young person to these hubs, where there’s an actual physical location, and parents will lose the ability and choice to determine who is the service provider, the caregiver [or] the behavioural therapists that their young person gets to work with and they’ll be assigned someone.”

Kirkpatrick said people in the B.C. autism community, which is more than 70,000-strong, are the most vocal group of families she’s even come across.

“They need to be talking to all of their MLAs, they’ve got to make sure that government understands that this is not going to work for them. It’s not in the best interest of British Columbians and certainly not in the best interest of these families,” she said.

Read more about the new changes online or call the Children and Youth with Support Needs Resource Line at 1 833 882-0024.

Norman Galimski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View

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