Kudos to the advocates and families of people with developmental disabilities who have spent countless hours trying to get their concerns heard. Now if only similar attention could be brought to the many other neglected social concerns in B.C.
Some changes have been made at Community Living B.C. Some new funding has been generated. It’s a testament to the effective advocacy of family members and supporters, and they know the hard work isn’t over yet.
Other community members should be so fortunate. Plenty of British Columbians have needs as great as those being served by CLBC, but without the organized network of families and advocates to help them bring their issues forward.
Parents of children who have a developmental disability are rightly upset when their child finishes school at 19 only to learn there are no programs available for them due to long waiting lists. A child sits at home losing many of their learned skills. A parent ponders whether to quit a job to care for their adult children. It’s a terrible thing.
But it’s certainly not just young people with developmental disabilities experiencing such a cruel reality. Who stands up for those other children?
Who, for example, organizes public opinion for the 500 or so children who leave B.C.’s child protection program at age 19 every year with no consistent family connection or support? Who advocates for a better day for all the young people who live through trauma and abuse, and then shuffle through multiple foster homes, only to find themselves abruptly on their own in a world nobody prepared them for?
Who speaks for aging family members caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease with virtually no support for the caregiver? Who stands alongside the family member ashamed to talk publicly about their child’s stigmatized illness – mental health, addiction, brain injury?
So many issues face British Columbians after years of pared-down social support. We need a social strategy that addresses all those needs, not one that merely puts out the biggest fire.
We applaud the hard-won successes of community-living advocates, but needs are needs. We are a better society and spend less money to boot when we provide the supports people need, regardless of what label they carry.
Research has told us many, many times that when we invest in prevention and intervention services, we spare ourselves vast expenses a few years down the line on crisis care for people who have poor health, more involvement with the police and justice systems, less education and lower incomes.
We absolutely support the need to have adequate community supports for people with developmental disabilities, but we can’t stop there.
For anyone facing difficulty in daily functioning, it makes good economic sense to provide the support people need to be healthy, engaged members of their community.
Shane Picken is president of the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C., which represents 137 community social service agencies. Dave Stigant is chair of the Board Voice Society of B.C., a non-profit that represents the viewpoint of B.C.’s volunteer boards of community-based social services.