The provincial government today announced a $20 million government grant to help cover construction costs for a proposed private facilty in East Vancouver that will house autism service providers.
Today's announcement confirms a personal commitment that former Premier Gordon Campbell made in a private meeting with hotelier Sergia Cocchia shortly before the February 2008 Throne Speech, following private lobbying by the Cocchia/Lisogar family, who have a child with autism and who are staunch political backers/donors to the Premier and her BC Liberal party. The Cocchias invited Christy Clark adviser Pamela Martin and wealthy BC Liberal political donors such as the Aquilini family to establish the Pacific Autism Family Centre (PAFC) Foundation to advance their project following Campbell's 2008 commitment. Provincially-funded autism service agencies were recruited to help rally support for the proposed centre, with promises of new offices, elaborate facilities and expanded influence in overseeing provincial autism services.
The provincial government has never publicly consulted families on the proposed centre, undertaken any needs assessment or requested competing bids or proposals for the $20 million grant. The Province has already provided several million dollars to finance PAFC's project development costs and to help the foundation conduct its own provincial "consultations" in an effort to rally community support -- at a time when provincial funding for autism services has been cut and urgent autism support needs continue to outstrip budgets.
When the proposal was first announced in 2008, MOMS undertook a Web survey that showed most families would rather see new Provincial dollars go to boosting services, not constructing a new building. PAFC and Provincial authorities declined to respond.
In 2011, MOMS and other organizations, including the BC Association for Child Development and Rehabilitation and the BC Association for Community Living, challenged the proposed investment, citing the Province's failure to understake any needs assessment.
Critics also questioned investing scarce Provincial dollars in a Vancouver building that would be inaccessible for most families struggling to support individuals with autism in rural BC communities, where access to appropriate supports is often most difficult. Best practices in autism intervention also emphasize the delivery of services right in the individual's home, school or community wherever possible.
MOMS received threatening letters from provincial officials after leaking internal ministry documents citing advice from senior bureaucrats, who warned that PAFC's proposed business model would further erode operating resources for critical Provincial programs such as autism diagnosis and assessment.
The $20 million grant will not go towards any actual services or supports for individuals with autism or their families. The entire amount will go to construction costs.
Premier Christy Clark's "families first" policy seems to mean "buildings first" or "friends first." Why else would she invest in a building proposed by her political friends when her government continues to deny or reduce program funding for services and supports to children, youth and adults with autism and their families around the Province, including:
- Infants and children denied autism assessment and diagnostic services, with lengthy waitlists due to rationed BC Health ministry funding.
- Preschoolers with autism denied intensive early intervention, after the Ministry for Children & Families eliminated intensive early intervention (EIBI) programs in 2008.
- Chilren and youth with autism shut out of community daycare and afterschool programs due to rationed Provincial funding for specialized supports, without which daycare operators won't accept children with special needs.
- BC students with autism denied access to public school and/or special education supports critical to academic progress, due to a decade-long erosion of provincial Education funding for special education.
- BC youths with autism denied post-secondary education and training opportunities, career planning and employment supports due to inadequate Provincial program funding and supports.
- Adults with autism denied residential and living supports due to the ongoing CLBC funding crisis.
- Many youths and adults with autism being denied adult supports due to IQ eligibility criteria that ignore key functional challenges for people with autism.
- Families supporting high-needs individuals with autism denied critical respite and family supports, as CLBC and MCFD budgets continue to lag the rapidly-growing incidence rates of autism.
MOMS has repeatedly urged Premier Clark's government to invest in critical front-line services and support programs, not a bricks & mortar project that will do nothing to mitigate the severely-strained support structure that's causing so many individual and family crises in BC.
Today's announcement is a profound waste of scarce tax dollars and a shameful betrayal at a time when Premier Christy Clark and her government continue to turn their backs on BC families and individuals with who are struggling to cope with the challenges of autism.
Dawn & Cyndi, MOMS
Background reading on the $20 million autism funding announcement
- Province, city announce support for autism centre
- Autism groups debate investment in a provincial autism centre
- MOMS restores links to leaked ministry document challenging claims about PAFC plan benefits
It's been 6 months since the Minister launched a series of internal reviews of CLBC and more than 3 months since the Premier announced $40 million in new funding and an action plan to resolve the crisis in community living. The announcement followed a 2-year campaign by MOMS and other community partners to draw attention to the crisis facing many families, caregivers and adults, in the face of government denials that the growing crisis was the result of a stealth policy to cut costs in community living.
MOMS wants your feedback on whether the BC government's action plan and new funding are achieving the intended results.
