British Columbia

Metro Vancouver preschools for deaf and hard of hearing kids facing imminent closure

B.C. parents of children who are deaf and hard of hearing are calling out the province for not providing enough funding to keep two preschools open in Metro Vancouver. 

Province says it is working with service provider to find solutions

Parents of two preschools facing closures in Metro Vancouver have started a petition asking for additional funding from the Ministry of Children and Family Development. (Matthew Kalenuik)

Parents in Metro Vancouver are calling on the provincial government to provide more funding to keep open two preschools for children who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

Lisa Meneian, executive director of the Deaf Children Society of B.C., says the preschool run by her organization in Burnaby and another at the Children's Hearing and Speech Centre in Vancouver will likely have to close in one or two months if the Ministry of Children and Family Development doesn't come through with more money. 

"Kids really need a variety of role models that are fluent in the language," Meneian said, adding that about 90 per cent of deaf and hard-of-hearing children are born to hearing parents. 

"It's quite a journey for families to have to then learn sign language in order to communicate with their children."

Same funding, double the need

Early childhood education funding from the ministry has remained relatively stable in the past decade, Meneian says, but the number of deaf and hard of hearing children seeking services in B.C. has doubled over that time as the province implemented a broader testing strategy and more kids have been diagnosed. 

The province's funds for early childhood education are disbursed through the B.C. Family Hearing Resources Society, which slashed funding to the two preschools this spring.

In a written statement, the ministry said its staff "will continue to work with the contractor and subcontractors to find solutions." 

"These pressures are being considered as we proceed with developing a new child and youth with special needs service framework," the ministry said, adding that its budget for those services was $1.79 million in 2019.

'They need to step up'

Matthew Kaleniuk, whose 4-year-old daughter attends the Deaf Children Society of B.C. preschool in Burnaby, says he was devastated to hear that it may have to close. Kaleniuk says the school has been hugely beneficial for her. 

"For her early language development it's been massive and for socialization that's been massive," he said. "She's got peers that that she can relate to and that are in basically the same boat."

Kalenuik started an online petition asking the ministry to save the preschool. 

"They need to step up to the plate and help these kids," he said.

'You create a disability'

Meneian says children who are deaf and hard of hearing who don't have access to specialized education have to attend regular programs with the help of an interpreter instead.

Because they're not immersed in American Sign Language in the same way, they don't learn the language as well — which then has negative repercussions for their ongoing learning and development. 

"You create a disability in a child where a disability never existed in the first place," she said. 

 

With files from Meera Bains

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