Saturday, July 29, 2006

Government fighting to deny needed help

VICTORIA - It's shameful to see the B.C. government going back to court to fight for the right to deny services to people who really need them.
It's not like we're talking about some questionable need. Kids with problems - fetal alcohol disorder or autism or the rest - get help from the government. Counselling and guidance, and if they really can't cope, one-on-one support to make sure they and the people around them are safe.
The support is based on need. It's not enough, but the criteria are roughly fair - the people who have the greatest need get the most services.
Until they turn 19. Then Community Living BC, executing a government policy, cuts all support to people with an IQ over 70. (There's small margin allowed.)
It doesn't matter if a teen can't function, is a danger to herself and others and is at a huge risk of exploitation. Too many right answers on the IQ test and all the support is gone overnight.
It's a disaster for people like Neil Fahlman. He’s a big, strong young man, with problems - fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder and an autism variant. He makes bad decisions, acts impulsively and sometimes violently. His adoptive mother, Fiona Gow, had worked hard for him, but life had been tough.
But Fahlman has been living successfully on his own in a small cabin here on Vancouver Island - with help. The government has provided seven hours of support every day, a worker to keep Fahlman going.
But Neil's 19th birthday was approaching. His IQ, at 79, was above the threshold. The support would end.
HIs mother wasn't prepared to accept that. So she went to court. And won.
And sadly, the government is appealing the decision.
Children and Families MInister Stan Hagen says the government is appealing on a question of legal principle. The legislature, not the courts, should be setting policy.
But Justice Eric Chamberlist agreed completely. His ruling was based on the legislature's decison to pass the bill setting up Community Living BC. Chamberlist noted the legislation said Community Living BC's purpose is to "assist adults with developmental disabilities to achieve maximum independence and live full lives in their communities."
If the government wanted to limit that assistance to people with IQs under 70, it just needed to amend the legislation or have cabinet issue an order, the justice said.
But instead the government is off to court.
If this was about principle, the government could appeal the decision while still changing its IQ policy. It hasn't.
It is a ridiculous policy. Community Living BC arranged its own psychological assessment of Fahlman. He needed the support, the psychologist said. Without it his aggression and impulsiveness could be disastrous. "He could do significant harm to himself and the community," the psychologist warned.
And the government is fighting to keep that policy in place, despite the risk both ot the individual and the community.
The issue is money. There's nothing wrong with that; we all have to figure out how to live within our means, and sometimes make hard decisions.
Having the IQ cutoff saves the government money, at least in the short term. It's a simple way to deny services.
If the government would admit that, instead of claiming some legal principle as justification, we could have a useful debate. Maybe peoples' lives are worth saving. Maybe support is cheaper than housing these people in jail.
Instead, the government is defending the indefensible under the guise of principle.
Strip the words away and you are left with the action - cutting support for Fahlman and others like him as a question of spending priorities.
There are parents out there terrified for their children. There are children with no parents.
It is ridiculous to cut all needed support when those people turn 19, based on an arbitrary test.
Footnote: Child and Youth Officer Jane Morley issued a release saying the IQ policy should go and support should be based on need. Sadly, it came almost four weeks after the court judgement and a day after Hagen announced that the decision would be appealed. Morley missed the chance to involve the public in the debate before the decision was made. She plans a report on the issue later this year.


Anonymous said...

Bottom line is the Liberals need the money. Olympic cost over runs are here even though the minister has taken to writing letters to the editor telling us everything is just fine. The urge to settle collective agreements were more to keep the heat off the government than to redress the breaking of them a few years ago. Keeping the lid on up to the Olympics. My God, now we are about to get a 18 month public dialog about the health cars system. Anything beats actaully paying for things or making the systems work. With any luck, the appeal court decision for the funding of the person who needs help and just happens to be more than 17 may drag on till after the golden games.

Anonymous said...

Matthew Ramsey writes in today's (Sunday, July 30, 2006) Province: "Thirty per cent of young offenders have brain damage caused by their mothers' drinking while pregnant, say experts who work in the criminal justice system.

And precious little is being done to prevent youth with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders from becoming chronic, repeat offenders as adults, they added.

Put PW's rant against the facts presented by MR and you get some very scary scenerios.

Dawn Steele said...

You've nailed it, Paul. It's about spending priorities, pure and simple, and the desire to avoid frank public debate on the priorities that have been driving government policy & decisions at MCFD & elsewhere.

We clearly do have pots of money--from the massive tax giveways in the wake of the 2001 elections to last year's $3 billion provincial surplus, with oil & gas revenues continuing to pour in, billions galore committed to finance Olympics and Gateway projects, and hefty raises for everyone from unions to ministers' political aides.

Though it's generally not stated overtly and rarely debated, the affordability argument has driven every aspect of change at MCFD, from budget cuts to devolution and service redesign. But it's an argument that doesn't hold water in the face of other government decisions and the bottom line of repeated, massive provincial surpluses achieved at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens.

