Monday, June 20, 2011
Just bite the bullet, government - developmental disability is for life
I can feel for governments on issues like health spending, which has no top limit to its growth. As long as there are people desperate to stay alive and clever entrepreneurs eager to capitalize on that, no amount of money will ever be “enough.”
So yes, let’s have a heart for the plight of government in trying to manage that challenging issue. But that’s no excuse for why they’re not better at managing other costs that are far more predictable year over year.
The crazy stuff going on right now for people with developmental disabilities in B.C. is a fitting example.
Yes, there are cost pressures on that front, too: double-digit growth in autism diagnoses in Canada; expanded services on reduced budgets; more private-sector interests finding ways to turn a profit in the delivery of social services.
But allowing for all of that, the big costs for a funding body like Community Living B.C. still ought to be relatively predictable over the long term.
When it comes to a lifetime condition like developmental disability, you can budget with assurance knowing that the people needing services and support today will still need them tomorrow. The number of babies born with developmental disabilities every year is also stable enough to be built into the spending plan.
And unlike the health system, caps on care are common for developmental-disability services, restricting the number of people who can access support.
In contrast to our all-you-can-eat health system, there are multiple tests to take, professional assessments to acquire, hurdles to overcome and “analyst” scrutiny to bear before anyone gets CLBC funding. It all adds up to more budgetary certainty.
Yet here we are again, acting like the cost of caring for British Columbians with developmental disability has caught us by surprise. Here we are again, trying to downgrade the housing support and work opportunities for people who we know with certainty can’t manage without them.
B.C. looked progressive back in the 1980s when it shut down the big institutions - Glendale, Tranquille, Woodlands - where “the retarded” had been locked away. But the years haven’t been kind to the chronically underfunded community system that developed as a replacement for institutional care.
The creation of CLBC in 2005 was supposed to improve things. The Crown corporation was conceived as a parent-driven initiative that would finally put people with developmental disabilities and their families first in establishing spending priorities.
Not quite. The TC reported this week on the concerns of group-home operators facing a 19 per cent jump in B.C.’s minimum wage this year. Some overnight staff at the homes earn minimum wage, and agencies are wondering where they’ll find the money.
Not from CLBC. The Crown corporation told agencies to cut client services if it comes to that.
“We would encourage your members to continue to explore new and more cost-effective ways to meet individuals’ disability-related needs,” wrote the CLBC’s Doug Woollard in a letter last month to the Community Living Agencies Network, which had raised the issue.
Much has changed for the better for people with developmental disabilities in the last 30 years, mind you.
The level of integration in our school system now would have been a distant dream in the days when I was in elementary school and the mentally handicapped kids were hidden away in the basement.
In terms of employment, the best that any of those kids could hope for back then was a seat in a sheltered workshop, where they’d maybe make a few dollars a week. Now, there’s the possibility of getting a real job - for real money - at the growing number of community-minded businesses stepping up to do their part.
But those gains are worthless if government waffles on its commitment to people’s basic needs. The closure of group homes this year is destabilizing decades of effort to create those homes and bring a little certainty into people’s lives. Recent cuts to work programs and job training are just plain cruel.
Everybody has to be prepared to give up something in a recession, I suppose. But should that include secure housing, social connection and job training for a few thousand extremely vulnerable people who we know won’t make it in this world without our help?
People with developmental disabilities need a lifetime of support. It’s frustrating, inefficient and sad that government still resists that reality.