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Help for special-needs children in B.C. is put off while government delays: advocate

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s children’s representative says a years-old government promise to revamp supports for kids with special needs appears to be stalled, leaving those who require help to struggle while they wait for action.

A report from Jennifer Charlesworth says services and supports for families of children with disabilities are under-resourced, difficult to navigate, and “filled with closed doors and lengthy wait lists for assessments and treatment.”

Charlesworth says the Ministry of Children and Family Development announced plans for a new system in 2021 with talk of 40 to 45 “community service hubs” to provide one-stop access to services and navigators to help families.

She says the news initially brought hope to the tens of thousands of families whose children aren’t eligible for services because they haven’t yet been diagnosed, or who have had an assessment but aren’t eligible for help under current guidelines. 

But pushback from families afraid of losing services they already had, and concerns over the criteria children would have to meet to qualify, led Premier David Eby to promise more consultations.

Charlesworth says in her report consultations are not expected to be complete until 2025 and families in B.C. “simply can’t wait any longer” for changes to the system.

“Families with children and youth whose diagnoses deem them ‘eligible’ for services will still have to rely on a broken system for the foreseeable future,” the report said. 

“Even more troubling, tens of thousands of families of children and youth with disabilities that aren’t currently eligible may continue to be left out.”

Charlesworth says only 10 per cent of families who completed a survey said they were “adequately” or “very informed” of the potential changes in the service system and 82 per cent said that they were “not at all” or “only somewhat” informed of the changes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2023

The Canadian Press