Friday, September 16, 2011

Province, CLBC failing the disabled

Here’s how bad it has become for mentally handicapped people in B.C.
Barely five months into the fiscal year, the agency that’s supposed to be providing the supports they need has had to beg government for more money to meet “urgent health and safety needs.”
The planning and funding were so inadequate that these people’s health and safety were at risk. Not their quality of life, or their parents’ ability to sleep at night knowing their children had a shot at happiness.
Their health and safety.
We are talking about people with developmental disabilities — mental handicaps like Down syndrome or other limits. Many have other serious conditions, physical, mental and emotional. Their parents are often aging themselves and facing limitations.
In a caring society, these people can have rich lives. Families can often provide support, until parents grow too old and needs too great. Day programs, group homes, supported workplaces and other options offer a way for people to share in the joys and sorrows of life.
But in this province, we’re not even meeting urgent health and safety needs, let alone providing needed support.
Community Living B.C., the Crown corporation providing services, called a press conference to announce it had found an extra $8.9 million to meet “urgent health and safety needs” of its clients. The provincial government had contributed an extra $6 million. Another $2.9 million, allocated for helping people with FASD and other problems, was redirected, because, CLBC says, the money wasn’t needed to assist those people.
The corporation actually seemed to think this was a good news story.
It wasn’t. The corporation was acknowledging that it did such a bad job in planning — or the government cut its budget proposals so significantly — that five months into the year clients had “urgent” health and safety needs it couldn’t meet.
That means serious needs that fall short of the urgent threat to life and limb are still not being met.
Even with the $8.9 million, the provincial funding for CLBC is up just 1.8 per cent. The number of clients needing services is increasing 5.1 per cent, and many costs are also rising with inflation.
The money is obviously inadequate. Advocates, including the B.C. Association for Community Living, said a $70-million increase is needed to provide proper support.
CLBC per-client funding has been cut every year since the Liberal government created the agency six years ago. In 2006/7, the first full year of operation, funding provided an average $51,154 per client. This year, funding will be $46,000. Just returning to the original level would require an extra $85 million.
CLBC has been looking, appropriately, at ways to meet people’s needs more cheaply. Clients who have been in group homes, for example, a relatively cost form of housing and support, might be able to do as well or better in other arrangements. Supported workplace programs could be chopped and developmentally disabled clients encouraged to compete in the job market.
But families and advocates have complained —with convincing evidence — that the corporation is putting the priority on cutting costs, not client needs.
This has been particularly brutal for the 550 young people who will turn 19 this year. That’s the magic age when support through the children’s ministry ends and CLBC takes over. Supports are slashed, or disappear. Even when there are serious risk of harm, people are told there is no money to deliver the services that CLBC’s case planners agree are needed. CLBC can’t, or won’t, say how many people are on waitlists.
The underlying problem is that the agency — and Harry Bloy, the hapless minister responsible — have little credibility. Both claimed repeatedly that clients were not being forced from group homes. They acknowledge now that was not true.
This is a dismal failure, at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in the province.
Footnote: The problems are only to going to get worse. Despite an increasing number of clients in each of the next two years, the Liberal budget calls for funding to be effectively frozen and Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has been warning that even deeper cuts in government could lie ahead.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Liberals have seen the enemy, and he is John Cummins

Note: Saturday updates at end of post.

I don't know anything about professional politics, although I have some experience in the corporate kind.
Maybe the Liberals' sleazy attacks on John Cummins are just the way you win.
After all, the federal Conservatives' attacks on Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff seemed to work. American politicians and their handlers have great success with attack ads.
So Christy Clark has adopted the same approach. Find a way to portray other leaders as creepy, amoral, sinister figures, buy some ads and stick up some grisly photos to show them in their worst light. Make them not just people with bad policies, but evil, perhaps deranged or stupid, princes of darkness.
Use the attacks to solidify your base, as they say, and raise money.
The smear campaigns don't seem to make voters think you're desperate or fearful, or at least not often. Though it does seem odd that the Liberal party is buying radio commercials to attack a politician most British Columbians haven't likely heard of.
But couldn't parties win by arguing their opponents' policies were dumb or destructive, without vilifying them on a personal level or making up motivations for their actions and policies?
That would be a lot less damaging for democracy and public life.
If this kind of stuff works, it says something sad about us as voters.

