The Federation’s 2019 Select Standing Committee Submission

Earlier this week, I stood before the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services on behalf of all Federation members and answered questions about the state of our sector and the future of our sector.

You can read a copy of The Federation’s entire presentation to the Select Standing Committee on our website. Feel free to use its language and messaging in your own submissions.

The Select Standing Committee consultation is open until 5:00 PM on Friday, June 28. You can present in person or you can make a written, audio, or video submission or complete a survey. The link to the consultation portal is here. The full list of public hearing locations, dates and times can be found here.

I encourage all Federation members to make a submission. If you or your organization need assistance preparing, please contact Rebecca at The Federation office. We’re here to help!

2019 Select Standing Committee Submission

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this committee’s important work. My name is Rick FitzZaland and I am the Executive Director of The Federation of Community Social Services of BC.

The Federation represents a group of over 130 community-based social services organizations serving over 250 communities across BC both on and off recognized First Nations territories. Our members span the entire province and offer a broad range of services to families, to people living with physical and mental challenges, to vulnerable children, youth, and seniors, to new immigrants, to people living with addictions or mental health issues, to those living in poverty, and more.

I would like to begin today by acknowledging the positive steps this government has taken over the past year to improve the lives of the people of BC. Commitments to poverty reduction, mental health, community inclusion, and child care are long overdue and give us hope for the future. This government clearly understands that the well-being of BC is tied to the well-being of its people and, on behalf of our entire organization, I want to thank you for moving our province in this positive direction.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done. And the kind of large-scale systemic change this government is attempting to undertake—the goals and priorities of this government has set—will also require changes to the underlying systems, structures, and mechanisms within each ministry. This work will be difficult, but it will be necessary in order to reach your intended outcomes. And it will be made easier if you include the community social services sector with care and intention.

So as you consider the next phase of goals and priorities for this government—improving services, making life more affordable, and building a strong and sustainable economy—we urge you to think carefully about the role BC’s community social services sector needs to play in achieving those goals.

About Community Social Services in BC

Many of the services that the provincial government provides to the people of BC are actually done so through contracts with social services organizations. These include services and supports for families, for young people involved in the child protection system, for people with disabilities, for those trying to find jobs, for newcomers to BC, and for our older adults. This is what I am referring to when I speak about community social services.

Given the decisions you have to make, it is important that you understand the unique, precarious space this sector occupies among other government services. We have to abide by and work within procurement regulations that are often intended for those building physical infrastructure such as bridges and roads rather than those building social infrastructure like family support programs, residential care for children and youth, or transition houses for women fleeing abuse.

We are an integral part of the system of care provided by a number of government ministries—the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the Ministry of Mental Health & Addictions, and the Ministry of Public Safety to name a few. But at the same time, our agencies are also separate entities with our own organizational structures, bylaws, histories, and cultures. Some are 100% contracted-based, some rely wholly on fundraising, some are private companies.

We address issues that many people simply want to ignore or deny and we challenge the status quo so that we might leave the world better than we found it. Unfortunately, these efforts are poorly understood and, as a result, our sector has been historically neglected and underfunded.

The State of Community Social Services in BC

In British Columbia, we devote a pathetically small amount of money to community social services— to women fleeing abuse, to young people living in the care of the government, to adults with developmental disabilities. We have for decades. After years and years of tracking provincial budgets, it has become quite clear that the economic prosperity of our province has been built on the backs of vulnerable children and people with disabilities.

It’s no secret that social services are almost always underfunded and it’s no secret that social services are usually the first areas to get slashed when cuts need to be made. I hope this committee and this government understands that this is our baseline—this is where we’re starting from today. Ours is a sector that has to fight tooth and nail to provide basic supervision and training for people who work with traumatized children. Ours is a sector where losing one contract means organizations are faced with the prospect of having to close their doors for good. That’s the sad, scary state in which we all find ourselves.

At this very moment, The Federation of Community Social Services of BC is currently focused on a number of issues that have had—and are continuing to have—a profound and significant impact on our member organizations and the province’s social services sector more broadly. Many of which result from unintended consequences of government actions and policy decisions. Like, lost liability insurance, additional business taxes, and procurement practices that favour low-wage multinationals and penalize community-based organizations are tearing apart the already frayed social fabric that is holding our communities together.

Our sector has been weakened by decades of underfunding and neglect. As a result, our province’s social care system functions more out of necessity than by design and can’t easily change to accommodate unilateral decisions or agendas; there are many gaps and deficits that also need to be considered and addressed. I sincerely hope you understand this is a more precarious and fragile position than our sector has ever been in before.

