Sunday, September 13, 2009

BC Families Being Pushed to the Brink and Over the Edge

Children, Families Forgotten in this Budget
Paul Willcocks, Times Colonist, Sept. 9 2009.

Three years ago, then finance minister Carole Taylor said the provincial budget was "for the little ones."

The Liberal government's cost-cutting and mismanagement of support for children and families had just been set out in Ted Hughes' report.

Children would now be the focus, said Taylor.

But this is a short-attention span government. It's no different when it comes to children in B.C.

The new budget freezes the Children and Families Ministry budget for this year -- and the next two years.

Costs, obviously, are increasing, despite a planned wage freeze.

Demand for services and support is rising. That's normal in a recession. Families who have been getting by can be pushed over the edge when jobs vanish.

And the ministry's performance at current funding levels, by its own measurements, has not been satisfactory.

Each ministry releases service plans as part of the budget process. They're one of those great ideas to increase openness, accountability and performance that the Liberals introduced after the 2001 election and have been edging away from ever since.

The plans initially included a large number of performance targets -- measurable goals that would allow the public to monitor progress.

Now, there are just a half dozen measurements per ministry and they tend to be vague and useless.

Even given that weakness, the performance reports point to more problems than successes.

The ministry plans to fund fewer child care spaces this year than it did last year, with no expansion forecast for the next two years. Bad news for parents on long waiting lists for care (although full-day kindergarten might help some).

Its efforts to see more at-risk children placed with extended family, rather than in foster care, faltered last year. The number of children supported in this way fell from 761 to 724. The ministry hopes to increase that to 800 in each of the next two years.

The ministry also failed to meet its targets for the academic performance of children in continuing care. The goal was to have 82.5 per cent of the children performing at the appropriate grade level for their age. It fell short, at 79 per cent.

It's the same for another performance measure that looks at how well the ministry is doing in working with families to prevent future neglect or abuse of children.

That's important. Apprehending children is a necessary last resort; far better to provide skills and support for parents.

The ministry's performance target for last year was to keep recurrences of abuse or neglect within 12 months to 19.4 per cent of cases. It missed that.

The ministry also missed the target for finding adoptive homes for children during the last fiscal year.

Yet despite all that, the ministry budget is based on reducing the number of children in care from 9,100 to 8,800 this year, with no clear indication of how or why that will happen.

It's not surprising some targets would be missed. Circumstances change, priorities shift, problems prove more intractable than expected.

But given evidence that the ministry is not achieving its goals, a budget that provides no more resources and reduced staff levels seems inappropriate.

It's not just a problem within the Children's Ministry.

The education ministry's performance targets include goals for improving the high school graduation rate for aboriginal and non-aboriginal children.

It missed both targets for the year just completed. The aboriginal rate was 48 per cent -- unchanged from two years ago and 10 points below the ministry's performance standard.

The response was to cut the target for this year from 60 per cent to 50 per cent.

Taken together, the performance plans and budget are discouraging. There is little evidence of progress.

And there is less evidence in the budget of real plans to do better. Resources are frozen or cut. Welfare and minimum wage levels are frozen. There are no targets or plans to deal with B.C.'s six-year record as the worst province in Canada for child poverty.

The 2006 budget might have been "for the little ones."

This one sure wasn't.

Footnote: Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the province's independent Representative for Children and Youth, panned the budget. Looking at education, the children's ministry, housing and frozen income assistance rates, she concluded the province is going backwards in its support for children and families.

pwillcocks@tc.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist.

1 comment:

Dad said...

You know we are living in dark days indeed when the government begins dismantling the therapy funding for helpless children. I suppose it is a smart move by the government as these children can’t voice their concern over the negative impact this will have on their future and huge increase in cost it will later have to society.
Is this the type of government we voted for?
Approximately one in a 150 boys is diagnosed with Autism and this continues to rise at an increasing rate.
In a recent 50 million dollar Lotto 6/49 jackpot, the odds were one in 13,983,816. Hundreds of thousands of parents bet on this jackpot. Your odds are considerably better with an Autism diagnosis.
Save your lottery money, you will need it if your child is diagnosed.
The government of British Columbia offers these families $20,000/year to cover therapy up to the age of six. Therapy costs approximately $80,000/year. This therapy is scientifically proven to be effective and is well documented. This means families who have a child who has been diagnosed with Autism have to find $60,000 from somewhere. This is often debt.
Most of these parents divorce. Selling the family house to fund therapy is common. The sale of most items of value to generate funds for therapy is a given. A life of guilt and depression is to be expected. Alienation from friends and family will occur.
Their life as they knew it is now over.
If they are lucky their child won’t bolt and get lost for days. If they’re lucky their child will learn to refrain from self damaging behavior. If they’re lucky, their child will learn not to throw up after eating. If they’re lucky, their child will learn to speak a few words. If they’re lucky their child will not be teased, ridiculed, beaten up and harassed on a daily basis at school. If they’re lucky their child will graduate from high school.
Most won’t be that lucky.
Last week, without any consultation or warning, the Mary Polak (Minister of Family and Children Development) pulled the rug out from under these parents who are already enduring so much by eliminating their ability to control these funds. The government, who have consistently failed to understand the needs of these families has taken it upon itself to eliminate the option to do Direct Funding (direct from the parents to the service providers) and has instead dictated that these parents have to tow the line of mandated Invoice Funding where the government pays the service providers. This will increase overhead costs, delay the payments, reduce the quality of care and will make paying these service providers extremely difficult therefore reducing the amount of usable funds and discouraging assistance.
The frustration in the Autism community lies in the fact that these parents, who are on the brink of financial collapse, already spent precious funds to fight the government in the courts a few years ago to protect their children and won the Auton lawsuit (Auton vs BC Gov). The government at that time did finally put Direct Individualized Funding into place. This allowed parents to fund their child’s ABA programs and since that time parents have built a strong, quality base of ABA service providers that is making a real difference to these children. The ABA program takes a child who would otherwise be lifelong financial burden on the society and in many cases makes him/her self sufficient.
In these financial times are we prepared to sacrifice the children? Do we want to go down this low moral road? Are we prepared to make the small amount of funds these parents receive that much less and that much more difficult to put into action? Why is the government spending more tax money just to make it difficult for these parents?
For all that is good a decent, please spare the children.