The BC Association for Community Living issued a press statement today stating that the Province's foster care system is failing youth with special needs, following another horrific case of abuse in which the caregive was not appropriately screened.
MOMS applauds BCACL's leadership and strongly endorses the concerns, which reflect the feedback from our provincial family network.
Last year, the BC government, through CLBC and MCFD, undertook a major "service redesign" program that cut funding to group homes serving adults and youths with developmental disabilities, forcing many individuals to be moved against their will into cheaper private foster /home share arrangements. Moms and other groups urged the Province to reconsider the cuts in light of the significant risks to these highly vulnerable individuals, especially after revelations that students and others were being recruited to provide care via Craigslist ads offering free housing and/or easy money to caregivers.
A key concern, which was echoed broadly at two public community meetings hosted by a coalition of community groups last fall, was the lack of an independent ombudsman or representative to ensure that the interests of individuals were protected as the Province continues to severely cut back existing service contracts and support levels to address growing waitlists.
MOMS is part of an unprecedented consensus among community living groups that have been continuing to meet to develop a coordinated response to the funding challenges, with more details expected to be released shortly.
The Ministry for Children & Families, which now has responsibility for managing and funding all out-of-school services and supports for children and youth with special needs, faces significant challenges in the year ahead.
Despite promises to protect the budgets for special needs, senior Ministry staff have confirmed that unfunded new costs and rising demands will further strain existing services. On top of this, the Ministry is in the midst of another major restructuring, which includes integrating special needs services with other children's services in a new regional management framework.
MOMS was invited to a meeting on February 15 for an update on Ministry plans and challenges. Our unofficial report on the discussion can be found here. We will continue to share any further information or updates as they reach us and welcome first-hand reports from families about how the restructuring and budget challenges may be affecting them personally.
Vancouver and Victoria join the growing list of BC school districts warning that special education could bear the brunt of unprecedented budget cuts projected for 2010-11, due to unfunded costs that the province is downloading on school boards.
Surrey: Last week, Surrey DPAC warned that some $18-20 million in downloaded/unfunded provincial costs will result in program cuts that directly harm students. (Press release attached)
Victoria: Victoria trustees told the Times Colonist yesterday they would have to consider cutting the district's Special Education program to balance their budget.
Vancouver: Last week, Vancouver served notice that up to 800 teachers could be laid off to address a provincial funding shortfall ranging from $17 to $35 million, depending on what the province decides to fund in the upcoming provincial budget. And at a meeting for parents of students with special needs this week, the Board Chair acknowledged that special education was particularly vulnerable to cuts, since staff costs are protected via contracts and class size is now protected by legislation, leaving unprotected services like special education as one of the few areas they can cut.
Virtually every school board in the province is confronting similar choices, given the limited number of unprotected programs, like special ed, that they can cut to make up for unfunded provincial costs, since all boards are required by law to balance their budgets regardless of provincial funding shortfalls. Accentuating the looming threat to special education is that the province only funds half or less of what districts actually spend on special ed - a subsidy that is hard for trustees to defend when schools are being closed and core programs slashed.
At the core of this unprecedented crisis is the growing number of downloaded costs that the province has so far refused to cover in provincial education funding grants. These include further increases for teacher salaries and benefits under contracts that the province negotiated, new provincial carbon tax and carbon offset charges, increases to provincial MSP and WCP premiums, implementation costs of new provincial requirements like Bill 33 and full-day kindergarten, and general inflation, which the provincial funding formula also does not cover.
The provincial government will present its budget for 2010-11 in early March and has to date refused to consider new funding to cover these new costs, leaving districts projecting the largest deficits seen in a decade, and cuts that will seriously impact students.
Vulnerable kids unfairly targeted
Provincial officials are justifying the cuts by stating that districts have to tighten their belts like anyone else. This response fails to acknowledge that districts cannot force most district services to tighten their belts because they are protected by provincially-negotiated contracts and requirements. Staff will not sacrifice pay or benefits and boards must also find a way to cover new pay and benefit increases negotiated by the province. Along with provincial requirements governing a host of activities, from class size to reporting and administrative roles, this means districts actually have very few options or "discretionary" spending that can be cut when they are told to tighten their belts.
In effect, school board "belt tightening" amounts to downloading a provincial budgetary crisis onto the most vulnerable students in our public schools - students with special needs, ESL and Aboriginal students and those who need additional programs and supports to succeed. In failing to provide any policy to protect these programs and students while protecting everything from teacher pensions to teacher-student ratios in law, the province has created an uneven playing field that forces school boards to unfairly penalize their most vulnerable students whenever cuts must be made.
ADVOCACY: What you can do
The harsh reality facing our kids is just emerging and there is very little time to act. Parents and advocacy groups representing students with special needs and other vulnerable groups need to act immediately, by telling their MLAs, Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, Finance Minister Colin Hansen and Premier Gordon Campell that it is not acceptable to target BC's most vulnerable students to solve a problem they had no hand in creating.