The strength and sustainability of this sector are critical to the economic and social prosperity of this province, and we have been neglected for too long. There needs to be a different way forward and that path needs to be decided together—with the government and the social services sector at the same table. We’re in this together so we need to work together.

The Future of Community Social Services in BC

It is absolutely possible to fix these problems and get out of this mess. The current government is already paying attention to areas that have been neglected for too long and we are very glad to see time and money and effort being put towards things like poverty reduction, affordable childcare, child and youth mental health plan, and community inclusion for people with disabilities. These have been the focus of advocacy efforts for decades and in many areas, the need has become dire. So we are grateful for the early steps that have been taken, and we are excited to see further progress on these (and other) important initiatives.

We are also encouraged by the new approach to our sector that we have experienced. The current relationship between the social services sector and the government is stronger and more collaborative than it has been in the past. However, there is still much room for improvement— especially considering how critical social services are to the well-being of our province. When it comes to the kind of important, systemic changes we are talking about, details and considerations must be attended to at every level and at every point within the system. Because no matter how well-intentioned an agenda may be, the ways in which changes have been implemented in the past have had incredibly harmful—albeit unintended—consequences.

And that is because decisions about us have been made without us; for far too long we have been kept at arm’s length (at best) or completely ignored and left in the dark (at worst).

Every single ministry and crown agency that is connected in any way to social services delivery in BC—including the Ministry of Finance—needs to have the sector in the room when important decisions are being made. The truth is that our insight, experience, and understanding are necessary if the government wants important decisions to actually have the intended impact.

We know that, deep down, this government is committed to delivering on its promises to provide the services that people depend upon and create a balanced economy that benefits everyone. We need you to know that fully supporting and collaborating with BC’s community social services sector is the only way that is going to happen. And we also need to know that you will work with us to ensure that funding decisions and policy development are done in a way that respects and supports the organizations that deliver those services—big or small, urban or rural, Indigenous or non-Indigenous.

Conclusion

At the end of these consultations, you will be making recommendations on government priorities for spending. These choices will impact the lives and well-being of the people The Federation and our member agencies care deeply about: children and youth, vulnerable families, adults, and seniors. These spending priorities will impact services such as foster care, youth housing, parenting programs, employment support for people with disabilities, and shelters for those fleeing abuse. And it is incredibly important for you to know that the need for these services is not diminishing; in fact, it’s growing.

This government has already shown that it’s possible to make change where change is needed and we are grateful for the efforts we have seen thus far. But the kind of problems that still lay ahead of us will not be solved with the same tools and tactics that have been tried before; the government won’t be able to solve them on its own.

We encourage the government to engage with the sector in constructive conversations about how we can address the many issues we are facing in ways that work for the government, for the sector, and of course, for the people we all ultimately serve. Let us help you make sure that your good intentions lead to good results.

Invite us to the table. Use our knowledge and experience to your advantage. We all want what is best for the people of BC and we look forward to forging a new and more productive relationship with this government. There remains a lot of work to do and we are fully committed to working collaboratively with our government colleagues in order to achieve lasting, positive change.

The Federation, this committee, and our government all understand that healthy, supported communities make good economic sense. But healthy, supported communities are not possible without a strong and sustainable community social services sector.

Thank you.

Rick FitzZaland
Victoria, BC

Rebecca’s Submission to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth

Earlier this month, The Federation made two written submissions to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth—one by our Executive Director, Rick FitzZaland and one by our Director of Programs and Services, Rebecca Ataya Lang. Both were in response to the committee’s Special Project on Children and Youth with Neuro-diverse Special Needs and both are being shared with Federation members who may want to read what was said and use some of our messaging in their own submissions. Below is Rebecca’s submission. You can read Rick’s here.

 


Submission to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth

Special Project on Children and Youth with Neuro-diverse Special Needs

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in these consultations. My name is Rebecca Ataya Lang and I am currently a home share provider for a middle-aged woman with autism. I am also the Director of Programs and Services at The Federation of Community Social Services of BC where I work directly with organizations that provide services for children and their families. A number of years ago I also ran a small daycare centre where one of our guiding principles was to create dedicated space for children with neuro-diverse needs. As such, I feel I am uniquely able to speak to the issues at hand from a number of important and inter-related perspectives.

Both my personal life and my professional life have given me valuable insights and offered first- hand experience about the systems that must be navigated by children and families with special needs. There are many issues that need to be addressed, but I will focus my discussion on two areas needing the most urgent attention: assessments and transitions.

