Neurodiverse children and youth and those with disabilities will benefit from a new service system that will provide supports for children and youth based on their unique needs, with or without a diagnosis.
Currently, children have to wait for help until they are diagnosed. Many children, such as those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, qualify for very few supports, even though they may have high needs.
“The existing patchwork of programs has left too many children and youth with support needs behind,” said Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development. “That’s why we’re putting children and youth at the centre of our new system and making it easier for families to get the high-quality services they need, regardless of where they live in the province.”
Under the new approach, children, youth and their families will be able to quickly access information, expert intervention and therapies at new one-stop family connections hubs. These supports and services will be available from birth to age 19 and will be based on a child's or youth’s individual needs, regardless of whether they have a referral or diagnosis. As a first step, hubs will open in two areas – the Northwest and Central Okanagan – starting in 2023 before being launched provincewide in 2024.
“No child should be refused help meeting their needs because they don’t have a specific diagnosis,” said Dan Coulter, Parliamentary Secretary for Accessibility and vice-chair of the Minister’s Advisory Council for Children and Youth with Support Needs. “Our approach will ensure children and youth receive faster access to services and supports all in one place, helping them reach their individual goals.”
The new system will provide help to approximately 8,300 more children and their families, representing a 28% increase in the number of children who will be able to access disability supports and services.
“My son has Down syndrome and very complex developmental needs. We reached out to the ministry because the current system did not provide adequate support in our rural community,” said Zev Tiefenbach of Salmon Arm. “We appreciate that the ministry heard that change was needed and that it is developing a comprehensive network that will help more families gain access to services that are desperately needed. For us, many of these services are critical for our son to be able to enjoy a quality life, and it’s heartening to see that the government is building a program that puts his needs at the forefront.”
When the two new hubs are available, parents and caregivers who are receiving individualized autism funding and school-age extended therapy benefits will have the option to continue with the supports they have or to instead opt into the new hub services and supports. This choice will remain in place until 2025 when hubs will be available provincewide and individualized funding is phased out.
In addition, changes to make respite services more flexible during the pandemic are being made permanent, ensuring families can continue to receive services such as counselling, house cleaning and food preparation. Out-of-home stabilization services are being developed to further support parents of children and youth with significant needs.
“While this gradual transition is underway, we are committed to continuing to provide services and supports for children, youth and their families,” Dean said. “We will work with all partners, including Indigenous Peoples and families, to ensure we get this right.”
The change to a needs-based approach for developmental supports responds to the repeated recommendations from the representative for children and youth, the all-party Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, and calls for change raised during consultation with more than 1,500 Indigenous and non-Indigenous families, advocates and service providers.
Satbir Cheema, president and CEO, Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) –
“It can be extremely challenging for parents to have to shop around for the best supports for their child, especially for families for whom English may not be their first language. Services that are culturally safe, inclusive, easy to navigate and offered in one convenient location are critical to ensuring all children and youth with support needs are getting the help they need.”
Dr. Matthew Chow, president, Doctors of BC –
“We are enriched as a society by children who are neurodiverse and living with disabilities. I am very pleased to see the provincial government move toward a needs-based system of supports for these children and their families. As a specialist in child and youth mental health, I know that neurodiversity and disability does not always fit nicely into diagnostic categories. I look forward to the positive impact for everyone involved in helping our children grow and succeed.”
Audrey McFarlane, executive director, Canada FASD Research Network –
“As the executive director of the Canada FASD Research Network, I support the new direction that B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development is taking to better support children and youth with FASD and their families. The new plan is bold in its restructuring of these services and aims to reduce complicated application processes, improve equitable access to services, regardless of the diagnosis, and addresses the levels of complexities that exist in many families.”
Joshua Myers, executive director, BC Centre for Ability –
“After many years of a system that has been fragmented and challenging for families to access, we are happy to see the significant changes proposed in this new approach. We are encouraged by government’s commitment to improve access for children and families, provide services based on need rather than on diagnosis only, and increase accountability to deliver high-quality and culturally safe services from birth to age 19. These significant changes will require the necessary transition time and resources to fully realize, and we look forward to continuing our work with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to ensure all children and youth with extra support needs and their families across B.C. have access to the services they need when and where they need them.”
Christine Bradstock, chief executive officer, Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia –
“Physiotherapists look forward to providing services in a more coherent system of supports that removes current key barriers for families and their children as they find and access the care they need.”
- In 2021-22, the Province is investing $440.6 million to provide services to children and youth with support needs in B.C.
- Approximately 30,000 children and youth with support needs are accessing services offered through the Ministry of Children and Family Development and its contracted service providers.
- To better serve children who require specialized equipment, the funding for medical equipment benefits will increase by $10 million starting in April 2022.
For more information on the new system of supports, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/ChildYouthSupportNeeds
Questions about the new service approach can be directed to the Children and Youth with Support Needs Resource Line: 1 833 882-0024
To read more about the research and consultation done in 2019, visit:
A backgrounder follows.