Chelsea McGarry is 18. The young Quesnel woman has Down syndrome, autism, early onset Alzheimer’s, diabetes and celiac disease.
It’s been quite a struggle. But Chelsea had been receiving enough supports and service to allow her mum, Shelley, to care for her at home.
Until now. Because when Chelsea turns 19 in December, those supports get chopped and her file transfers to Community Living B.C.
And that problem-plagued Crown corporation, struggling with underfunding, refused to approve a care plan.
Chelsea’s mother has been battling for support. Children’s Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has advocated for her, and so has her MLA, Bob Simpson.
But only when Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines reported on the nightmare did CLBC agree to new meetings to resolve the issues, and the outcome of those is far from clear.
It’s yet another example of how vulnerable are, how fearful they are of making waves in case they face reprisals, and how badly an independent review of the troubled agency is needed.
CLBC was set up in 2005 to provide support and services to adults with developmental disabilities — mental handicaps — and their families. Many have other emotional, mental and physical problems that complicate their lives.
But every year since then, the amount of money available per client has been cut. Services have been reduced and the approximately 550 teens who “age out” and shift to CLBC supports face massive struggles to maintain the quality of their lives.
The corporation has pushed people from staffed group homes, sometimes after years of residence, into homeshares, a a cheaper alternative. CLBC has argued that some clients do better in the new settings.
But Kines uncovered a review of one of the companies managing homeshare services in the Lower Mainland. The consultants report, done for CLBC, was shocking. The consultant could find no evidence basic background checks had been done on some of those providing homeshares to vulnerable adults. There was a lack of training and poor oversight. Homeshare providers weren’t given the information they needed on client’s behavioural and health problems, leading to potentially dangerous incidents and a series of “crisis situations.”
The company, which manages 44 homeshare contracts, was stretched too thinly to properly monitor care. Its manager noted the rush to close group homes — almost 10 per cent have been closed — created similar pressures across the province.
It’s far from the only example of problems.
CLBC refused for months to provide information on wait lists, before revealing that 2,089 people — about one in six clients — receiving some services were waiting for supports to meet identified needs. Another 751 people were getting no services and waiting for help and support. It’s still not know how long the waits last.
The government was forced to come up with an extra $6 million in September because inadequate funding had left clients facing urgent threats to their health and safety, an indication of a basic planning and budgeting failure.
And the government effectively acknowledged the problems, recently firing the CEO of Community Living BC and the minister responsible, Harry Bloy. (The corporation has reported to four different ministers in the last year.)
New Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux has promised internal reviews and a greater focus on responding to families’ concerns.
That’s not good enough. CLBC has already betrayed families’ trust by repeatedly denying that people were being forced from group homes before finally admitting that was simply untrue.
And the attempts to deal with individual cases when they capture media attention themselves raises more concerns.
What of the people with developmental disabilities without advocates — those whose parents are dead, or families estranged? There is no one to speak for them, and many can’t do it themselves.
The government has acknowledged its failures in this important are. And independent review, with input from families and advocates, and a public report are needed to chart a way out of this crisis.
Footnote: The Representative for Children and Youth only has authority to investigate problems and advocate for individuals until they turn 19. Turpel-Lafond has suggested that be raised — perhaps to 24 — in recognition that adulthood is instantly attained on the 19th birthday. That too would be a useful change.