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Parents of kids with special needs left to navigate system alone, says Child and Youth Rep

British Columbia's Representative for Children and Youth released a report today criticizing the government for leaving parents of children with special needs alone to navigate the complex array of services available to them, which led to one child being left alone with her dead mother for several days last fall.

Isolated and Invisible: When Children with Special Needs are Seen but Not Seen details the findings of Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond's investigations into the circumstances that led to a 15-year-old girl with Down Syndrome being found alone in a trailer with the body of her mother who had passed away several days before. The single-parent family was receiving Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) services and had been struggling with poverty and the mother's own health issues, which the report says overshadowed the needs of the girl:

The mother’s struggles with poverty and her own significant health and personal issues meant that seeking a full life for her child was overshadowed by striving for their basic necessities of life. Indeed, her struggles and personal issues also meant that others who should have had a singular focus on the well-being of the daughter were instead oblivious to the girl’s needs, focusing on the mother’s challenges instead.

While it is unknown how many children and youth with special needs in B.C. live in similar situations, Turpel-Lafond makes four recommendations to MCFD to prevent this story from happening again: collaboration with the ministries of Education and Health to develop a strategy for providing services for children and youth with special needs; consultation with other ministries when conducting child protection investigations; ensuring youth receiving MCFD services have plans addressing their safety and needs; and pairing with the Ministry of Social Development to create a policy that prevents parents of kids with special needs from losing income assistance without a joint review by both ministries.

Mary McNeil, minister of Children and Family Development, issued her own statement on the report's release, thanking the Representative for her report and promising quick action on the recommendations made.

"The ministry is developing an action plan and will work closely with the Representative to determine how best to implement her recommendations and achieve our shared objective – providing greater support for B.C. families," reads McNeil's statement.

"Families are the foundation of this province and there is nothing more important to this government than ensuring B.C. families have the supports they need to raise healthy, successful children. Together with our partners in Education, Social Development and Health, we are committed to strengthening the system of supports so that every child in British Columbia receives the care that they need to achieve their full potential."

Katie Hyslop reports on education for The Tyee Solutions Society.

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