Three weeks ago, the Minister of Children and Family Development, Hon. Mitzi Dean, announced an overhaul of funding and supports for children with autism and other complex neurodiverse needs.
Other than suggesting the BC NDP would adopt a hub model for service delivery, Minister Dean offered few other details. Parents of neurodiverse children immediately began expressing their concern and fear of what the changes would mean.
For weeks, the Opposition has asked Minister Dean in Question Period for details. She has repeatedly promised to listen to parents and families. They have found little comfort in her rhetoric.
This weekend, Dr. Roshan Danesh wrote a scathing editorial about the proposed changes, calling them “unscientific” and potentially creating an even more discriminatory system. His son Darwyn, had Down syndrome, autism and other conditions. Dr. Danesh knows of what he speaks.
In Question Period, I asked Minister Dean whether she is going to put the brakes on the process and listen to parents like Dr. Danesh who has experience and expertise.
For weeks, we’ve heard the Minister of Children and Families repeat the same rhetoric, and unfortunately, it’s failed to provide the comfort that she’s been hoping that it would.
Darwyn Danesh had Down syndrome, autism and other conditions. For his entire life, like thousands of children in British Columbia, he fought for basic access to services, which he never got, including when he was dying last year. His father, Dr. Roshan Danesh, who is well known to this government as a human rights advocate, made it clear in an editorial this weekend that changes proposed by the Minister of Children and Families will make things worse, not just for kids like Darwyn, but for all children with disabilities.
Dr. Danesh said these changes will lead to each child not being as an individual with integrity and dignity. He warned the changes are unscientific and will lead to a system that is even more discriminatory.
My question is to the Minister of Children and Family Development. Will the minister listen to people who have lived experience and professional experience like Dr. Danesh and put their plans to change the system on hold so the proper engagement with parents, experts and organizations can take place?
Hon. M. Dean:
I thank the family for sharing their story with us. What a difficult story to tell. I thank all the families who have shared their stories with us on our journey as we try and make improvements to services for children and youth with support needs here in British Columbia.
I have been hearing concerns from families, and we will continue to listen to families. In fact, listening to feedback from families has been at the heart of the work that we’ve been doing in this ministry. For example, during the pandemic, we heard from families who told us that they wanted to be able to use the respite funding that they get in a more flexible way so that they would actually feel better supported in taking care of their children and youth. We implemented that as an emergency measure. We have now turned that into a permanent measure as well, because we were listening to families and what they need from us as a government.
We are continuing to listen to families. We’ve started to register people for information sessions that will be starting later on this month. We will continue those conversations, and we will continue to show families where and how we’re listening to them as we continue to develop these services.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.
You know, the only people that are nodding to this rhetoric are the people that are sitting in this room. For weeks we have heard story after story of British Columbians coming and imploring this government to stop, to take a step back and to start a process at the beginning, not in the middle.
Over the last few weeks, Dr. Danesh has spoken with senior representatives of this government about how the proposed changes will impact children like Dr. Danesh’s late son, Darwyn — those with the most complex special needs. From the response of those representatives, it was apparent that they did not know what the impact of these changes would be on the children. Government representatives suggested that this is why they will be running a pilot project to figure these impacts out.
This is a shocking admission. These are children’s lives, and these uninformed decisions will impact thousands of families in British Columbia. Is this government really going to experiment on these already vulnerable children and families?
Member will continue.
To the Minister of Children and Family Development: does the minister really think that it is sound public policy to subject children and families in crisis to a pilot project to see if their government plans may work? Does the minister think that her approach is in the best interest of children and families?
Hon. M. Dean:
I can absolutely assure everybody in this House that nothing is more important to us and our government than the children and youth of British Columbia. We are continuing our work, making sure that we put children and youth at the centre, and we will continue to listen to the experiences of families as we go through this process. We will continue to adapt the process, as well.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of the staff in my ministry who also put the welfare and the well-being and the health and happiness of the children of this province as the number one priority in their daily work.