A Surrey mom is facing challenges finding summer child care for her two sons, the eldest of whom has been diagnosed with autism.
Ashley Catroppa and her husband started looking for specialized options for their sons, aged three and five, in March. However, spaces were already filled at the Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) camp in Surrey, one of the few summer camps in the province specifically for children on the autism spectrum.
After being put on a waitlist for the ABA camp, Catroppa says she had to enrol her children in a program with no additional support for children with special needs even though it worries her.
"I lose sleep at night all the time."
When camp staff said they were having difficulties with her eldest son, Talen, after the first week, Catroppa tried to find a solution. She says the B.C. Ministry of Child and Family Development suggested that the family hire a worker from ABA to assist with Talen at his daycare.
"So on top of paying a daycare to watch our child, we now have to pay for an ABA worker to come in."
Catroppa and her husband both work full time in professions where summers are busy, and taking time off is not an option.
The Catroppas have increased the hours of a behaviour interventionist they employ to help Talen attend daycare. They also rely on support from extended family to pick Talen up early from daycare.
High demand for child care
Co-founder of the ABA camp in Surrey, Leah Mumford, said that she got the idea to start the camp when she noticed there was a gap in summer care for children with autism.
"It is really challenging to find an appropriate space sometimes for a kid with autism to go."
The ABA camp, which started in 2010, runs for four weeks in July with 30 spots per week. When they opened 2021 registration back in March, all 120 spots filled up within eight days. There were an additional 10 or more families on the waitlist for each week. Mumford said that kids come from all over the Lower Mainland to attend the camp.
"I hate turning kids away because I know there aren't a lot of good alternatives for them."
Tracy Humphreys, founder of BCEdAccess said that it is challenging for families of children with special needs to find care, as there are not many specialty programs.
"All child-care spaces should be inclusive. This means that all staff should know how to support all children ... but in reality child-care staff are not trained to support all children," said Humphreys.
Mumford doesn't believe it is a mindset of exclusion that prevents community camps from accepting children with autism, but rather a problem of capacity and funding.
Catroppa said that when funding they receive from the government to help with Talen's needs is reduced after his sixth birthday in August, they plan to allocate their limited funds to professional help, such as occupational therapy.
Catroppa hopes to enroll Talen in the ABA program for next summer.