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British Columbians’ Priorities for Children and Youth
Reflecting the government’s focus on early learning and families, the Finance Committee received several requests to expand early learning initiatives. Other public input included calls for additional resources for services for children and youth with developmental disabilities and their families, and for more child care services for working parents.
Early learning initiatives
Submissions received from early-learning proponents, service providers and school districts applauded the government’s commitment to early childhood learning and care, but believe that more can be done. They all stressed that investing in the early years is a wise social and economic investment.
Proponents expressed their support for current initiatives and suggested the following improvements:
“In order to address our service shortage, we need to make sure parents have access to healthy child and parent check-ins on about a monthly basis, especially during the first 18 months of a kid’s life.
And we need to put in place, after parental leave ends, a system of early learning and care that facilitates those who want or need to be in the paid labour market to be there and to know that their kids are in quality environments.”
(Dr. Paul Kershaw, Human Early Learning Partnership at UBC, Abbotsford public hearing)
“Through StrongStart locations in our schools, partnerships with local pre-school providers and our “Inspirations 44″ Full Day Kindergarten program, our School District has shown leadership and innovation in early learning. Our experience reinforces our belief that the Full Day Kindergarten initiative has great merit in giving students the best possible beginning to school.”
(John Lewis, North Vancouver School District’s Presidents’ Council, Written submission 151)
“What we’re hoping to recommend to all of you is that the ministries of Children and Family Development and Education receive funds to support all early learning initiatives — including group infant-toddler care, group child care and school-age care as well as the StrongStart programs, the Ready, Set, Learn programs and the full-day kindergarten.”
(Lynn Proulx, West Kootenay Early Years Initiative, Castlegar public hearing)
“Most important to us is the healthy development of children in their early years (ages 0-6).”
(Eve Layman, Community Action Toward Children’s Health, On-line survey 426)
“Given that early childhood is increasingly identified as the time of life when education and care is most critical, we believe an integrated system of early childhood education would be a wise investment.”
(Dr. Enid Elliot, Greater Victoria Regional Child Care Council, Victoria public hearing)
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Children and youth with disabilities
Early intervention and autism services
The Finance Committee also received requests that the government consider dedicating additional funding for children with special needs and autism. Parents and child development centres in many regions of the province called for increased funding to reduce waitlists for early intervention therapy services and school-aged therapies. The Early Intervention Therapy program targets children before they enter the school system providing their families with access to screening, assessments and therapy services such as speech-language pathology and physiotherapy. School-aged children and youth have access to a similar program that provides occupational and physiotherapy services. This is how parents and some child development centres expressed their requests:
“Our recommendation is that the BC government should, as a start, double the resources available to the Ministry of Children and Family Development contracted provincial early intervention therapies — including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech language pathology — from $30.7 million to $61.4 million.”
(Bruce Sandy, British Columbia Association of Child Development and Intervention, Abbotsford public hearing)
“To bring early intervention therapy services up to a level on a per-child basis that was available ten years ago, we recommend that the province doubles the size of this program provincially at a cost of $30.7 million.”
(Darrell Roze, Child Development Centre of Prince George and
District, Prince George public hearing)
“We would really like to see additional funding for all the early intervention therapies but, in particular, speech-language pathology and occupational therapy.”
(Lorraine Aitken, Comox Valley Child Development Association, Courtenay Public hearing)
At the lower mainland hearings, parents also expressed concerns about the waitlists for the Supported Child Development program that provides support services to children, families and child care centres so that children with additional needs can fully participate in child care settings. The program serves children from birth to age 12 and provides services in some communities for youth aged 12 to 19. A sample of their requests is shared here:
“We would like to see the funding of this Supported Child Development program increased to keep pace with the demand for services. The wait-lists need to be eliminated across the province.
(Wendy Seet, Vancouver public hearing)
“There were almost 80 families in Burnaby and over triple that in Vancouver on wait-lists for supported child care services to provide consultation and staffing support so that their children with special needs can be included in child care settings and before-school and after-school care.”
(Cynthia Stark, Surrey public hearing)
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Child care services
Over the course of the pre-budget budget consultations the Finance Committee heard a number of presentations on how to meet the demand for child care services in BC. Social service organizations, school districts and university organizations, unions and parents expressed a need for affordable child care and out-of-school care spaces that accommodate the needs of working parents. Notably the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC presented a plan, which was developed in partnership with Early Childhood Educators of BC, that encourages the creation of integrated child care, early care and learning and out-of-school programs. We have included a sample of their requests:
“An integrated system of early care and learning in BC is consistent with the principles that have been presented to this Committee over the years. The dollars must go into integrated programs.”
(Sharon Gregson, Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, Surrey public hearing)
‘”We recommend the upcoming budget contain a significant investment in a comprehensive early learning and care plan for children now under five.”
(Adrienne Montani, First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, Vancouver public hearing)
“Priority of funds should be spent for supporting childcare services which help parents work and go to school.”
(Susie Myers, South Slocan, On-line survey 158)
“We urge the provincial government to invest in quality out-of-school programs…to enhance current supports offered to young families.”
(Carrie Wagner-Miller, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada – Pacific Region, Written submission 246)
The Finance Committee is persuaded by the argument that investments in early learning are beneficial to society and cost-effective in the long run. We see the role of government as providing leadership in the development of “smart family policy”, with a variety of partners from the private and public sectors. We also propose that serious consideration be given to allocating additional resources for children and youth with disabilities, and for the development of seamless child care.
Children and youth recommendations
The Finance Committee recommends that the provincial government:
23. Provide additional funding for expansion of school-based early learning initiatives (eg StrongStart BC, neighbourhood learning centres); encourage more partnerships with parents, government and business; expand health check-ins for infants and toddlers in existing facilities, and allow flexibility for home visits, as needed; and provide leadership and initiate partnerships with all levels of government for funding, services and capital projects to decrease childhood vulnerability.
24. Improve resourcing to address any delays for early intervention therapy and autism services in order to facilitate the transition of children with special needs into the K-12 system.
25. Facilitate a seamless transfer of services and for youth with special needs transitioning into adulthood, and ensure sufficient resources are available to provide supports for adults with developmental disabilities and their families.
26. Investigate the feasibility of providing seamless child care to address the needs of working parents.