Times Colonist: Advocates wanted for B.C. families in crisis

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October 28, 2015 | Lindsay Kines | Times Colonist

The B.C. government needs to provide more advocacy help for families in “crisis” struggling to support children and adults with developmental disabilities, a non-profit agency says.

Inclusion B.C. wants to partner with the government to create six regional advocates to fill the gap identified by a coroner’s inquest into a 2014 murder-suicide in Prince Rupert. Angie Robinson, 39, gave her 16-year-old autistic son, Robert, an overdose of medication before taking her own life.

Michelle Watson, Robinson’s sister, told a news conference in Victoria on Monday that Robinson lost hope when the government cut support services for her and Robert.

Faith Bodnar, Inclusion B.C.’s executive director, said the inquest illustrated that many families lack access to information or advocates who could link them to community support services.

The coroner’s jury made 24 recommendations. Among them, it called for the minister of children and family development to ensure that families of children with special needs are aware of advocacy services — including Inclusion B.C. — available to them. It also recommended a review of the autism funding cap of $6,000 a year for children over six and suggested funding could be increased for those with higher need.

Bodnar said Inclusion B.C. has 60 years of experience advocating for families and is best positioned to work with the government to expand advocacy services.

“It is too late for Angie and Robert, but it is not for others,” she said. “We call on the government to help us take this tragedy and do something really important, really significant — empower families, make change, bring people out of the darkness and into a world of hope and promise.”

Bodnar called it “unprecedented” for Inclusion B.C. to propose such a partnership, given its arm’s-length and often adversarial relationship with the government.

“It’s important that we maintain the trust of families and that we maintain our integrity,” she said. “But we feel that the issues are so important here that we want to partner with the government in creating an advocacy framework for families that would be funded by the government.

“So it’s a big decision for us, but … we’re a province in crisis here.”

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell pledged to review Inclusion B.C.’s proposal.

“I welcome those ideas from Inclusion B.C. and respect the input from the families,” she said.

Stilwell, whose son has special needs, said she understands “the challenges and struggles that you face each and every day.”

“Those are the reasons we try in our ministry to ensure that we are providing programs and services to those individuals around our province who require them.”

She said Community Living B.C., the Crown agency that provides services to adults with developmental disabilities, received a budget lift this year. “We see an increased demand in the services that are required around our province and we will continue to try to best serve the people.”

Bodnar said she and two other staff at Inclusion B.C. handled about 250 advocacy cases last year alone. “We touch the tip of the iceberg and sometimes deal with the most crucial cases,” she said.

Hiring an additional six advocates will not solve the “whole problem,” she said, but will build awareness and capacity.

“We have to do something.”

North Coast NDP MLA Jennifer Rice criticized Stilwell’s lack of leadership on the issue.

“So it’s no wonder that organizations like Inclusion B.C. are stepping up and willing to take on that role,” she said.

Rice said the Robinson inquest also identified the negative impact of transportation costs on families struggling to care for children with special needs in remote communities.

“Primarily, they’re losing their funding that would be going to the services for their child [by] paying for the transportation costs.”

Read the original story here: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/advocates-wanted-for-b-c-families-in-crisis-1.2097450