Advocates with Inclusion B.C. say the province should increase funding for early childhood intervention because thousands of preschoolers with special needs are stuck on waitlists for special programs.

Faith Bodnar, the executive director of Inclusion B.C., told CBC's The Early Edition says these special programs are key for young children diagnosed with special needs.

"It's a really critical time for families," she said. "They're struggling with those things, and they're trying to find out what the needs of their children are."

Inclusion B.C. gathered data from community organizations and found 1,600 preschoolers in six communities — Richmond, Burnaby, Vancouver, Langley, Nanaimo and Kelowna — were on waitlists.

The problem with being on the waitlist, she explained, is while waiting, children can effectively 'age out' of eligibility for program supports by the time they start kindergarten.

Without program supports, she said, these children struggle when they arrive at school.

"We have kids showing up in schools and in kindergarten needing supports [and the] school doesn't have the same system or scope of supports," she said.

Bodnar is lobbying the government for more investment to reduce wait times and improve data collection to better track needs and outcomes.

In response, Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux said she recognizes for families who are waiting, "this isn't cutting it," and said she appreciates the work of Inclusion B.C.

However, she also pointed out the ministry doubled funding for children and youth with special needs from $147.6 million in 2000/1 to $303.6 million in 2016/17.

For Bodnar, however, that misses the point.

"They've not dealt with the core issue: the fact there's not sufficient funding in these organizations to serve the need. The waitlists speak for themselves."

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled B.C. preschoolers with special needs left behind, says advocate