Assessments

When it comes to children and youth with neuro-diverse special needs, my experiences have made it clear that the process of having needs identified and met is incredibly challenging for almost all families. It is even more challenging for vulnerable families who are, at the same time, struggling with other issues such as domestic violence, intergenerational trauma, racism, or poverty (housing/job/food/transportation insecurity). Assessment processes fail to account for such things. Obtaining referrals is time-consuming and difficult. Waitlists for necessary assessments are frustrating and drain resources. Families that already face significant barriers find, instead of support, only more barriers.

Eligibility and assessment processes need to be far more accessible and much easier to navigate than they currently are. Public health nurses could have a larger role and a bigger presence in schools and communities to help families access support. Child and family counsellors could be more present in schools and given the mandate to work with families to ensure both school and home environments suit the child’s needs while also preparing the family for inevitable transitions (and supporting them through such periods).

Assessment should not be about gatekeeping services in order to keep government costs down. Families shouldn’t have to fear losing necessary supports during a period when their child is “doing well” for a time. The fact that this happens at all is heartbreaking; families shouldn’t have to struggle so hard to get the basic supports they need and those supports shouldn’t vanish as soon as they start having their intended, positive effect.

Transitions

The intersections between the health, education, and social services sectors are complicated and confusing making the system very hard for families to understand, let alone navigate through. Transition periods are especially fraught (into/out of school, moving communities, out of pediatric health system). Even for the families that, for whatever reason, have the skills and/or resources to advocate for their child, navigating these systems is difficult and time-consuming. For families lacking those skills and/or resources, it is nearly impossible and the consequences are often dire.

Transition planning needs to start the moment a child enters the system. I have heard from many families who have described the transition from child-serving systems to adult-serving systems as “falling off a cliff.” Families have little-to-no information about such transitions, they have no assurances about what kinds or levels of support to expect, and they often have to deal with completely different levels of resources from MCFD and from CLBC—discrepancies that seem random and are clearly not at all related to the specific individual’s needs.

There need to be structures, staff, and resources available to support families with these inevitable and significant periods of transition. There needs to be a focus on relationship consistency during these times—research has proven time and time again the importance of consistent relationships when it comes to the wellbeing of young people. A single resource person that works with the family before, during, and after these transitions would make a world of difference. Consistent levels of resources and support need to be prioritized and they should be based on the needs of that specific individual, not a generic line item applied across the board.

Conclusion

We invest a lot of resources when these young people are going through a life-threatening crisis and need acute care. We do so, I believe, because the necessity is made clear. But we should be investing just as much on preventing young people with neuro-diverse special needs from ever getting to such crisis points in the first place. There are many ways to do so and I have shared a number of them above. I sincerely hope this committee makes the changes that the young people of BC need and deserve.

Rebecca Ataya Lang
Victoria, BC

Rick’s Submission to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth

Earlier this month, The Federation made two written submissions to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth—one by our Executive Director, Rick FitzZaland and one by our Director of Programs and Services, Rebecca Ataya Lang. Both were in response to the committee’s Special Project on Children and Youth with Neuro-diverse Special Needs and both are being shared with Federation members who may want to read what was said and use some of our messaging in their own submissions. Below is Rick’s submission. You can read Rebecca’s here.

 


Submission to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth

Special Project on Children and Youth with Neuro-diverse Special Needs

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this special project and contribute my experience and ideas to the important work of this committee. I have a Master’s Degree in Special Education that included a focus on strategies for children and youth with neuro-diverse special needs. During my career, I have set up clinics and programs for children and youth with special needs and I am the Executive Director of The Federation of Community Social Services of BC where I work to support and advocate on behalf of social services organizations across the province, many of whom provide services to children and youth with special needs. But my best education in this area has been as a foster parent for over two decades for children with neuro-diverse special needs and, later, as an adoptive parent for two boys (who are now young adults) with complex neuro-diverse special needs.

My education, my career, and my personal life have provided me with many stories and ample insight into the system of care that young people with special needs and their families have to navigate. In my experience, those systems fail—in every category—far more than they succeed. It is only by the grace of God, a very fortunate accident, or the most fierce and unrelenting determination of an unyielding parent or a committed social worker or teacher that children with neuro-diverse special needs are identified, monitored, and referred for the services they actually need. There are many systemic problems that need to be addressed, but they won’t or can’t be solved unless these young people are seen and understood and treated as unique individuals, rather than categories on a form or line items on a budget.

Systemic Problems

In my experience, children and youth with neuro-diverse special needs, more often than not, face the longest possible wait time to get a referral, the easiest or most convenient diagnosis, and the least expensive intervention available. Usually, it is not until a child or youth is in an urgent and undeniable crisis that appropriate actions are taken by those within the system. There are other options—other trajectories that the lives of young people with special needs can take—but systemic barriers make those other paths nearly impossible to reach.

