Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autism cut decision was made based on a 2003 program review

Children's Minister Mary Polak's budget cuts include elimination of an intensive early intervention prorgam for autistic pre-schoolers.
Defending the decision last week, Polak offered a number of reasons for killing the program.
The most convincing was that despite the much higher cost to help the children, the program delivered no better results than alternatives costing less than one-third the amount per child.
"We have to look at the outcomes and when it comes to what was occurring, . . . we were not seeing any appreciable improvements in the outcomes for those kids," she said.
So what was that based on?
According to the ministry, Polak was referring to a review done in 2003, when the program was in its first full year.
The report on the ministry website is a Powerpoint summary of the research presented in 2005.
"The evaluation project was initiated at the very beginning of the EIBI and IEII programs," it notes. "So, the results only apply to the children and families who were initially involved in these programs, which have developed considerably since the evaluation was completed. Results may be different if the evaluation was conducted today."
And by today, the review's authors were referring to 2005.
It's a lame - even phony - justification for making a policy decision affecting children facing great challenges.
And it's misleading for Polak to suggest the ministry actually had a sound basis for assessing the program's effectiveness before killing it.

UPDATE: In spite of the quote above, Polak said today the effectiveness on intensive treatment played no role in her decision to kill the program.
You can watch her comments when she made the announcement, and today, at publiceyeonline and decide if you buy the claim.
It looks much more like the minister offered a bogus justification and is now trying to retreat without admitting it.


Dad said...

You know we are living in dark days indeed when the government begins dismantling the therapy funding for helpless children. I suppose it is a smart move by the government as these children can’t voice their concern over the negative impact this will have on their future and huge increase in cost it will later have to society.
Is this the type of government we voted for?
Approximately one in a 150 boys is diagnosed with Autism and this continues to rise at an increasing rate.
In a recent 50 million dollar Lotto 6/49 jackpot, the odds were one in 13,983,816. Hundreds of thousands of parents bet on this jackpot. Your odds are considerably better with an Autism diagnosis.
Save your lottery money, you will need it if your child is diagnosed.
The government of British Columbia offers these families $20,000/year to cover therapy up to the age of six. Therapy costs approximately $80,000/year. This therapy is scientifically proven to be effective and is well documented. This means families who have a child who has been diagnosed with Autism have to find $60,000 from somewhere. This is often debt.
Most of these parents divorce. Selling the family house to fund therapy is common. The sale of most items of value to generate funds for therapy is a given. A life of guilt and depression is to be expected. Alienation from friends and family will occur.
Their life as they knew it is now over.
If they are lucky their child won’t bolt and get lost for days. If they’re lucky their child will learn to refrain from self damaging behavior. If they’re lucky, their child will learn not to throw up after eating. If they’re lucky, their child will learn to speak a few words. If they’re lucky their child will not be teased, ridiculed, beaten up and harassed on a daily basis at school. If they’re lucky their child will graduate from high school.
Most won’t be that lucky.
Last week, without any consultation or warning, the Mary Polak (Minister of Family and Children Development) pulled the rug out from under these parents who are already enduring so much by eliminating their ability to control these funds. The government, who have consistently failed to understand the needs of these families has taken it upon itself to eliminate the option to do Direct Funding (direct from the parents to the service providers) and has instead dictated that these parents have to tow the line of mandated Invoice Funding where the government pays the service providers. This will increase overhead costs, delay the payments, reduce the quality of care and will make paying these service providers extremely difficult therefore reducing the amount of usable funds and discouraging assistance.
The frustration in the Autism community lies in the fact that these parents, who are on the brink of financial collapse, already spent precious funds to fight the government in the courts a few years ago to protect their children and won the Auton lawsuit (Auton vs BC Gov). The government at that time did finally put Direct Individualized Funding into place. This allowed parents to fund their child’s ABA programs and since that time parents have built a strong, quality base of ABA service providers that is making a real difference to these children. The ABA program takes a child who would otherwise be lifelong financial burden on the society and in many cases makes him/her self sufficient.
In these financial times are we prepared to sacrifice the children? Do we want to go down this low moral road? Are we prepared to make the small amount of funds these parents receive that much less and that much more difficult to put into action? Why is the government spending more tax money just to make it difficult for these parents?
For all that is good a decent, please spare the children.

Anonymous said...

There is another side to this story. Some say it's time to eliminate diagnosis-based funding as many children are out there with special needs that would love a fraction of the service that autistic families receive. I think the Minister is making the right & tough call, respectfully.

I just wonder to those that want to stop the cut how should we pay for this program? Cut contractural obligations to the Olympics and ruin the standing of at least a nation? Or perhaps a more intelligent person would call out RuralBC, call out some of the pork flying into the UBCM, call out some of the specific pork around 2010 Olympics that isn't obligatory or even recommend a small tax increase...

Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:20, well hi there Josef K.

Dawn Steele said...

Anon raises a good point about the need to eliminate diagnosis based funding - all kids should have acess to therapy if there is evidence that they need it, regardless of diagnosis.

But that's not what the Minister is doing. She is actually doing the exact opposite. She is simply denying everyone access to intensive early intervention.

Two wrongs don't make a right.

And Paul, good point re the 2003 study (which Ms Polak groosly mischaracterized by the way). I'm familiar with that study and Polak must have realized that the study authors would have exposed her if anyone in the media ever bothered to ask them if that's really what they had concluded.

Polak must also know by now that we have decades of international research by top academics and clinicians in the field of autism, published in peer-reviewed journals, all affirming the significant benefits of EIBI programs.

Latest estimates on the lifelong costs of supporting one individual with autism are now > $3.5 million US, with estimates that early intensive intervention can save 65% of those costs. Compare that to the paltry savings of $60,000 - $150,000 per child achieved by eliminating EIBI. It's fiscal insanity on top of everything else.

BC could save hundreds of millions annually by expanding access to this program and by creating similar early intervention programs to serve other special needs (Down Syndrome, CP, FASD, etc)

Dad said...

Dawn Steele is exactly right. Polak is costing all of us Canadian tax payers billions of dollars with this short sighted change.

Also it should be noted that Anonymous said.. 4:20 is Josef K who is an American hired by Mary Polak to do her Internet boosting. He is found all over her facebook page and posts to all her blog entries. He is now using the Anonymous tag but spouting the same old crap. Josef: Go home to the USA! Us Canadians don't want your smear campaign tactics here.

Dad said...

Anonymous 4:20 (Josef K) said:

"Some say it's time to eliminate diagnosis-based funding as many children are out there with special needs that would love a fraction of the service that autistic families receive."

Is that because Mary Polak's daughter has cerebral palsy is is not entitled to funding? Isn't this a conflict of interest on her part?

Hey I love what your doing with Polak's Facebook page! You make her look so popular and fresh!

paul said...

Good discussion, but can I suggest we forget about who is commenting. Their contributions will persuade others or provoke thought, or not. The comments stand on their own.

Josef said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just so you know,this is Mary Polak's daughter, I don't have cerebral palsy.. but this would be a pretty hilarious way to find out if I did.