1. We need to convince government to cover all education costs in the 2010-11 budget before it is presented on March 3.
2. Strength in numbers. We can be most effective if we join with broader groups of parents, PACs and public education advocacy groups to demand that the province fully fund all provincially-mandated costs, including special education - instead of fighting each other for shares of an inadequate budget and ignoring the roots of the problem.
- Contact your PAC and DPAC and encourage them to write the Premier, FInance Minister, Education Minister and your local MLAs - just as Surrey DPAC has done.
- Join our growing Facebook group "Stop BC Education Cuts" to find out what other parents and districts are doing, to find and share information about cuts and to connect with other parents or advocacy efforts in your community.
MOMs marks Children’s Day, 20th year of UN Convention, with petition urging BC Premier to honour promises to kids
NOV. 19, 2009:—This Friday, Nov. 20 marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child – a date that is also celebrated annually in Canada and elsewhere as universal Children’s Day.
The MOMs provincial family support network, which has staged a series of actions in recent weeks to draw attention to BC families’ concerns about new cuts and ongoing gaps in critical services for children at risk, is marking the occasion by officially launching an online petition urging BC’s Premier to start living up to commitments made to BC’s vulnerable children.
Leaked MCFD documents obtained today by MOMS describe a process that has been underway since August 2009 to achieve "baseline funding reductions" for contracted agencies that deliver most of the Ministry's front-line services and supports - with a focus on cuts to community-based intervention and early intervention.
The "North Region STOB 80 Reduction Planning Process and Principals" (sic) document refers to a process for "cost recovery" for the current year and outlines planning, roles, principles and provincial direction guiding a second process that is also now underway to determine further reductions for 2010-11 in order to meet Ministry budget targets.
1. Families gather in Langley to protest Autism cuts
Thanks to all the families who came out to Langley Friday for the rally co-hosted Friday by MOMS and FAIR (Families Fighting Against Autism Intervention Reductions) to highlight autism cuts. (Especially the heroic Victoria folks who got up at 5 am to pack up kids & minivans to make it!!).
A great family turn-out, strong local media interest & fantastic public support more than made up for the horrible weather. Mary Polak decided to close her office for the day, but no one seemed too offended. later, parents distributed hundreds of flyers (attached) explaining the impact of cuts & why they are so foolish, inhumane and short-sighted.
- Friday, November 13 at 12 noon
- Premier Gordon Campbell's MLA office, 3615 West 4th Ave in Point Grey, Vancouver.
This rally is organized by FEAT BC (Families for Early Autism Treatment) to highlight concerns over Minister Polak's cancellation of the direct funding option in the autism program. FEAT families supported the EIBI rally in Langley and we encourage other families to show support for their concerns. We're all in this together! ...and hopefully the BC government will start to see that we're not going away and we're not shutting up!
2. Next Steps: Broader MOMs campaign
Despite rallies, meeting, letters, calls & emails, government is still not listening. In addition to recent cuts to vital children's services (e.g. IDP, SCD and EIBI), Premier Campbell has failed to honour his promise to children with special needs and children at risk by fixing existing problems: waitlists, underfunding of Special Education, denial of early intervention services to many children, repeal of the IQ 70 limits to access services.
So MOMS is planning an extended next phase of action that takes our message directly to British Columbians, who have demonstrated strong support wherever we've created awareness of these concerns.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
We need financial support for this next phase to develop and run targeted ads and public service announcements in local community media, explaining why the cuts and the failure to fix other gaps for special needs and kids at risk is foolish, short-sighted and inhumane. We'll be urging British Columbians to take a simple step to indicate their support & join us in telling their MLAs, Premier Campbell and Minister Polak that BC's vulnerable kids deserve better and that cutting now means paying more later.
Please contact us if you can provide financial support or if you have potential leads or connections to other organizations in your community who can support this campaign. MOMs has already received our first grant (a big thank you to BC FamilyNet Society for helping to cover recent rally costs!!). Since having $$ is a first for MOMS, we are making arrangements with a "blue chip" registered organization to receive and manage further donations on our behalf.
Thanks for all those supporting us by participating or behind the scenes! With your support, we can do it! And when we actually get out and hear the fantastic public support out there, it makes all the effort worthwhile!!
What a great day and it's not even 10 am yet!
MOMs wants to thank everyone who came together and contributed in so many ways to making this a success and to helping us get the message out about the importance of putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to putting BC's vulnerable kids first. It truly was a province-wide team effort and we couldn't have done it without literally hundreds of people who all came together to make it happen!
Everything you need to participate or check out MOMs actions around the province on October 28. The more groups and people who join us, the stronger message we send to Victoria, so please contact us at MomsOnTheMove@telus.net if you wish to add another location or join one listed below!
If you can't make it in person, you can still participate by emailing a letter to Premier Campbell urging him to honour his promises to BC's children. Or call your MLA on Wednesday to express your support.
Our Oct. 28 Provincial Day of Action is coming together with groups and individual coming forward to support us in urging Premier Campbell to live up to his promise to BC's children by reversing planned cuts and strengthening services.
MOMS needs you!
So far, we have small local actions planned for the following communities. To send a strong message to Victoria, we need more families, more supporters & more communities to join in!!
If you're in Vancouver, join us this Friday night to help make signs for our October 28 day of action!