Friday, June 27, 2008

Shuffle angers supporters of disabled adults

It's been a rough and chaotic seven years for people with mental disabilities and their families in B.C.
And once again, they have been plunged into uncertainty. Without warning or consultation, responsibility for the $680 million worth of services was swept out the Ministry of Children and Families and into the newly created Ministry of Housing and Social Development.
The main advocacy group calls the change a shocking betrayal.
The clients and their families had big hopes when the Liberals were elected in 2001. They stayed optimistic despite cuts to services for the developmentally disabled.
Most cheered government plans for Community Living BC, the new Crown corporation created to deliver services, and promises of more choice and control for those with mental disabilities.
And then it fall apart, in a tangle of mismanagement, shoddy planning and ministerial fumbling.
Community Living BC would be delivering services by 2003, said then minister Gordon Hogg. It wasn't. In 2004, a report found there was no real plan for the Crown corporation.
It eventually started operating in 2005 and immediately found it had too little money. Waiting lists climbed into the thousands. Exhausted parents - some in their 70s - were told there was no help available for their mentally disabled children. People were pushed from group homes.
But families held on to the hope that, with some stability, things would improve. The cabinet shuffle changed that.
Community Living BC had been under the Ministry of Children and Families. That was intended to allow a smooth transition. Children with these kinds of disabilities received services from the ministry and Community Living BC until they turned 19, when the Crown corporation took over.
But with no warning or consultation, services for adults with mental disabilities were swept over to Rich Coleman's new ministry last week.
No one saw this coming. And no one outside government - and few inside - know what it means.
It wasn't until almost 5 p.m. on the day after the shuffle that children and families deputy minister Lesley du Toit sent ministry staff an e-mail confirming Community Living B.C. was going. It would now only provide services to adults.
That would mean, du Toit continued, that children and families would have to figure out how to deliver services to the 8,000 children who would be dropped by Community Living B.C. (Du Toit also responded to "unclear" communication on program shifts in the shuffle. If government employees couldn't figure out what was happening, the public didn't stand a chance.)
The B.C. Association for Community Living is the main advocacy group for thee people. It has supported the government's efforts, even when things went wrong.
Until now. The shift to the new ministry "undermines the government's commitment and vision to provide a seamless, life-long system of support for people with developmental disabilities," it said.
The association was "shocked and disappointed at the separation of the service delivery system for children with special needs and adults with developmental disabilities." Families had been betrayed.
It all suggests a decision made without consultation with the most knowledgeable people - the ones who use and deliver the services. Parents, hoping for a good life for their developmentally disabled daughter graduating from a special school program. Or wondering what will become of their son when they aren't around to house and care for him.
No one had proposed this kind of change. It was dropped like a hammer from the blue. And now the community wonders if the government has lost interest in Community Living BC and a family-centered approach to support. (And families wonder about Coleman's interest and expertise in their issues.)
It all suggests arbitrary change made in an autocratic way, and yet another lurch in direction for both the children's ministry and services for disabled adults.
It might make sense. So far, there are more questions than answers.


Anonymous said...

Ministry of Children and Families had its kiddies contracted out to the Ministry of Housing and Social Development and Ministry of Health Services.

Might it be as simple as Tom Christensen doesn't like kids (after all - he used to be Minister of Education, and he does have three children of his own).


DPL said...

The reality is that ministers really don't have much control over things in BC. all deputies report directly to the Premier so I beleive at times they hear about stuff in thier ministry from some news article. Sad way to run things. Coleman is a rather pompous person, who used to be a cop, then areal estate guy, but I guess he missed being a used car salesman. He hans't listed to anyone in any job he has held in this government. His line is that the governmetns hands are tied but he had no problem screwing up forestry with his deals on getting massive amount of land out of TFL.
But for the average citizen or one with a development problem, the answer will always be" The government can't do anything"