Saturday updates:

Les Leyne has a good column in the Times Colonist on just how wretched and fake these attack ads are.
And the Gazetteer calls for a much stronger denunciation of a style of sleazy, destructive politics that threatens democracy itself. You should read him here.

CLBC funding boost inadequate, and an admission of bungling

From today's Times Colonist editorial on the announcement of additional money for CLBC:

"The government's grudging commitment of extra money for services for mentally handicapped adults falls far short of what's needed and shows inept handling of an important responsibility.

The government provided an extra $8.9 million for Community Living B.C. Wednesday in response to a public outcry over sharp cuts to services for some of the most vulnerable people in our province.

Obviously, any increase is welcome. But the increase is barely one per cent of the Crown corporation's budget, and far short of the $85 million needed to restore perclient funding to the level in 2005, when CLBC was created. Even with the increase, the province's contribution this year will increase 1.8 per cent, despite a 5.1 per cent increase in the number of people with developmental disabilities who require services.

CLBC executives said the money is needed to cover "urgent health and safety needs" of the Crown corporation's clients.

That is an admission of failure. It is not difficult to forecast the need for services. The government knows how many young people with developmental disabilities, currently supported by the children's ministry, will turn 19 and rely on CLBC. It can predict current clients' needs.

Yet barely five months into the fiscal year, the agency does not have enough money to cover urgent health and safety needs...."

You can read the rest here.

And reporter Lindsay Kines news coverage is here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lessons from Kienan's abduction and return

First, cheers and gratitude for the safe return of three-year-old Kienan Hebert, a remarkable happy ending to a nightmarish story.
The fact that stranger abductions are extraordinarily rare doesn’t lessen the heart-stopping impact of his abduction.
That celebration and the prosecution of the now-arrested suspect, Randall Hopley, will take some time. And it's important to remember there has not been a single piece of evidence offered to support the theory that Hopley did this.
But we need answers to broader questions.
Kienan’s father, Paul Hebert, has shown calm dignity throughout the ordeal. He has forgiven Hopley, he says, citing his own Christian faith and its requirement for forgiveness.
But on Monday, he set out his frustration with the justice system. Hebert didn’t offer an emotional response — no demands that such people be locked up forever, for example.
He wanted to know why Hopley didn’t get help that would change his behaviour despite his repeated contacts with the police and courts that stretched back almost to the 46-year-old man’s own childhood. And why, given that, he was free.
They are good questions. And the implications go far beyond this case.
Hopley is, based on media reports, an archetype. Our courts are full of people like him; they occupy a large amount of police officers’ time. They lead a life of petty crime, with occasional forays into something more serious.
Hopley fits the profile. He is neither smart nor educated; one of his defence lawyers told the court he was mentally handicapped. Hopley’s father died in a mine accident when he was about Kienan’s age. His stepfather, Doug Fink, said was out of control as a child, running away and constantly in trouble. “I didn't want nothing to do with him, he'd only stay so long and he couldn't help himself, he'd be in trouble again,” Fink said.
Dale Fedoruk, who lived in Sparwood, where Hopley has lived for about 16 years, said he was “a dirty, creepy guy.”
Hopley was a thief, breaking into businesses in an industrial park, stealing from cars. He wasn’t particularly good at it, and would sometimes confess to police when caught. Hopley had kept police busy since moving to Sparwood in 1995, an officer told a judge in 2003.
He pleaded guilty to stealing $795 from a business in that case, and got four months of house arrest, a year’s probation and an order to repay the money. He was to abstain from drugs and alcohol as well.
Those kinds of orders are common too. But Hopley, like many offenders, had a poor record in actually following the orders, frequently ending up back in court for breaches of various orders.
These people, often with addictions as well, are the frequent flyers in the criminal justice system. And the system does a poor job of dealing with them, undermining the sense of security in communities.
There were more serious charges as well. Hopley was sentenced to two years for a sex assault in the 1980s and faced charges — later dropped — of attempting to abduct a boy in 2007. Those should have been warnings, Paul Hebert says.
“The judges and the system failed us,” he said. “Hopley needs help and the system didn’t give him the help he needed and because of that, we have been affected. Our rights have been taken away and our family got hurt.”
The justice system - judges, prosecutors, police - are notoriously reluctant to accept scrutiny.
But it’s reasonable to make an effort to look at Hopley’s life of involvement with the courts and police and see if Hebert is right in believing that a better job cold have been done in protecting the public.
A Crown prosecutor sought a psychiatric examination for Hopley before sentencing in 2008, for example, but the defence objected and the court didn’t order one. Perhaps that might have been useful.
And, in fact, the issues might have less to do with the court system than with the lack of early childhood intervention to deal with people before they become criminals.
There’s a lot to learn from this case.
But first, there’s a lot to be thankful for.
Footnote: The RCMP also needs to provide answers, especially about the way in which Kienan was dropped off at his families’ empty home at 3 a.m., with police apparently unaware that someone had entered the crime scene. Police have said they “facilitated” the return, but need to explain what arrangements, if any, they made and how they managed the risk to Kienan and others.

