Calgary

Funding flexibility offered for Alberta children with special needs during COVID-19

The disruption to routine caused by the cancellation of in-school classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for families of children with special needs

Routine changes have been especially challenging for families of children with special needs

Angela Bladon said it's been a struggle to provide the proper supports to her two special needs children since in-school classes were cancelled earlier this month. (CBC)

The disruption to routine caused by the cancellation of in-school classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for families of children with special needs, like that of Angela Bladon.

In order to respond to these challenges, the province said they're looking to provide flexibility within the funding accessed by families with special needs children.

'Incredibly challenging'

Two of Bladon's three children have special needs that require additional supports at school and home. 

Before schools were forced to close their doors to kids earlier this month, Bladon said she was in the process of moving her teenage daughter to a mental health classroom.

That classroom would have offered her additional supports including a behavioural aide, a psychologist and a community liaison.

"All of those things were essential for her learning and now they're no longer going to be available to her because there's no classroom anymore," Bladon said.

Bladon's younger son attends a specialized school where there are three teachers in his classroom for six kids, along with a support worker and access to a behavioural aide, psychologist and community liaison.

"He really relies on structure, he really heavily relies on knowing what to expect and then what's going to be happening next," she said. "He relies on the support of the people in his life that he's built trusting relationships with to support him in his mental health and his learning.

"So to have that all just suddenly yanked away from him was incredibly, incredibly challenging."

FSCD funding

Bladon's family accesses Family Support for Children with Disabilities (FSCD) funding that, in conjunction with community programs, generally helps her family meet the needs of her children when they're not at school.

"There's a lot of things that we normally rely on that make it really challenging for us to get through our days because it's not going to be available," Bladon said.

Inclusion Alberta CEO Trish Bowman said families who tend to access FSCD funding use it for a number of things, including respite in the evenings and weekends, additional supports for medical care that might be extraordinary or additional help for children to participate in community events.

"So it's out of school supports that are available to the family when they're not in school," Bowman said. 

But now, with kids out of school, things are more challenging.

"Typically, you're not to use your FSCD supports during school hours, because that's education's responsibility," she said.

"But now everyone's out of school, so families are having to use their existing contracts to provide additional support during the day so parents can continue to work."

Effectively, Bowman said there's less money to spread across a lot more time.

Funding flexibility

Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said the province is aware of the intensified challenges these families are facing, 

"Families are impacted in ways that we can't even fully articulate as of yet — particularly those families who have children with disabilities," she said. "They have so many more pressing needs at home that they have to deal with."

Because of that, Sawhney said her ministry has decided to offer families who access FSCD funding more flexibility than usual.

"The traditional respite services and a traditional community aide services or support workers coming into the home —that has been completely interrupted, and that is going to be very difficult for these families," she said.

"That was the whole reason to ensure that we were as flexible as possible within the contract so that families felt that they had the adaptability to use these funds in ways that would help them in this immediate short term."

Sawhney said that means that family can use community aide dollars toward respite, for example, or whatever they need while kids are not in school.

Baldon said additional respite hours are going to be important during this unprecedented time. 

"Having that funding and funding supports for respite workers will encourage them to be able to continue working," she said. "I know it's going to be a huge thing for these families with all of our kids home."

But, the minister said this doesn't mean that there will be more money available to families in their FSCD funding. 

"In terms of expanding what's existing in their contract right now, that isn't in place," she said.

"But what I always encourage all families to do is just to keep in touch with their caseworker to have this ongoing dialogue so we can ensure that we can meet their needs to the greatest extent possible."

Sawhney said her ministry is also working with Inclusion Alberta and the Alberta Council for Disability Services to monitor the impact the COVID-19 situation is having on Albertans with disabilities and their families.

"We want to hear how our families [are] impacted and what can we do as a government that's within our power to ensure that we're supporting them as much as we can," she said. 

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta,. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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