British Columbia

Families express relief as B.C. retracts plan to scrap individualized funding for children with autism

Some families are expressing relief after the B.C. government announced it is retracting plans to scrap individualized funding for children with an autism diagnosis, a proposal that has sparked criticism from parents.

Government says it commits to 'engaging in deeper consultation' with parents, caregivers, others

The Sachs family — from left: Desi, Shira, Izzy and Michael — are pictured in October, during a Victoria, B.C., protest against proposed changes to provincial supports for children with autism. Izzy has been diagnosed with autism. (Michael Sachs)

Some families are expressing relief after the B.C. government announced it is retracting plans to scrap individualized funding for children with an autism diagnosis, a proposal that has sparked criticism from parents.

The announcement comes after Premier David Eby and Mitzi Dean, minister of children and family development, met with members of the group AutismBC and other stakeholders, including the First Nations Leadership Council and B.C.'s representative for children and youth.

Eby says the government will maintain individualized funding, instead of phasing it out in 2025 under a plan announced in October 2021.

Eby and Dean say the government is committed to "engaging in deeper consultation" with parents, caregivers and others.

Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean, pictured, and B.C. Premier David Eby have announced that a plan to change how kids with autism receive support from the province will not go ahead. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

B.C. was planning to open 40 so-called family connections centres, or hubs, to provide services, instead of directly funding parents, but that has been paused with the exception of four pilot locations.

Families of children with autism have said they would have lost funding of up to $22,000 a year until children turned six, then $6,000 annually to age 18.

"We don't want those parents to face any more stress," said Eby. "We've been listening and government is responding."

The premier said the government will work with families and care groups to ensure all children get the care they need.

"The best way for us to move forward for kids in the province is to ensure that those families that have services that are working for them are not stressed and are not anxious about what the future looks like," Eby said.

Plan caused stress for many parents

B.C.'s opposition parties said the government caused much grief for families with a plan it should never have implemented.

"We applaud the premier and minister for finally listening to parents and experts, and making the decision to not take the supports away from children and families," said Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau in a statement.

"This is a long-overdue reversal of a decision that should never have been made in the first place."

Michael Sachs, right, says families like his were placed under a great deal of stress with the proposed changes looming over them. The B.C. government has announced it is retracting those plans. (Michael Sachs)

B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon called the retracted plan a "backwards and harmful plan to claw back individualized funding for children with autism."

Michael Sachs, a Richmond parent whose nine-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism, echoed that sentiment.

He said if implemented, the new system would have created a "Hunger Games" scenario with families competing for too-few resources.

"I'm extremely relieved. I think it is the right move. It's overdue," Sachs said of the plan's abandonment. 

"Unfortunately, there's been a year of hardship for parents because … this plan put parents in a very stressed state when they're already in a stressed state."

Advocates welcome news

Julia Boyle, executive director of AutismBC, says the end of the plan is a big win. Parents surveyed by her organization were overwhelmingly opposed to it.

"We're really excited to be able to work together with government in a more collaborative way where we feel like the voices of the autism community are really being heard," Boyle said.

The Friday announcement also included a pledge to consult with Indigenous groups, families, experts and others to "understand how the system can be transformed and together build a better system of supports, co-developed with Indigenous communities."

In a government statement announcing the plan's end, the First Nations Summit, B.C. Assembly of First Nations and Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs noted their approval.

"Services for children with disabilities must be rights-based and evidence-based," said Regional Chief Terry Teegee with the assembly.

"For First Nations children, this means that they are being supported in culturally safe and informed ways, with their families and communities fully involved, and through laws, policies and practices that are designed and implemented in ways that respect the jurisdiction of their Nation."

Boyle says she's waiting for more details on the announced consultation but is especially interested in how the government can better support other children with neurodivergences, such as those with Down's syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

With files from Liam Britten and Jennifer Wilson


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