Social service cuts hurt most vulnerable

It’s understandable that Social Development Minister Harry Bloy is ashamed of cruel cuts to services for some of B.C.’s most vulnerable citizens.

It’s understandable that Social Development Minister Harry Bloy is ashamed of cruel cuts to services for some of B.C.’s most vulnerable citizens.

But his refusal to acknowledge the reality and his flat-out false statements are insulting to people with developmental disabilities and their often exhausted and frightened families.

“Developmental disabilities” is a clunky term. Many of the adults supported by Bloy’s ministry are what we once called mentally handicapped.

Some have severe autism or fetal alcohol syndrome; many have major physical and mental health problems as well. Some need round-the-clock medical care and constant supervision for their own safety, and the safety of others.

Much of that care has been provided through group homes. To save money, the government has been closing group homes and pushing people into cheaper arrangements.

And, based on the evidence, the government and Community Living B.C. know this is wrong. Bloy has insisted no people have been forced to move against their will and families have been consulted. Families say both claims are false.

Connie and Ken Greenway told Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines they were given little warning and no say in a decision to close the group home where their 46-year-old disabled son Darrin has lived for 15 years.

CLBC, the Crown corporation created by the government to provide services to the developmentally disabled, wanted the company operating the group home to sign a new contract with a deep funding cut. The company refused. So the home will close and residents will be forced to move.

Remember, we are talking about fragile, vulnerable people with serious problems and great difficulty in dealing with change. Many, like Darrin, have spent years in the same home. It is, for them, like being ripped from family and sent into the unknown.

For their families, the changes bring a whole new set of fears. All parents fret about their children’s future. But the fears are much more real as aging parents confront the reality that their vulnerable children will continue to be at risk after they die or are incapable of providing support and advocacy.

The closures aren’t isolated. Community Living B.C. closed more than 40 group homes last year, forcing the residents to move and – often – reducing they support they received.

And the closures are not driven by revelations of waste, or innovations in support.

This is about cutting costs. The government has chosen not to put these families first.

According to CLBC, the amount of funding per client has fallen every year since it was created by the Liberals six years ago, under Christy Clark’s watch as children’s minister.

In 2006-07, the first full year of operation, funding provided an average $51,154 per client. This year, funding will be $45,306. And by 2013, according to the government projections, it will be cut to $41,225 per client.

If you factor in inflation, by 2013 the funding available for each client will be 30 per cent less than it was in 2006.

The effect of the cost-cutting goes far beyond group home closures. People who have, with extensive support, lived full and rich lives are seeing that ripped away, condemned to spend their days alone in a room.

And parents whose children are turning 19 face a special nightmare. Services for developmentally disabled youth are provided by the Ministry of Children and Families. Strong school programs offer opportunities.

On the day clients turn 19, those supports are ripped away. CLBC assumes responsibility, and parents find their children’s lives are dramatically worse. Programs are unavailable, waiting lists are long and growing. Even when CLBC’s own assessments say supports are needed for safety reasons, help is not provided.

This is not a case of families or interest groups demanding more, or better, support and care.

They just want the levels that have been in place for years to be maintained.

They want assurances that an adult child, unable to fend for herself, will not be put in danger, or forced to live a needlessly diminished life.

But the government, on your behalf, has decided it costs too much to continue helping vulnerable people live life fully.

willcocks@gmail.com