British Columbia

B.C. dad pleads for help for 20-year-old son with autism, as wait times for support grow

Keith Encinas's son has been approved for residential care services through Community Living B.C. — but as there is no indication when a placement will be found, he remains in a Saskatoon psychiatric care facility.

Family's situation highlights shortfall in programs for adults with autism, advocates say

Conner Encinas, 20, pictured during a recent family outing in Victoria. (Keith Encinas)

The last thing Keith Encinas wants to do is take his 20-year-old son to hospital for emergency psychiatric care.

But because of wait times for programs that help adults with autism, the Victoria dad says it may be the only way his son can get urgent necessary support.

Encinas's son Conner was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was two years old.

Despite significant cognitive and language challenges, Conner thrived in support programs offered through his schools in Victoria, Encinas said.

But when he aged out of the school system at 19 and lost those supports, his behaviour became more than the family could handle.

"When he is with us he requires 100 per cent of our attention. I have four other kids. It's just impossible," Encinas said.

Wait for supportive housing

In an effort to solve the situation, Conner moved to Saskatchewan to try to live with his mother, but his behaviour issues escalated and he showed violent tendencies.

There was no choice but to admit Conner to a psychiatric facility in Saskatoon, Encinas said.

The stay was meant to stabilize Conner until appropriate supportive housing could be found in the community. But months later, Encinas says there are no prospects of that happening for his son.

Both parents have decided that Conner should move back to B.C.

He has since been approved for residential care services through Community Living B.C. — the crown agency that provides housing and support for those with developmental disabilities.

But the agency can't say when a placement may be found, leaving Conner in a psychiatric facility that's not appropriate for his long-term needs, Encinas said.

When Keith Encinas's son Conner aged out of the school system at 19 and lost school support, his behaviour became more than the family could handle. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Autism rates increasing

A growing number of B.C. children are being diagnosed with autism — currently about one in every 51.

With the rate of diagnosis on the rise, the support required for each child's transition to adulthood is an urgent issue for families, said Andrew Pinfold, director of operations at Autism B.C.

"When you enter an adult program, quite often you are there for the remainder of your life. So wait lists are very common," he said.

"They need help right now. For some families this is a very, very urgent matter."

Community Living B.C. currently operates with a budget of $1.02 billion from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.

While that's an increase of several hundred million dollars over five years ago, the number of clients the agency serves has also increased in that time to 20,000, compared with around 15,000 five years ago.

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson says he is confident Community Living B.C. has the funding it needs.

He says delays in receiving services are often the result of trying to find the right fit for individuals with high needs. 

"I understand parents and loved ones get frustrated about, and I respect that, but I think that's the circumstance we are facing in this case," Simpson said.

'Consistently underfunded'

Advocates who work in community development also say the Encinas family's struggle to find support is commonplace.

Lori Frank, who provides support through the non-profit Community Living Victoria and has been working with the Encinas family, says Community Living B.C. is "consistently underfunded." 

"Families that are in crisis or on the verge of crisis are prioritized in order to help them get out of crisis, but then all of the rest of the families are on hold waiting for something to become available for them."

Community Living B.C. says it continues to work with the Encinas family to find appropriate residential services for Conner.

Encinas says he appreciates the situation will not be solved overnight. But he says if there is not a plan in place soon, he will be forced to bring Conner back to B.C. without the necessary support in place.

That will likely lead to a crisis, he says, where he has to get emergency psychiatric care for his son — something he feels would move Conner's case up the priority list.

"I don't want to do that. My kid has been through enough turmoil in his life," he says. 


Megan Thomas


Megan Thomas is a reporter for CBC in Victoria, B.C. She covers stories from around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Follow her on Twitter @meganTcbc.