A new survey of professionals in the Registry of Autism Service Providers has found providers have little confidence and plenty of questions about the government’s move to phase out individualized autism funding and move to a new care hub model.
The changes were announced in Oct. 2021. The Ministry of Children and Family Development said the new Family Connection Centres would open up services for more neurodivergent children in B.C. who currently do not have access to care.
Part of the move to these new centres includes phasing out individualized funding for families with autistic children. Under the current system, families can receive up to $22,000 for children under age six and up to $6,000 for children between the ages of six and 18.
In the survey conducted by Simon Fraser University, professionals listed in the Registry of Autism Service Providers were asked several questions about the new model proposed by the ministry. Nearly 1,000 professionals are listed in the registry and 485 responded.
Only nine per cent believe the new model will effectively address the needs of all children requiring support and 75 per cent said existing quality of care will be compromised. On top of that, 37 per cent said it was unlikely they would work at the new centres and 42 per cent said they didn’t have enough information to make a decision.
Respondents raised several concerns, most notably about a lack of detailed financial commitments from the government and the prospect of implementing a “needs-based” system in the absence of reliable evidence-based tools to guide how a child’s level of support needs will be determined.
”Open-ended responses largely confirmed this finding and revealed that professionals are concerned that the most complex children as well as those whose needs are “invisible” could be turned away from the FCCs,” the survey report states. “This could be either because the measures used are not sensitive to recognize subtle but potentially life-altering conditions or their needs will be missed completely by those untrained to identify them.”
Wages published by the ministry show that professionals would be taking large pay cuts to work at the new centres, leading many to stay in private practice. According to a request for proposals released by the ministry, most professionals would receive a range of compensation from $37 to $46 per hour, while their current hourly wages are all over $100.
With staffing shortages appearing likely, professionals doubt that the new centres will be able to meet the needs of children and families seeking support.
The report included several recommendations for the government to consider as it moves forward with the new family connection centre model. First, the authors called on the government to develop a detailed plan to address staffing challenges.
They also recommend the government allow families to continue accessing individualized funding and increase funding to existing infant development programs, Child Development Centres, and therapy programs while the new system is being developed.
Other recommendations include training and retaining more service providers, preparing a releasing a detailed economic analysis of the new care model and setting provincial standards for service delivery quality.
“It is difficult to see how it is possible for this initiative which entails a radical restructuring of therapy and supports for an undetermined number of developmentally disabled children can be successful given the shortage of sufficient staff, the absence of committed funding, the lack of a detailed implementation plan, and widespread opposition from clinicians,” the report states.
In a statement to Black Press Media, the ministry said it has received the report and reviewing its findings.
“Partnership and collaboration with service providers, community agencies and private contractors will remain essential as we transition to the new system, and will continue in the months and years ahead.”
When asked whether the findings of the report would result in any changes to the government’s approach, the ministry doubled down, saying the new system will help children and youth access supports as early as possible without needing to wait for a diagnosis in order to access help.