Worse still, decisions still being made in the name of affordability and sustainability, like this one, are probably costing taxpayers far more in the long run. Denying intensive early intervention to special needs outside the autism programs, limiting even those programs after age 6, entirely ignoring FAS (because we're racist or we subconsciously blame the children for the sins of their parents?), cutting services off at age 19 (adults are never as cute as the kids, are they?)--all these choices end up costing society more in the long run, by setting vulnerable individuals up for failure when a little help could transform their lives and allow them to be active, contributing citizens instead.

PS: Kudos to Jane Morley for challenging the Ministry on this. The IQ 70 guideline has been around a lot longer than CLBC and actually dates back to NDP days. But until the 2003-2005 budget cuts, there was enough fiscal flexibility to bend the rules and serve such individuals when the need was so obvious. The difference today is the Liberals' desire to apply it as a fixed policy without actually saying so and the courts are right to challenge them on it.

Anonymous said...

Rod Mickleburg had a good article in the Globe July 28. It was headed. Look out Campbell has a new mission.When Gordon speaks everyone does what they are told.

Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, July 29, 2006 was worth a bit of a read as well. Hagen is doing what he is told to do, simple as that. And an appeals Court decision may take quite awhile lose or not. Folks tend to forget things when they drag on. I doubt the family will forget. Hopefully neither will the voters

Anonymous said...

I don't think most people fully comprehend how the Liberals have put a lot of time and effort into creating barriers to service & support from the social safety Ministries. Ministry of Employment & Income Assistance stops people from accessing welfare at the front door in various ways. The CCPA just did an excellent report on that,
called Denied Assistance
Closing the Front Door on Welfare in BC.

MCFD has always used IQ of 70, or below, as a cutoff for Community Living services for kids & adults. This is absurb and again serves as a barrier to service & advocacy for THE most vulnerable citizens in this province. The policies, management and organizational structure of CLBC will guarantee these citizens and their families will suffer and Dawn is so correct, society and BC will pay much more later for creating these barriers today.

But just wait until Campbell, Hagen & Lesley du Toit complete their devolution of Aboriginal & non-Aboriginal child welfare. The mayhem, deaths and barriers to even basic support to vulnerable and marginalized children, youth & adults will blow the minds of people who sit safely in their middle-class homes watching the carnage of the Downtown Eastside & shake their heads while watching the 6 o'clock news. Ask yourself why the DTES exists? It's became of policies like CLBC/MCFD/MEIA, downsizing of Riverview, lack of government commitment & funding for affordable housing. Just wait until your kids are born with special needs, or get addicted to heroin, or crystal meth, you think this can't happen in your family, think again.

Not satisfied they've created enough barriers to supporting kids & families, MEIA has implemented THE most complicated, difficult & long book and process for accessing child care subsidy. Again, barriers from helping working parents from accessing just a little bit of support for their families while they participate in this "golden" economy. This government is truly anti-family and anti-child. For people who are so focused on making BC the most livable place they are shockingly corrupt, negligent & hateful in creating policies that harm so many, those who depend on the government for a social safety net. I hope people realize this isn't just today. Service and support denied today will cause much more heartache and cost much, much more in a variety of ways in the future.

Kali Advocacy Project

Ted and Tina Hopkins said...

Dear Mr. Wilcocks,

ACT, Autism Community Training, drew our attention to your item, "Chopping support at 19 makes no sense." On checking your posting, we also found this follow up item. Thank you for these posts.
We strongly agree that cutting a person's support upon turning 19, just because that person's IQ is above 70 is unjust. This is an arbitrary and meaningless demarkation and extremely unfair. We suspect that, if the challenge were brought forward, this cut-off could prove contrary to Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
We are puzzled that, from what you mention in your first article, Community Living BC may want to appeal the court ruling and that the Province definitely intends to appeal. Community Living BC's claim of not having the money to give further support for the boy you mention makes Community Living BC appear more to serve the provincial government rather than people with disabilities. Why are they not using this ruling to press the government for the resources that will permit them to continue the original support.
This issue touches home with us as our son who suffers disability on the Autism Spectrum will soon turn 19. He has high intellectual intelligence, far in excess of that arbitrary IQ of 70. Unfortunately his disability hits him at his social intelligence. He shows substantial impairment in reading his social milieu and with identifying and following social cues. He has never succeeded in building friendships other than with those who are paid to be his friend (support workers, teachers, etc.) and remains socially isolated. Although diligent in everything he does and intensely honest, he draws neither confidence nor trust from among his peers. The paid "friends" who come to our family through social services will disappear when he turns 19 and we will only be able to continue with the ones we can afford to pay out of our family pockets. It is as though the provincial government think he will suddenly be cured of his autism on his birthday. How we wish that would be so! This arbitrary cut-off at IQ 70 is cruel and unjust.
Do you know of any way we can participate in ensuring justice for young people like the boy you mention and our son in light of this case?