Please limit initial responses to 2-3 sentences per question, as we can't analyze lengthy case histories to identify key challenges (e.g. denial or reduction of supports, denial of appropriate choices in living supports, waitlists, ineffective complaint resolution mechanisms, service quality concerns, lack of coordination between CLBC and other servicces, youth transition problems or failure to respond to a service request)
Please email your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org Your feedback will guide our advocacy efforts and those of partner groups such as the BC Community Living Action Group, which has played a key role in raising awareness of challenges in community living.
Community Living Survey:
1. Has the BC government's response alleviated your concerns? (Yes, No, Somewhat, Minimally, Mostly, or No - Situation Has Worsened)
2. State briefly what were the concerns re your personal situation and what has/has not improved:
3. If you sought help from the Client Support Team or the Advocate for Service Quality, were they able to resolve the concerns to your satisfaction? (Yes, No, Somewhat, Minimally, Mostly, or No - Situation Has Worsened)
4. Have you experienced any improvement in coordination of services between CLBC and other agencies/programs?
5. Have you experienced any improvement in challenges linked to age 19 transitions?
6. If you have unresolved problems in accessing the supports and services you need, briefly state what those relate to. (e.g. denial or reduction of supports/contracts, service quality, waitlists, lack of coordination between agencies, transition challenges, failure of complaint resolution mechanisms, denial of choice in living supports, unresponsive bureaucracy, etc)
7. To which specific program(s) do your concerns relate (e.g. residential, respite, day program, employment supports, CSIL, individualized funding, individual planning, transition supports, mental health/ dual diagnosis or Personalized Supports Initiative for adults with IQ over 70)
8. From what you have seen so far, does government's action plan give you more confidence in the ability of the following to meet your community living support needs, now or in the future:
B) Client Support Team
C) Advocate for Service Quality
D) The Premier's Action Plan
9. Are you willing to share your experiences with the media and/or Minister Stephanie Cadieux and/or Opposition Critic for CLBC Nicholas Simons? If so, please provide your email and/or telephone number below, as well as the name of your community (e.g. Vancouver, Cranbrook, etc)
Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey - please invite others who may have experienced past challenges to do the same. We will report a summary of the feedback but your individual comments will not be shared with anyone but MOMS coordinators Dawn Steele and/or Cyndi Gerlach without your express permission.
Have a great day!
Dawn & Cyndi, MOMS
The Victoria Times Colonist is one of six national finalists for this year's prestigious Governor General's Michener Award for Community Service Journalism. The nomination, announced today, was for the newspaper's coverage of the crisis in BC's community living sector, which was first exposed by Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines almost two years ago.
Here's how the Michener Awards Foundation described the Times Colonist's entry:
"The Times Colonist in Victoria used its resources and expertise to expose a stealth policy by the B.C. government that forced people with developmental disabilities to move from group homes to cheaper accommodation. The newspaper’s sustained campaign – featuring many personal stories of developmentally disabled individuals and their families struggling with government cutbacks – spoke for the powerless and the voiceless. The coverage forced the province to change course and commit $40 million to improve services, demote the minister of social development and announce policy changes. As well, the CEO of Community Living BC resigned and an internal audit of its operations were ordered." (Read more)
MOMS was one of many family groups and individuals who worked with Mr. Kines and other reporters to help expose CLBC's "stealth policy," which involved forcibly moving people with developmental disabilities from their homes, forced contract/support reductions and other harsh measures ordered by the BC government to cut community living costs.
Read MOMS' letter in support of the Times Colonist entry, commending the critically important role played by Mr Kines and his colleagues at the Victoria newspaper in holding the BC government accountable for the crisis created by these "stealth policies."
The winner of the 2012 Michener Awards will be announced in Ottawa on June 12.
MOMS congratulates the Victoria Times Colonist on the prestigious nomination and for its demonstrated commitment to excellence in journalism.
Spring break, 2012
My only child started his journey through BC's public school system in 1999 and it's a huge relief to know that he will graduate this year. It feels like those movie scenes where the building explodes just as the hero hurls himself out the door -- except I know there's 500,000 other children still trapped in the building, and thousands more joining them every year.
I remember the first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. We've encountered wonderful people and survived many challenges. We've both learned and grown a whole lot and I couldn't be prouder of the young man now going forward to face life as an adult. I'm also proud to be part of a progressive society that has valued and invested in ensuring that every British Columbians child, regardless of wealth, connections or intellect, gets an opportunity to realize their potential.
