‘Condemned to a waitlist’ says B.C. parent protesting changes to autism funding

Hundreds of people protested at the legislature in Victoria Wednesday, as the province continues to move forward with plans to halt individualized funding for kids on the autism spectrum. Ashley Burr reports on parent concerns that their kids will be "condemned to a waitlist.”

Concern is growing for some B.C. parents over the recent announcement from the province to change autism support funding to a new model.

“It has been a disaster for children and families with autism,” one protester said Wednesday in Victoria as a large group gathered to hold a demonstration in front of the Legislature.

They say the move is damaging to halt individualized funding for kids on the autism spectrum in 2025 and instead have them grouped together into a system that generally supports kids who are neurodiverse or have disabilities.

Parents addressed B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development Mitizi Dean directly with some major concerns.

Parents gather in front of the B.C. Legislature carrying signs and making speeches against autism funding changes

Parents call on the province to reverse its decision to change to a hub model for autism funding as they say it will lead to long waitlists for support. Nov. 24. 2021. (CityNews)

A mother of two children on the autism spectrum argued this will lead to delayed services.

“When you look at this hub system she keeps saying we are gonna see an extra 8,300 other children for an increase of  28 per cent. She’s looking to service 30 thousand kids, this number could easily be upwards over a hundred. It is wildly inappropriate and I think my child is going to be condemned to a waitlist,” Jennifer said.

The province says the changes were made after “repeated recommendations” from the representative for children and youth, and after consultation with “with more than 1,500 Indigenous and non-Indigenous families, advocates and service providers.”

In Richmond, Estella Banez, whose brother has autism, says it’s a family effort already to support him.

“I help him with some of his tutoring,” the young girl said.

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Her mother works for Autism BC, and says she couldn’t imagine her son’s life without his current support system.

“Having those supports is so reaffirming. He is in music therapy, and he has specialized music lessons because he is amazing at piano and to lose those supports developing on his strengths and providing us a hope for a better future for him – I can’t even fathom looking at that and saying ‘all of that will be taken away,’ said Kaye Banez.

Another parent, Lisa Britten, says her two children are neurodiverse and was hopeful the new hub system would get them more support. But after crunching the numbers she’s not so sure.

“If the hub model is introduced all kids  should be able to access something, which I applaud the government for that initiative. They’re listening. We’ve been talking about this for a very very long time so I thank them for listening. However, the information that they’ve released so far does not give me any peace of mind that it is actually going to make a difference for those kids. I think they are just going to be sitting on wait lists,” Britten said.

“There’s not enough service providers, there’s not enough hubs that are going to be build children will have to wait years to get supports and that is something we can not accept,” Kaye Banez said.

But the province insists the move will allow more families access to services, whether their children have been clinically diagnosed with autism or not.

The current funding in B.C. allows parents or caregivers to access government money, and then decide how to spend it. Up to $22,000 per year is available for children under six. For older kids the amount is $6,000. The funding can go toward behavioural interventionists, counsellors, speech therapists, and a host of other approved services.

This will end in 2025.The province says the key to the new approach is setting up “one-stop family connections hubs” that can be accessed with or without a diagnosis from birth until a child turns 19.

Around 8,300 children are expected to benefit from these new services, according to the province

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