Province and CLBC failing disabled citizens

Here’s how bad it has become for mentally handicapped people in B.C.

Here’s how bad it has become for mentally handicapped people in B.C.

Barely five months into the fiscal year, the agency that’s supposed to be providing the supports they need has had to beg government for more money to meet “urgent health and safety needs.”

The planning and funding were so inadequate that these people’s health and safety were at risk. Not their quality of life, or their parents’ ability to sleep at night knowing their children had a shot at happiness.

We are talking about people with developmental disabilities — mental handicaps like Down syndrome or other limits. Many have other serious conditions, physical, mental and emotional. Their parents are often aging themselves and facing limitations.

In a caring society, these people can have rich lives. Families can often provide support, until parents grow too old and needs too great. Day programs, group homes, supported workplaces and other options offer a way for people to share in the joys and sorrows of life. But in this province, we’re not even meeting urgent health and safety needs, let alone providing needed support.

Community Living B.C., the Crown corporation providing services, called a press conference to announce it had found an extra $8.9 million to meet “urgent health and safety needs” of its clients. The provincial government had contributed an extra $6 million. Another $2.9 million, allocated for helping people with FASD and other problems, was redirected, because, CLBC says, the money wasn’t needed to assist those people.

The corporation actually seemed to think this was a good news story.

It wasn’t. The corporation was acknowledging that it did such a bad job in planning — or the government cut its budget proposals so significantly — that five months into the year clients had “urgent” health and safety needs it couldn’t meet.

That means serious needs that fall short of the urgent threat to life and limb are still not being met.

Even with the $8.9 million, the provincial funding for CLBC is up just 1.8 per cent. The number of clients needing services is increasing 5.1 per cent, and many costs are also rising with inflation.

The money is obviously inadequate. Advocates, including the B.C. Association for Community Living, said a $70-million increase is needed to provide proper support.

CLBC per-client funding has been cut every year since the Liberal government created the agency six years ago. In 2006/7, the first full year of operation, funding provided an average $51,154 per client. This year, funding will be $46,000. Just returning to the original level would require an extra $85 million.

CLBC has been looking, appropriately, at ways to meet people’s needs more cheaply. Clients who have been in group homes, for example, a relatively cost form of housing and support, might be able to do as well or better in other arrangements. Supported workplace programs could be chopped and developmentally disabled clients encouraged to compete in the job market.

But families and advocates have complained —with convincing evidence — that the corporation is putting the priority on cutting costs, not client needs.

This has been particularly brutal for the 550 young people who will turn 19 this year. That’s the magic age when support through the children’s ministry ends and CLBC takes over. Supports are slashed, or disappear. Even when there are serious risk of harm, people are told there is no money to deliver the services that CLBC’s case planners agree are needed. CLBC can’t, or won’t, say how many people are on waitlists.

The underlying problem is that the agency — and Harry Bloy, the hapless  minister responsible — have little credibility. Both claimed repeatedly that clients were not being forced from group homes. They acknowledge now that was not true.

This is a dismal failure, at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in the province.

Footnote: The problems are only to going to get worse. Despite an increasing number of clients in each of the next two years, the Liberal budget calls for funding to be effectively frozen and Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has been warning that even deeper cuts in government could lie ahead.