Monday, September 12, 2011

CLBC cuts and the invisible minister

Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines has another report on the devastating cuts to services for people with developmental disabilities, this time focusing on the total lack of support when people turn 19 and Community Living BC takes over responsibility from the children's ministry.
Recommended reading here.

The problem, as I note here, is reduced per-client funding for CLBC every year since the agency was created by the Liberal government. The result has been worsening wait lists, clients forced out of group homes they have lived in for years and a dramatic reduction in the quality of life for people with disabilities.

So what does Social Development Minister Harry Bloy say about the service cuts, and the demand by advocacy groups for a $70-million funding increase to deal with what they call a crisis?

No one knows. Bloy has hidden from questions from reporters and the public, and since the legislature rarely sits he isn't held accountable there. Any day I expect to see his picture on the side of a milk carton.

Kines asked to talk to the minister for the story, as he and other reports have tried for many articles, and was refused.

Instead, communications staff write meaningless emails allegedly from Bloy.

Read the response below, which is typical, and judge for yourself whether this represents an open and accountable government able to explain and defend its decisions. If you were the parent of a disabled adult who was losing day support, or being forced from a group home, would your concerns and questions about the actions and future service reductions be addressed?

Or whether a $150,000-a-year cabinet minister simply won't even try to defend the indefensible.


"Minister Bloy sends his apologizes as he’s not available to speak to you in person. However, he has provided the following statement.
"As a parent, I understand and share the concerns of families whose loved ones have unique developmental challenges. As Minister responsible for Community Living BC, I am committed to finding solutions that best address the needs of our province’s most vulnerable citizens.
"This is not to suggest there aren’t challenges. CLBC serves over 13,600 developmentally disabled adults - 3,300 more than they did in 2007. Despite annual budget increases and an investment to date of more than $3.5 billion, the number of requests for CLBC services and supports from both new and existing individuals continues to grow. CLBC provided services for 766 new people last year, and over a thousand people already in the system got additional services.
"We are living in difficult financial times and we continue to investigate and adopt innovative solutions that will support any many families as possible. "We have always funded CLBC and will continue to fund them in the future. The care, comfort and well-being of developmentally disabled individuals and their families are, and always will be, government’s priority and my priority as Minister."