Supports for children with special needs in crisis during pandemic: B.C. youth representative
VICTORIA -- B.C.’s child and youth watchdog released a scathing account Thursday of how kids and families are faring during the pandemic.
The report, entitled "Left Out," details a litany of failings, from long waits for assessment, inadequate respite resources, and communication breakdowns during the pandemic that left families without help and promised supports.
It goes on to say, “many families and caregivers are reaching the breaking point.”
Jennifer Charlesworth consulted families and community support groups and found provincial services were so deficient some families put their kids into care to get support.
Charlesworth noted when schools shut down, desperately needed health, social and educational supports and routines did too. The representative for children and youth also noted the already fractured system just amplified existing social and economic inequities.
- Read the full report, 'Left Out: Children and Youth with Special Needs in the Pandemic'
The province did promise emergency funding for families, but Charlesworth said communication was bad or non-existent. Some case workers weren’t aware that a requirement for a health-care provider to sign off had been removed. Many families learned of happenings through Facebook posts from other parents.
The result, she noted, was “the lack of support has left some families struggling to manage on their own with children whose severe behaviours have deteriorated in the pandemic, which can threaten the child’s safety as well as that of their siblings and parents.”
The report also noted a 2018 report with recommendations to improve services for kids with special needs had the NDP government promising to do more, but she says action on the 11 recommendations has stalled.
In a statement posted in response to the report, the province's Minister of Children and Family Development thanked the families that shared their stories.
"Early on in the pandemic, many of the face-to-face services families depend on were reduced, so we put in flexibility measures and emergency supports to give as much added help as we could. Yet, despite these measures, I know families are still struggling," Mitzi Dean said.
"I share many of the representative's concerns and agree we need to apply what we have learned from the pandemic experience."
She said the ministry is working to "fundamentally change" the supports in place for children and youth with special needs, and that it's open to feedback during this process.
"I want to hear directly from those who are affected. That's why I have asked ministry staff to set up an advisory council to help ensure those voices are heard. I have also asked staff to expedite the implementation of the CYSN service framework and work to improve the system for struggling families throughout the province."