But these past 13 years have also shown the dangers of complacency, inertia, short-sightedness, and political expediency. Every year, special education resources critical to our son's success have been steadily eroded due to Provincial underfunding, which started under the former NDP government and accelerated under a decade of BC Liberal rule. Expertise and capacity amongst those who work with the most challenging students in the system has also been steadily eroded. Despite endless talk about putting students first, those with the power to reverse these changes have failed utterly to stop the damage.
For over a decade, MOMS has led advocacy efforts for increased provincial funding to address growing gaps in public education, and especially in special education. We have advocated for respectful, collaborative partnerships that bring all education partners together to address funding and other challenges and to develop effective solutions that put students first. Our silence in recent weeks has prompted questions about where we stand in the current teachers' contract dispute. As a broad ad hoc provincial network, we know there are MOMS supporters who strongly favour of both sides.
However, we do not support the positions taken by either the Province or the BC Teachers Federation. We believe neither side is putting students first, with key positions by both parties that are harmful to students with special needs in particular.
Our previous post addressed what to us is one of the key issues in the dispute -- class composition caps -- with links to a 2011 MOMS brief arguing that class composition caps are an ineffective, costly and discriminatory solution that has failed to address the problem of unmanageable classes, while accelerating the erosion of special education resources in our public schools.
This post focusses on funding, in particular funding for special education and other critical learning supports.
The bottom line is the Province has failed to fully fund public education costs for more than a decade. Students across the province have faced cuts to service levels almost every year since we were first thrown into the role of parent advocates in the late 199os.
In the 1990s, teachers traded pay increases for improvements in "working conditions": i.e. contract provisions limiting class size, composition and supplemental staffing. Those provisions were always controversial and they were lost when former Education Minister Christy Clark illegally tore up the teachers' collective agreement in 2002. In 2006, the Province restored a new variation of class size and compostion limits through Bill 33, despite near unanimous opposition from other education partners, including parent groups. We argued that class composition caps, in particular, were discriminatory and ineffective. Six years later, with parents and teachers more frustrated than ever, students being left ever further behind, and parents avoiding having their children formally designated to avoid discrimination, those concerns have been vindicated.
When Christy Clark tore up the teachers' contract in 2002, she imposed a new agreement offering salary and benefit increases that added hundreds of millions in new education costs. She also eliminated targetted provincial funding grants for most students with special needs, creating enormous pressures for boards with relatively high proportions of students with learning disabilities, for example. The failure to fund these cost increases forced local boards to make unprecedented cuts and to close scores of schools, sparking grassroots campaigns like the 2003 Vancouver SOS movement and a hunger strike to save the only school in remote Wells Barkerville.
Since then, despite acrimonious relations between the Province and the BCTF, several more imposed contracts have each granted further pay and/or benefit increases. Increases in the average salary for BC educators since 2001 have outstripped inflation (Consumer Price Index) by 6%. Meanwhile, total provincial education funding has lagged inflation, and lagged actual costs even further, since staff salaries are (naturally) the primary component of education costs.
The result: BC's public school students have financed the growing gap by absorbing repeated reductions in front-line service levels.
Since the introduction of Bill 33 helped reduce class sizes and/or limit further class size increases, boards have been forced to cut other services to cover the costs of smaller class sizes, which the Province again failed to fully fund. This is why supplemental learning services like libraries and special education have been disproportionally hit, resulting in a devastating erosion of services for the most vulnerable students in the public education system.
(It is worth noting here that while overall enrolment has declined since 2001, the number of identified students with special needs in BC's public schools has continued to climb.)
The above spreadsheet was initially developed 2 years ago, to support our advocacy efforts as public schools faced another round of harsh cuts in 2010 due to a Provincial Education budget that failed to cover rising costs, including teachers' salary increases. We have updated it to reflect the 2011/12 data.
In light of all this, we believe a position that puts students first would include the following:
- A significant increase in provincial funding for special education (the Province's current offer doesn't come close to making a dent in what has been lost - a minimum would be $100 million in new dollars for special education in 2012/13, with more in year 2 as determined collaboratively under #3 below).
- Agreement between the Province and teachers that any Provincial education funding increases will go first to restoring lost staffing and other front-line supports for students (e.g. libraries, special education, ESL and Aboriginal student services, early assessment and intervention for learning challenges, training, etc), before the Provincial government grants any further increases to staff salary and benefit costs.
- Agreement by the Province and the BCTF to sit down and work collaboratively with parents and other education partners to identify all the causes of class composition challenges (including underfunding, teacher training and other structural barriers) and to develop and fund effective and mutually-acceptable solutions to class composition challenges.
