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Policy on Special Supports and Therapy Services for School-Aged Children

Policy Issue

Many students with special needs require therapy services and additional special supports at school, in the community and at home to support their physical, academic, social and emotional growth and development. The amount and range of therapy services and supports provided for school aged children is inadequate to meet their needs and the needs of their families. Over the past decade the erosion of funding and the increased demand have compromised therapy and support services.

Therapy Services

Therapy services are increasingly consultative in nature. Instead of working directly with the student, the therapist provides input and direction to the teaching assistant and/or classroom teacher on specific tasks that will assist the student. Current budgets limit the therapists’ ability to make regular assessments. Few resources are available to meet the increasingly complex needs of children. Students entering the school system face significantly reduced therapy services or, in most cases, none at all. Even fewer therapy services are available once a student reaches secondary school. Few of these children are receiving home-based services. Parents of children requiring more therapy must find and pay for private services if they are able.

Students are often taken out of the classroom for therapy, which may interfere with their inclusive education. The goal, for the majority of students, should be to meet therapy needs within the regular classroom whenever possible. For students needing more intensive therapies, an appropriate time and alternative location should be identified in an effort to minimize the interruption to their education.

Behaviour therapy is in increasingly high demand and the need cannot be met with existing resource staff. It is imperative that for the optimal benefit of the child and family that behavior support services be addressed collaboratively by the child’s team to ensure consistency across all environments. The lack of availability of behaviour therapy is a significant concern, given the tendency of some schools to use segregated classrooms as a permanent alternative when behaviour problems occur.

Other therapies, such as augmentative communication are highly specialized and seldom available to school-aged child and their family, despite the need for them.

There are no provincial standards regarding the volume and range of therapy services and there are vast discrepancies in the delivery of therapy services throughout school districts in the province.

It is essential that the provision of therapy services be protected and enhanced and that the Ministry of Education take a leadership role along with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Ministry of Health in standardizing the delivery of therapy services across the province.

Support Programs

The province augments therapy services through the provision of support programs such as the Provincial Resource Programs and Special Education Technology – British Columbia.

Provincial Resource Programs (PRP) provide a variety of supplemental resources and are intended to assist districts to meet the extraordinary special educational needs of students. These programs provide specific services for students with special needs throughout the province, either on an outreach basis or at a provincial centre.

Special Education Technology – British Columbia (SET-BC) is a Provincial Resource Program established to assist schools by supporting educational programs through the use of technology. These services are primarily available to students with a physical disability; and/or visual impairment. Services provided by the SET-BC program include: assistance with the assessment of the students’ abilities and needs for technology; assistance in program planning and transition planning, where technology is used to support learning outcomes; equipment loans and technical support of loan equipment; and in-service and workshops to train teachers and other staff in the use of the equipment.

While these are valuable and appreciated services, the eligibility criteria for these programs are disability-based rather than needs-based, excluding some children from accessing these important resources. In addition, as with many resources these days, there is lack of capacity within these programs, leaving long waitlists and children without much-needed supports.

Purpose

To ensure that all children with special needs are provided the opportunity for optimum growth and development through the provision of quality school aged therapy and support services.

To ensure that students receive the therapy services they require in the appropriate environments, by trained and supervised personnel, in a timely and consistent manner.

Background

The Ministry of Child and Family Development and Ministry of Health fund therapy services for pre-school aged children. Once a child enters the school system, therapy services are jointly funded by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Children and Family Development and are predominantly provided in the school environment.

Policy Statements

Therapy Services

1. To ensure children with special needs reach their full potential, a full range of therapy services should be available to school-aged children with special needs and their families.

2. Therapy services should be provided when the child needs them, for as long as the child needs them, and in settings where the child will get maximum benefit from the service, whether at home, at school or in another setting.

3. Therapy services should be available at no cost to the child and family.

4. When therapy services are delivered on a consultative basis, the person providing the therapy must be trained and monitored on a regular basis by the primary therapist.

5. The delivery of therapy services must support the child’s education within an inclusive setting and whenever possible should be provided at a time that does not conflict with classroom participation.

6. Provincial standards should be developed across ministries to define the range, availability and level of therapy services to be provided to school-aged children, based on best practices.

Support Services

7. Services delivered through Provincial Resource Programs must be readily accessible to support educators in addressing the extraordinary special needs of students in inclusive settings.

8. Technological support, such as communication devices and computers, must be available to meet students’ needs and educational program goals.