And things only get worse as time goes on. As children grow up and move through the system, the supports available not only decrease, they also become more rigid and inaccessible—better suited to the system itself (as it currently exists) than to the child (based on what they may or may not actually need). By the time a child with neuro-diverse special needs grows up and transitions to the adult-serving system there is even less flexibility and even fewer options.

Assessments take place much later than they should, are often inadequate, and rarely recognize the lived reality of the child, their family, or environment. The categories are flawed and inadequate. Standardized tests serve to assign resources quickly and easily rather than correctly or appropriately. Processes accommodate the rigid system and professional limitations rather than accommodating the child that the system exists to serve. That is the root problem underneath all of these systemic issues. And it means making any sort of change will require a fundamental shift in perspective and priority.

It may be a cliché to say that “every child is unique,” but that phrase only became a cliché because it is as thoroughly true as it is thoroughly ignored. Our children can’t be reduced to checkboxes or line items. The categories and tools don’t work. If anything is going to change, we need to serve and sustain the wellbeing of the child—we need to make the system work for each child rather than make each child fit within the existing system.

Individual Solutions

The experiences of my family and my two sons serve as poignant and personal examples of both how the system fails and how things can be done differently.

We knew early on that one of our sons was exhibiting behaviours that were typical of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). But he was also exhibiting behaviours that were typical of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). We knew that he had experienced extreme trauma before he came to live with us, but once it was known that his mother was intoxicated during her pregnancy, everything except FASD was off the table when it came to determining resources and supports. Unfortunately, the strategies for FASD were not appropriate for him and the medication for FASD was frequently counterproductive in terms of his ASD.

When we finally got him into a specialized clinic to have him assessed for ASD, we were told that he had every single trait and historical marker for ASD. However, because a viable diagnosis (FASD) had already been made, the system would not also recognize his ASD and would not consider any therapeutic strategies that might need to be modified to appropriately support him, his teachers, and his family. It was not until he was 19 years old, and after we had spent many years and invested significant resources, that we finally found someone who took a different approach—someone who looked at all of his actual behaviours, and figured out that a complex interaction of pre-natal and post-natal brain injury and early-years trauma presented a combination that could not be explained or managed within any one of the possible categories alone.

Our other son was also born with complex neuro-diverse special needs. Early on, a geneticist gave us the book Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. The title is inspired by something Temple Grandin once said—that figuring out the world here was like being an anthropologist on Mars. In other words, there are no baselines or points of reference. We have to figure things out from scratch, observing how things around us interact, and trying to tease out which results come from which causes. We must develop our own system of understanding based on the reality in which we find ourselves.

This physician instructed us—new parents of this complex and wonderful little boy—not to seek out a diagnosis or cure but, rather, to put our energy into finding out who he is, how his brain works, how he perceives the world, and let him determine the timeline and course of his own development. This proved to be the wisest and most useful piece of information we received from any professional over our 48 years of parenting dozens of different children.

I have many, many more stories that I could share. Instead, I will say this: raising, supporting, and caring for young people with neuro-diverse special needs requires a kind of curiosity, openness, and flexibility that is rarely found in our current education, health, or childcare systems. When it comes to addressing gaps, removing barriers, and improving supports, the system needs to shift its focus and attention onto the needs of the individual first and foremost.

Conclusion: Put the child first

Transition planning needs to start from the moment a child enters the system. It needs to be done from the perspective of a unique child navigating the system, rather than the system rigidly categorizing the unique needs of a child. Moving from child-serving to adult-serving systems shouldn’t feel like “falling off a cliff” to families.

There need to be people and structures that exist to support families through transitions—consistent relationships and a single point of contact that helps a family before, during, and after the unavoidable periods of change.

Assessments, categories, and criteria need to understand and serve the varied and nuanced lived experiences of young people with neuro-diverse special needs. One diagnosis should not prevent or mitigate another; resources and supports must be determined by what is needed, not by what has been done or decided in the past or for others.

Professionals such as Public Health Nurses need to have a greater role in schools and communities to help families navigate the system and access support. Such people can focus on the wellbeing of the whole child within their family’s specific context while considering other, existing barriers that are unique to their situation.

Based on my experience, there are many ways to improve these processes and supports. The one thing they all have in common is that they take into account the needs of the child before anything else—the child needs to come first. This is the mindset that should influence how and when resources are made available and this is the most important and fundamental change I can urge you to make.

Rick FitzZaland
Victoria, BC