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B.C.’s new autism funding model a disappointment, says Autism BC

Part one in a series of stories related to autism awareness in B.C.

Representatives with Autism BC came away disappointed after attending the 2022 B.C. budget lockup last month.

Disappointed by what the organization sees a lack of new provincial investment in urgent services for neurodivergent and disabled children and youth left out of current programs.

One of the main concerns the organization has is the province’s move away from an individualized funding model for families to a needs-based community hub model.

The province has pegged that cost at $172 million over three years. The majority of that ($114 million) is aimed towards starting the transition to the needs-based system.

The budget states that this shift, starting on April 1 of this year, includes fully covering the cost of essential medical equipment and supplies, such as wheelchairs. The other $58-million is allocated for increased costs associated with the expected growing demand among youth who have support needs.

“This budget does not demonstrate in any capacity how the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) is going to fund these new family connection centres,” said Julia Boyle, executive director of Autism BC.

Pilot programs for the Family Connection Centres (FCCs) will open in Central Okanagan and northwestern B.C. in 2023, with province-wide implementation set for 2024.

“So they’re relying on the experience of these pilot hubs to help them forecast what their investments should be in these Family Connection Centres,” added Boyle. “So essentially they’ve launched this brand new service model without any forecast for how they’re going to finance them and the key elements for these centres.”

Boyle is further concerned government will rely too heavily on the pilot programs in making decisions for neurodiverse children.

“They’re promising a lot in this new model. When they come out with a budget that doesn’t even meet urgent needs, current needs, it makes it hard to have faith that they’re going to be able to come through. We don’t know how the ministry is going to roll out this new service model.”

A statement from Autism BC released on the day (Feb. 22) the provincial budget was announced noted there is a four per cent investment in current programs that are to be phased out or transitioned by 2025, and $10-million in capital investment to modernize medical equipment as promised by CFD Minister Mitzi Dean in October 2021.

There is also mention of the transitional investment in the new FCC system, but no projected carrying costs for this system.

Boyle pointed to the Ontario government’s about-face on changes to its autism funding model as an example the B.C. government can learn from. Changes made to the Ontario Autism Program in 2019, which included funding based on age instead of need, were heavily criticized by families with autistic children, service providers, and opposition politicians.

After months of controversy, threatened lawsuits, and program reforms, the Ontario government promised a needs-based model for March 2021. There was still criticism of the new program from the Ontario Autism Coalition.

“We were hoping to get more information from this budget and it’s just not there,” added Boyle. “So we’re kind of stuck dealing with less than we need right now, and struggling to have hope for how they’re going to fund these new Family Connections Centres.”

with files from Jake Romphf

Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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