Autism BC had several concerns when the 2022 provincial budget was tabled last month.
The organization noted its disappointment in a news release, claiming a lack of new provincial investment in urgent services for neurodivergent and disabled children, and youth left out of current programs.
“In the autism funding program the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) released, the diagnostic rates for autism have gone up 6.75 per cent but then they’ve only given a 3.6 per cent budget increase,” said Julia Boyle, Autism BC executive director.
“This new investment doesn’t even match the current growth, and they’re projecting this massive growth in the future.”
Child and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean told the Capital News that 90 per cent of her budget is invested in delivering services. “Every year since 2017 government has increased funding for my ministry,” said Dean.
However, Dean said many children and youth are not supported by the province’s current approach.
“We know that far too many children are being left behind,” she said. “They’re not able to access services either because of where they live or because they’re having to wait for a diagnosis. We actually do need to move towards a needs-based system. We’ve heard that from the representative for children and youth, and we’ve heard that from families, service providers and advocates.”
A needs-based system is what worries Boyle, as it involves moving away from an individualized funding model for families, and the creation of Family Connection Centres (FCCs) across the province. Dean said the new system will allow MCFD to serve more children and youth.
“Critically, we’ll be serving them earlier in their developmental pathway,” she said. “That means they’ll have much more successful outcomes because they won’t be missing milestones along the way.”
The minister added the goal is to deliver services and build relationships with community partners and agencies that already have a presence and relationships in their communities.
“This is about building capacity and services in the community and working with partner community agencies that know their community best and how to serve their community.”
According to a report on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) among children and youth from 2018, approximately one in 66 children and youth are diagnosed with ASD in Canada.
The Pacific Autism Family Network estimates there are approximately 75,000 people (children and adults) affected by ASD in B.C.
As of Dec. 1, 2021, the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) puts overall wait times for autism assessments in B.C. between a year and a half to two years.
“The waitlists are just insane currently,” said Boyle. “Every service provider has a waitlist for parents, for families and then you open the system up to thousands more children, it’s hard.”
Dean admitted it is another problem with the current system.
“The process of diagnosis is not something that is within the control of my ministry,” she said. “That delay in getting a diagnosis before being able to access services is exactly one of the critical issues we are trying to address here.”
Yet another concern for Boyle is a lack of service providers.
“We don’t have enough occupational therapists, and speech and language pathologists and behaviour consultants in B.C., particularly in more remote and non-urban locations, to be able to service this model that they’re hoping to expand. We continue to advocate. I think at this point we really need more modeling, more research, and more data to be able to inform these policies.”
Boyle plans to attend next year’s budget process hoping to see more clear evidence of the MCFD’s financial modeling.
“We will definitely be closely watching these pilot hubs, because if the government is looking to learn and base many of its decisions off of the experience in these hubs, then community stakeholders should be able to watchdog how they are being run and their success and failures.”