If the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members, as Mahatma Gandhi once noted, then Alberta isn’t measuring up.
Parents across the province, including here in St. Albert, are reporting delays in funding supports for their children who suffer from developmental disabilities.
The cause for the delays is shrouded in mystery. No one appears to know what’s going on, least the provincial government, which seems content on giving pat political answers in favour of action.
“While eligibility and funding have not changed for these programs, in late June I became aware of an increase in the wait list that families and individuals were experiencing,” Rajan Sawhney, minister of Community and Social Services, said in a statement a couple of days ago. “As a result, I instructed the department to address this backlog, and as of this week I can report that it has been reduced by 85 per cent since July 1.”
Notably absent from the minister’s statement is an explanation to families and individuals who have and continue to experience funding delays. The two programs that have seen delays are Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) and Family Support for Children with Disabilities (FSCD). The funding helps individuals and families access professional support to help them navigate their disabilities. Depending on the needs, this can include access to psychologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, home living supports, employment supports, help with some costs for medications and a host of other counselling and life skills services.
Imagine being the parent of a child with developmental disabilities and not having enough money to access the professional services your child needs. Each day that goes by without government support is a day of intense worry, anxiety and exasperation as your child suffers. Imagine being an adult who relies on PDD funding and not knowing if that funding will continue.
According to Inclusion Alberta, a non-profit federation that advocates on behalf of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families, funding is also being denied, mostly to families seeking funding for the first time, seeking funding for a new service or support, or seeking funding to expand existing supports. Inclusion Alberta states the denials are issued without a reason given, families are told they are not going to be approved for support from a service provider as their funding is frozen, families are being advised they cannot have Family Managed Supports, or families are being told they do not meet “emergency criteria.”
In the normal sequence of events, contracts are renewed seamlessly without causing a delay to what are critical services for these individuals and families. While the province maintains funding levels and eligibility requirements have not changed, something clearly has changed as people come forward with stories that contradict the government’s messaging.
The mental health of our most vulnerable needs to be a priority. With a PDD review taking place and a provincial budget coming down this fall, the UCP government has a chance to redeem itself and prove to Albertans it takes its obligation to help those who need it the most seriously.