Closure of children's development centre in Kelowna points to bigger problem

Provincial autism funding

Starbright Children’s Development Centre in Kelowna announced it was closing this past week, sending shock waves through the autism community.

This non-profit centre has operated since 1966, and has served thousands of families with children with autism.

Why is it closing? It’s funding agreement with the province was not renewed.

The provincial funding system is a mess. Last year, the province announced “family connection centres” as a hub model for all autism care. Then, after an outcry from families traumatized by the decision, Premier David Eby announced in the fall the government reversed the decision, and was going back to individualized funding for families.

Good news, right? Not so fast.

The province kept four hub model pilot projects, and one of those is in the Okanagan. So now we have Okanagan families once again going through the trauma of not knowing where their providers are going to come from.

We also have a non-profit organization, namely, Starbright, which no longer has a contract and may not be able to serve the thousands of families it currently serves.

So, which way is the government going? Is it going back to individualized funding with supports for organizations that offer care and treatment for those with autism? Or is the government trying shutter the current care providers and create a hub model, while promising not to?

If the government wants to run the pilot program, it should do so, while keeping all the other methodologies in place. That would allow a constant care model for those with current providers, while getting the other model up and running.

Alternatively, if the government is going back to individualized funding, there is no need for the pilot project, nor is there a need for the hub model in general.

Why are we paying $72 million for something that is unnecessary under the individualized funding model?

Needless to say, parents in the Okanagan feel heartbroken, confused and unsure of all of that this means. This is yet another example of how government programs need to be better managed. The people who rely on these systems of care and programming can’t be left stressed by disorganization and inefficiency.

Governments need to be clear, and communicate programs and policy in a way that people understand. Saying one thing and doing another does not increase trust in our democratic institutions. In this case, the government appears disingenuous.

Meanwhile, this inefficient and disorganized hub system pilot is going to cost the Okanagan one of its most utilized supports. Starbright, and all of the families that it served, deserved better.

My question to you is this:

Should there be a hub model in the Okanagan after Premier David Eby said we would be going back to individualized funding?

I love hearing from you and I read every email that comes in. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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