Kids Can’t Wait: After decade of neglect, thousands losing out on early childhood intervention in BC
After a decade of neglect for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) in British Columbia, waitlists and wait times are growing, service providers are being stretched past their limits and thousands of preschoolers with special needs are losing out, aging out and being left behind.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 4, 2017
New Westminster, BC—After a decade of neglect for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) in British Columbia, waitlists and wait times are growing, service providers are being stretched past their limits and thousands of preschoolers with special needs are losing out, aging out and being left behind.
Families, along with agency leaders and professionals who provide ECI in community-based programs across BC, have a simple message about the urgency of fixing this: #KidsCantWait!
That’s the message we heard loud and clear, as captured in two new reports released today. The first report, Kids Can’t Wait, identifies seven key challenges in BC’s ECI sector along with practical and strategic solutions, as advanced by almost 100 leaders and professionals who gathered in Vancouver on November 16 for a provincial ECI Summit hosted by Inclusion BC.
ECI leaders said they are struggling with expanded MCFD mandates, unclear and inconsistent policy frameworks, lack of consultation, increasingly complex child and family needs, staffing challenges and burnout. Compounding all this are operating budgets that have been frozen since 2006. Among the solutions, they urged an immediate government investment to reduce wait times, measures to increase sector capacity, improved data collection to track outcomes and a more proactive, coherent and family-focused provincial ECI policy framework.
The second report summarizes feedback from a BC-wide initiative to capture parent views on the state of ECI services. Parents identified three main challenges: wait times, lack of support for families struggling to cope with their child’s complex needs, and a dearth of information and guidance to help them navigate a provincial ECI system that is complex and hard to access. Families reported feeling overwhelmed, and ECI providers confirmed that they are seeing more and more families under severe stress or in crisis.
“This sector has experienced neglect for 10 years and is trying to stretch too little to meet the needs of too many,” said Janice Barr, Executive Director of the Richmond Society for Community Living, which currently has 175 Richmond families waiting for supports under the Supported Child Development Program. “There is unanimous agreement that our top priority is an immediate and significant funding investment to tackle unacceptable and long wait lists and wait times.”
Families and agency leaders emphasized that too many preschoolers are unable to get the help they need when they need it. Some “age out” while they wait – becoming ineligible once they start kindergarten – or receive watered-down supports as agencies are forced to stretch resources past capacity. Many families also don’t know these programs exist or how to access them.
“ECI providers have expertise that can transform the lives of children with special needs and their families, with significant long-term social and economic benefits,” noted Jason Gordon, Provincial Advocate for the BC Association for Child Development and Intervention (BCACDI). “The early years are a critical window of opportunity for development, but limited resources and lengthy wait times mean too many children and families in BC are missing their chance to achieve their full developmental potential.”
“BC promised to become the most inclusive province by 2024 but young children and their families can’t wait that long,” said Inclusion BC Executive Director Faith Bodnar. “Kids with special needs must be able to access these essential programs. We cannot stand by and see them being left out and left behind. We must also safeguard the amazing and committed community programs that have served children and families for decades. We are losing ground, kids are paying the price and we must do better – kids can’t wait.”
- The Parent Feedback Project was a joint project of the Family Support Institute (FSI), BCACDI and Inclusion BC, with an online survey and focus groups used to collect parent feedback.
- The November 16 ECI Summit was co-hosted by Inclusion BC, BCACDI, FSI, Richmond Society for Community Living, Langley Society for Community Living and the BC Centre for Ability.
- These initiatives build other broad collaborations, including First Call’s 2015 Early Years Call to Action, which highlighted the need to invest in BC’s young children and families as a priority.
- Inclusion BC — Early Childhood Intervention
- Inclusion BC – Kids Can’t Wait: ECI Summit report, December 2016
- Family Support Institute – Parent Feedback Project Results, December 2016
- BCACDI – Our Stories and Literature supporting ECI Investment
- First Call – Early Years Call to Action
Faith Bodnar, Executive Director
Jason Gordon, Provincial Advocate,
BC Association for Child Development and Intervention (BCACDI)
Janice Barr, Executive Director,
Richmond Society for Community Living
Dawn Steele, Communications
Inclusion BC Communications