Sunday, October 15, 2006

Waiting for people to die not an answer

DISABLED: Families need help
Michael Smyth, The Province
Published: Sunday, October 15, 2006

All you fellow parents of young kids out there who find yourselves feeling tired and stressed out, believe me when I say: "I feel your pain!"
But if your kids are healthy -- as mine are, thank God -- then we should all consider ourselves the luckiest people in the world.
Imagine how different our lives would be if one of our kids had been born with a severe disability.
Imagine a child who never progresses beyond the developmental level of a four-year-old. Imagine a child who suffers from constant seizures or who needs round-the-clock attention to care for their every need.
People born developmentally disabled rely on parents and other caregivers who often teeter on the brink of emotional and physical exhaustion.
They need help. Their kids need intensive therapy.
But the new Crown corporation that provides services to developmentally disabled British Columbians and their families is being squeezed in a budget vice.
Many families are simply being told: "There's no money. So there are no services."
"I know a mom with two autistic kids who's at the end of her rope," Dawn Steele from the advocacy group B.C. FamilyNet told me.
"She has one son who has started climbing on to the roof whenever her back is turned. She's been turned down for additional support. I fear for her mental health, actually."
Steele, who has a mildly autistic son, considers herself fortunate. Another friend with a brain-damaged daughter has been on a waiting list for help for four years.
"They lost her file when the new Crown corporation was set up and now she has to begin the application process all over again. She's at her wit's end."
Community Living B.C. is the Crown corporation that took over responsibility for the developmentally disabled last June.
The corporation recently posted new wait-list statistics on its website that will provide little hope for families looking for assistance.
The document says 3,150 developmentally disabled adults are waiting for services that will cost an additional $127 million over the next three years. That leaves the corporation facing a $44-million budget shortfall this fiscal year alone.
"With no money available, the only way these people can get help is if someone receiving assistance now dies," Steele said. "Waiting for 3,000 people to die is no way to run a system."
And consider this: The new waitlist numbers don't include children waiting for services -- estimated by some at 5,000 disabled kids.
Tom Christensen, the cabinet minister responsible, stresses that the budget for services to developmentally disabled adults went up more than $50 million last year -- conveniently omitting the $150 million that was slashed in 2003 and 2004.
As advocates for the disabled plead for immediate help, Christensen has promised a review of the situation in preparation for next year's budget.
With the economy booming, and the government rolling in surplus cash, this is one area that should receive priority attention.
For taxpayers blessed with healthy kids, it should be seen as a privilege to help.
© The Vancouver Province 2006

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