- No interrruption of services and an immediate return to teachers' performing their full roles.
Dawn Steele & Cyndi Gerlach, MOMS
Finally, an Education Minister who's making some sense! George Abbott has publicly endorsed the position taken recently by Victoria parents and the Victoria Board of Education, opposing discriminatory class composition caps introduced under Bill 33 by former Education Minister Shirley Bond.
- Read the Vancouver Sun report.
MOMS and other parent advocacy groups, along with trustees and administrators, opposed the caps imposed in 2006 with the passage of Bill 33. Only the BC Teachers Federation supported the caps at the time. Now, with another round of labour contract negotiations once again stalled interminably, the province's teachers are again demanding discriminatory class composition limits as a solution to unmanageable classes.
Below is an analysis I wrote last year on why class composition caps will never solve the challenges of unmanageable classes and unmet needs among students with learning challenges, and what we need to be looking at instead.
I've summed up key points in a letter to the Vancouver Sun:
Kudos to Education Minister George Abbott. He's absolutely right that legislated limits on students with special needs in K-12 classrooms are discriminatory.
Parent groups were united in opposing the class composition limits introduced in 2006. They have proved unworkable, failing to help students or teachers while creating nightmares for administrators.
The solution to unmanageable classes is not discriminatory quotas but better support for teaching and learning that addresses the realities of today's diverse classrooms. That means broader training for teachers, restoring learning supports eroded by a decade of provincial underfunding, flexible models that adapt to actual needs, and appropriate use of technology and innovation to help all students overcome learning barriers without expecting teachers to be superheroes.
Time for the Province and the teachers union to stop posturing and put students first by immediately reinvesting in learning supports and training, addressing gaps in teacher certification standards and supporting new multi-stakeholder frameworks for constructive and collaborative problem solving.
Yes, it's money. Or, as is often the case, the lack thereof...
I love the diverse feedback we get at MOMS. For example one mom this week pointed that what's happened to CLBC is part of a far broader pattern -- a "Neo-Liberal" agenda that's driven policy excesses around the world and created widespread suffering, global instability and economic and social havoc. Overly simplistic assumptions have driven this agenda: that people always thrive when you stop trying to help them, that big government is the problem, and that austerity and deregulation will cure all evils (...like not having enough money).
Voters have been happy to endorse politicians who assure us that excessive taxation is the problem, and that a steady diet of tax cuts will restore health and vigour. It's an alluring message, and as with all false premises, a small grain of truth and a whole lot of wishful thinking gives it a compelling ring. But how true is it?
Premier Christy Clark warned that throwing more money at CLBC was not the answer, even as she claimed to be throwing another $40 million at the troubled authority. A slew of internal reports reiterated over and over that CLBC needed to learn to better manage its money because we can't afford more and we all have to live within our means.
Well, we'd agree that CLBC has done many bad things. But living within its means is one task which even the staunchest critic would have to admit that CLBC has excelled at - notwithstanding high-profile failures like excessive bonuses and moonlighting employees (both serious errors in judgment, to be sure, but not the kind that put any real dent in a $700-million budget). And we can demonstrate the community living sector's fiscal virtue pretty compellingly, thanks to some nifty charts developed by accountants at the Developmental Disabilities Association.
Reporters at the Victoria Times Colonist revealed months ago that CLBC has reduced spending per person significantly since its inception. But with caseloads rising yearly, is the community living budget really unsustainable, as Premier Christy Clark, her predecessor Gordon Campbell and their political colleagues keep insisting?
In fact, in relation to what we earn as British Columbians, we're spending a smaller fraction of our income on community living services today than we did a decade ago, as the first chart shows (click on images to enlarge them).
A common question in the CLBC crisis is why CLBC contractors and agencies that directly support adults have been so reluctant to publicly voice the concerns they share with us privately.
Many contractors and agency directors claim it's a matter of survival. They tell us CLBC makes it very clear that if they don't cooperate in reducing services, or if they complain publicly about risks to their clients, their contracts can be cancelled and handed to someone else with less regard for quality of care.
The allegations are disturbing. But it's been challenging to document how systemic this is and what risks it poses to adults if no one will put complaints on the record.
Premier Christy Clark just released an action plan based on 3 internal reviews, none of which sought to explore these concerns, despite persistent complaints over 18 months. The silence among service providers also emboldened government to go on the offensive against families. One report dismissed advocates as over-zealous parents with a strong culture of entitlement who were blocking CLBC's efforts to improve quality of life and independence for their loved ones!
