Province cuts valuable support programs with local impact

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
November 12th, 2009

Local family service workers feel that nobody is noticing subtle but damaging provincial government cuts that are eroding valuable services for families. The latest on the chopping block are the provincial offices of the Infant Development Programs, the Aboriginal Infant Development Program and Supported Child Development. These programs are supports for the local professionals who care for infants and young children, many representing the most vulnerable children in B.C.
After 35 years of providing service to B.C. families, the staff in the provincial Infant Development Programs (IDP) of B.C. was informed by the Ministry for Children and Family Development (MCFD) that their contract would not be renewed. The announcement came the day before their contract expired in September, and gave the organization three months to wrap up their work
“They have told us that there will be social workers assigned to support us. But social workers don’t generally do this job,” said Judy Fletcher, IDP consultant for the Boundary who works under Boundary Family and Individual Services Society. “I guess I could understand some reduction, but to me it’s like cutting the head off the organization. I’ve done this for 21 years so I have a lot of confidence, but if I retire tomorrow what will that person do? I just couldn’t imagine being me in my younger years to not have some kind of leadership, just being out there floating by yourself.”
IDP B.C. supports 53 programs in community agencies across the province that serve over 8000 families annually. ID programs support children from birth to three-years in any development needs from health care to developmental delays.
The annual provincial contract of $300,000 employed a provincial advisor, an administrative assistant, and five part-time regional advisors who help standardize quality, provide resources, and co-ordinate training opportunities for the local IDP consultants.
“The IDP is linked provincially to ensure that it is accessible to families no matter where they live in B.C.,” explained Dana Brynelsen, provincial advisor for IDP B.C. “It is designed so that families, as much as possible, can receive the same quality of service regardless of where they may live. An isolated IDP consultant serving a family with an infant with a rare condition is only a phone call or email away from knowledgeable information that could make a life-long difference for the infant and family.”
In response to accusations in the Legislature about the changes on Oct. 5, MCFD Minister Mary Polak said that there is no need for anxiety for families that depend on the services, particularly in rural B.C. Polak said that in phasing out the advisors, direct services would not be impacted.
“The fact is the IDP is not being cut, and no changes have been made to the supported child development program. These programs continue to be offered to all families in B.C. who need them,” said Polak in her statement. “The decision to eliminate the advisor positions is part of our effort to reduce administrative costs and invest those dollars where they are needed most – in direct, front-line services for children and families.”
While the direct services to families are not at risk Fletcher disagrees that there will be no local impacts. She believes that the 194 IDP professionals across B.C. will lose a valuable resource for their work especially rural ones.
“I have learned a lot of what happens (for cases) through the regional advisors by the networking that we do. So where will all that knowledge come from?” said Fletcher. “I don’t really believe that we can do everything by computer and be robots. Babies don’t live alone or grow up in a void, and may even die without proper care.”
Fletcher is concerned that if community members and families who have benefited from the IDP services don’t stand up and fight for the provincial resource service, that the ultimate losers will be the children and families they serve.
“I’m worried about where it’s going,” she said. “I would rather they take more time and take input from the regional and provincial advisors as to what works and what shouldn’t change. They (the Ministry) are into keeping the front line workers so it really shows their awareness, but I just don’t think they understand the leadership that is impacted without having (the provincial office). They’ve taken our lifeline away.”
Fletcher said that there is only until December to deal with this, and suggests that if community members want to get involved they contact their MLA, the minister, or the IDP provincial offices.

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