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Waiting times too long for Richmond's special needs kids: Report

175 Richmond families waiting for extra support fo their pre-school children
Richmond school students teachers

The provincial government could be doing much more to reduce waiting times for essential programs and treatment for thousands of pre-schoolers with special needs, according to two reports released Wednesday.

“Over the last 10 years, there have been no increases in services for children with developmental disabilities,” said Janice Barr, executive-director of the Richmond Society for Community Living.

The society has 175 Richmond families waiting for help to access additional supports to attend pre-school, day care and out-of-school care provided under its Supported Child Development Program.

“These are children with a whole range of disabilities, children with cerebral palsy, children with Down syndrome, children with speech delays,” said Barr. “There’s been increases only for wages attached to collective agreements, but no increases for services.”

Barr was commenting after the reports concluded that Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), waitlists and waiting times are growing, and thousands of pre-schoolers with special needs are losing out.

The first report, Kids Can’t Wait, identified seven key challenges in B.C.’s ECI sector along with suggested solutions, identified in November during the provincial ECI Summit hosted by Inclusion B.C.

ECI leaders, who said budgets have been frozen since 2006, urged, among other things, an immediate government investment to reduce waiting times and a more family-focused ECI policy framework.

The second report, called the Parent Feedback Project, identified three main challenges of parents: waiting times, lack of support and information to help them navigate the ECI system.

“The early years are a critical window of opportunity for development, but limited resources and lengthy waiting times mean too many children and families in B.C. are missing their chance to achieve their full developmental potential,” said Jason Gordon, provincial advocate for the B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention (BCACDI).

Inclusion B.C. executive-director Faith Bodnar added that early supports are essential so the children are ready for school. 

“If they don’t get the support, it’s like a window that closes forever.”

According to BCADI, five-year-old Kaylee Rivard of Victoria had waited for speech therapy for two years and only started receiving it this year.

However, by the time she began school last fall, she was only four months away from her fifth birthday — the cutoff for early intervention therapies.

Kaylee’s father, Jason Rivard, said that while she’s now in kindergarten, her therapy wasn’t enough to prepare her for school.

“She had four months of sessions (but) she still lags behind now.”

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said in a statement that she hasn’t yet reviewed the reports.

“What I can tell you is that government invests more than $600 million toward more than 90 services and supports for children and youth with significant special needs,” said Cadieux, adding that more than 30,000 children and youth with special needs have access to a range of government support services.