But CLBC contractors may be finally overcoming the fear factor. Victoria agency director Sarah Balazs, who runs group homes and supported living for high-needs adults, decided enough was enough. She started sharing her complaints with reporters after months of being ignored by CLBC, the Premier and Minister Cadieux. Predictably, CLBC and Ministry staff finally responded as soon as Sarah started copying her complaints to the media. A site visit is planned for tomorrow and we will be closely tracking and reporting on what comes next.
Sarah's complaints support many specific issues that families have raised and that were largely ignored in the recent reports and the Premier's 12-point plan. These include: insufficient funding to support youths turning 19, eroding quality of care due to budget pressures, threats against those who complain, no advocacy voice for adults without families, fundamental flaws in the CLBC model and rationing tools like the Guide to Support Allocation, crisis management focus that inflates costs, and growing health and safety risks.
The overall message is by now familiar to all: The government apparatus responsible for supporting adults with developmental disabilities is still overly focussed on cutting spending, without regard to impacts on health, safety and wellbeing of adults who have nowhere else to turn.
Below are copies of Sarah's correspondence, as shared with MOMS:
- January 19, 2012 letter to families, pointing out that the agency director is funding a deficit from her own pocket because CLBC has not increased funding levels for the agency's basic costs like food and transportation since 1994!!
- Email chain (Oct. 2011 to Jan. 2012), as the agency sought to bring concerns first to CLBC, the minister and Premier, then to news reporters, and eventually to MOMS, after getting no response from any of the above.
- August 2003 letter to Doug Woollard re cost reductions demanded by the Interim Authority (CLBC's predecessor). This illustrates how long agencies have been fighting and dealing with budget cuts that put their clients at risk. This is just the latest of many rounds that have severely eroded safety, health and quality of life.
MOMS applauds Sarah's courage in standing up to the bullies and demanding better for the adults whom she and her staff support. We offer her our full support in her efforts to secure a fair deal and continue to encourage others to do the same.
Dawn & Cyndi, MOMS
The Vancouver Sun has published my letter to the editor responding to Vaughn Palmer's column on the new Queenswood report . Since they cut out some important parts, I've also linked to the original letter below.
This letter and our recent summaries reflect just one of what I'm sure are many perspectives, which continue to evolve as we pick up new pieces and learn valuable insights from others. The point here is that having conversations about these things is critical, both to fully informing ourselves and the broader public. As one email to MOMS put it:
"What is really important for families to understand is that the
> ground is shifting rapidly and the people who are exerting the
> most influence over what the future will be for people who have
> disability related supported needs, are not their families, but
> those listed in Appendix 2 of the Queenswood Report
> (Participants in the Review). These are people who are
> comfortably ensconced in their ivory tower and fundamentally do
> not understand the direct lived experience of families."
These reports, along with government's 12-point plan, outline another major restructuring: We're looking at potentially radical changes with lifelong implications for people with developmental disabilities. Depending on whether this time you're prepared to trust a governemnt that has failed us repeatedly, those changes portend a welcome break, a frightening descent into deeper crisis, or maybe some of both.
We are again at a critical juncture in community living, with 3 roads open before us:
1. We sit back and let the political leaders and bureaucrats do it their way, after another round of perfunctory consultation with families. This is the default route, one that represents another lost opportunity. The Premier and Minister Cadieux have just concluded no less than 3 reviews that primarily entailed bureaucrats consulting each other to establish the direction of change, I'm not confident that this is a good way to start an inclusive and successful process of reform.The Premier's mandate is to do what she thinks best for the majority of British Columbians in her political base (i.e. contain govt spending) - NOT what's best for community living. The bureaucrats' mandate is to please their political masters (contain costs with a minimum of outside noise) and make life easier for themselves. This is not criticism or partisanship - just reality.
The BC government secretly initiated its own review of CLBC last August, before Minister Bloy's replacement, and months before Minister Cadieux announced the launch of two other internal reviews, the result of which were released last week (see previous post).
Unlike the other reports, the new Queenswood Consulting report is only available on request (but you can download a copy here). This is a must-read for families, self advocates, service providers and individuals from linked sectors such as Health and MCFD, and it re-emphasizes the urgency of securing an indepdendent review of CLBC and community living in BC!
Columnist Vaughn Palmer cites parts of this new report extensively in a Vancouver Sun column.
Below are key extracts from this report, which includes both eye-opening revelations and very troubling warnings about the direction in which the BC Liberal government may be hoping to take community living.