More funding to help agencies dealing with special needs children could save the provincial government money down the road, according to B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention provincial advocate Jason Gordon.
Rather than freeze budgets and put the squeeze on the agencies which deliver service, Gordon would like to see more money flow to allow deal with issues when children are still young.
"The research shows that if we invest adequately and effectively in the early years, then we actually save public investment later on," Gordon said during a visit to Prince George. "We're going to need less supports later on in areas like special needs education, the youth justice system, etceteras."
Executive directors from 24 agencies, including the Prince George Child Development Centre, met last week at the Civic Centre to discuss issues facing the sector, including increasingly tight budgets.
Gordon said many of the 28 agencies which fall under his organization's umbrella have seen little or no increase in funding for five years and are facing a cash crunch this year due to the provincial government's net zero mandate. The agencies need to find money to pay for a three-per-cent employee wage increase out of other areas of their budget.
"Agencies are having to make some tough decisions and change the way we're delivering service and not always in the most family-centered way," Gordon said.
That could mean doing client assessments at the agency office, rather than visiting the child in their home, preschool or daycare. Gordon said the latter method is superior.
"That's the environment the child is in day-to-day and that's where we can see where the challenges are and provide the best supports," he said.
Without funding increases agencies could also be forced to cut their professional development budgets.
"If we do that it's going to impact our recruitment and retention of professionals, which is a big issues especially in some of our rural and remote areas," Gordon said.
Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said in an email to The Citizen her department saw its budget increase by $5 million last year to $292 million. Senior ministry officials, including deputy minister Mark Sieben, met with Gordon's organization to talk about funding and other concerns last week.
"We understand that there are challenges, but it is also clear that by working co-operatively and responsibly with our agency partners we can be successful in delivering the wage increases negotiated," Cadieux wrote.
"We are working closely with contracted agencies, including [the B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention], to find opportunities to achieve efficiencies while ensuring there are no reductions to services."
Funding challenges aside, Gordon said his agency has a good relationship with the provincial government, but would still like to see some changes to eliminate what he sees as "inefficiencies" in the system.
Rather than one-year service delivery contracts, he said agencies could provide better care with multi-year deals. He would also like to see some contracts bundled together.