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Reviewing The Reviews

By: Alanna Hendren

Two reports were issued over the past few months that impact children and adults with disabilities – the Office of the Attorney General’s Report on the audit of MCFD and Re-imagining Community Inclusion, a review of CLBC. Both documents indicate that there is room for wholesale improvements to existing bureaucracies, processes and systems in both organizations.

The most startling revelation of the MCFD audit report was that, since the split of the old MCFD into Aboriginal Services, Non-Aboriginal Services and Community Living B.C. in the early 2000s, decisions about contracting for services to support children-in care had nothing to do with the children. The report describes a system in chaos where most decisions were made by social workers untrained in contracting procedures based on crisis responses to children who had nowhere to go. There appears to have been no plan for anything or anyone in a Ministry supposedly based on ‘person-centred’ care in a field well known for its euphemisms, jargon and politically correct notions rather than its quality of care. As a parent, the province was neglectful and spent hundreds of millions of dollars every year on something other than what was best for children in care.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the OAG report is the Appendix that lists all of the previous reports that raised similar concerns so many times before. Since the Ministry was ‘transformed’ in the early 2000s under a neo-liberal government, several reports with recommendations were written, some at great expense, and summarily ignored.

Services were de-funded from the start with a 23% cut to MCFD in 2002 just as the Ministry divested itself of Aboriginal Services and CLBC.  Services were a ‘joint responsibility’ between government and the ‘community’ but legislatively, MCFD was and is still ultimately responsible for all kids in care. Any criticism of MCFD usually brought denials from politicians and senior bureaucrats, combined with contempt for anyone speaking out.

MCFD spends a lot of money but no one really knows on what or why. The CLBC report was equally as disturbing as the MCFD audit. Created in the early 2000’s to “allow families to become more involved in the lives of their children”, CLBC’s budget was cut by $120 million upon its creation while advocates convinced the government (or was it the other way around?) that a Crown Corporation could move responsibility for community living away from the government. CLBC would further download responsibility for services back to families through individualized funding. This had never been done elsewhere but research indicated that individualized funding (IF) was more expensive than group services. The ‘success’ of IF was supported only by anecdotal stories. Raising these concerns at the time was tantamount to heresy, however, and resulted in excommunication.

Re-imagining Community Inclusion finally states the real reasons for the transformation initiative:

“In 2001, the BC Government was concerned with increasing pressures on community living services such as rapid growth; reduced availability of funds; the Munroe [labour] settlement and corresponding labour accords; changing economic priorities and the evolving expectations of families and communities with respect to the design of and access to services.”

These were not the reasons we were given at the time, when families were told that, under the new system they would be able to ‘dream their dreams’ and could expect CLBC to pay for everything they wanted. Independent planning centers would help them develop inclusive futures for their adult children, then ‘analysts’ would determine the family’s need for funding and they would receive it. At first, families received generous IF packages and capital grants to buy vehicles or renovate their houses, but that only lasted until the money ran out, leaving many families with only 10 days of respite per year. Some families believed they were promised individualized funding in addition to existing services and a new service delivery system that would view support “through a lens focussed on community involvement and governance, ownership and accountability, local decision-making, transparent processes, reduced bureaucracy and de-regulation”.

Told that ‘this is what families want’, service providers and professionals were demonized as consumers of government funds that were blocking community inclusion, even though there was no evidence or data that supported this claim or any viable alternatives. IF had already been available through the old system, but experience and research data demonstrated that only about 10% of families wanted IF because it was too onerous to become employers and have their homes become work sites. Families wanted agencies to provide good services and/or administer their individualized funding. CLBC also based much of their plan on ‘neighbours helping neighbours’, although there was no evidence that neighbours would step in where paid staff left off. CLBC envisioned a system that “views adults, children and their families, along with friends and personal networks, as having the capacity to solve their own problems”, meaning that they would not need government services or financial support. CLBC created $120 million in savings on the backs of community living workers by paying staff far less than the lowest-paid workers in the public sector – just above minimum wage. Regretfully, this resulted in a complete disinterest in work in our sector – training colleges could not attract prospects to their community support programs – and triggered staff shortages that we live with to this day.

The CLBC report notes: “Some of the original thinking proved not to work as expected.”

Although the CLBC of today does not look like the CLBC families and others envisioned in 2002, its budget has doubled but individuals with developmental disabilities do not have the choices they were promised. With few day programs available, many students graduate to a life of unemployment and inactivity. Although ‘employment first’ became CLBC policy along the way, there were no allowances made for individuals who are ageing, who have complex, chronic health care needs, or severe behaviour challenges. Parents can now also expect to house their adult children into their old age.

Re-imagining CLBC services is a great idea but it is time for the Crown Corporation to demonstrate some transparency, accountability, policy direction and equity in funding between individuals, agencies and regions. We, as a province, must be able to do better than this.