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B.C. halts plans to change autism support funding after pushback

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B.C. Premier David Eby is ending a busy first week in office with a big win for families with autism.

The province is reversing course on a controversial plan to phase out funding for children with an autism diagnosis by 2025, the premier’s office announced Friday.

"Every child in B.C. should have the supports they need to thrive," Eby said in the release. "We are focused on listening to families of children and youth with support needs."

Under the current system, families with children under age six who have an autism diagnosis are eligible for $22,000 each year in support funding, with an annual fund of $6,000 available for older kids with the same needs.

In October 2021, the province announced it would be moving to a new service model for children with support needs and disabilities. Under the new model, the province pledged to establish "one stop connection hubs" that would provide services from birth to age 19, with no diagnosis required.

Earlier in the transition process, the government defended its plan, claiming it would be able to help around 8,300 more children who were getting lost in the system.

Families and advocacy groups quickly pushed back on the issue, saying that people would actually have less access to care and potentially lose the services they're already receiving.

The issue arose again on Monday when families and advocacy group AutismBC delivered a report to the province, which included a survey of 1,400 caregivers of children with autism.

The report found that only four per cent of respondents wanted the changes outlined in the plan.

The rollout of this plan has now been paused, with the exception of four pilots that will be launched and evaluated in the new year.

Friday’s announcement followed meetings between the premier, B.C.’s Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean, and representatives from the First Nations Leadership Council and AutismBC.

It followed the passing of new legislation in B.C. that recognizes the inherent right of Indigenous people to govern their own family services and child welfare.

Indigenous leaders are applauding the government’s decision to change plans.

"This decision shows that the premier has listened, understood and provided leadership," said Cheryl Casimir, First Nations Summit political executive. "This is a good day because it gives all an opportunity to transform the system in a way that supports all children with all disabilities."

Moving forward, the province says it will commit to further engagement with leaders in the disability community and First Nations leadership.

The province also plans to invest in more supports for children with disabilities that are considered underserved, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and Down syndrome. 

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