October 16, 2017

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Aid restored for special-needs kids

Province quickly reverses move to deny extra funding for preschool, daycare assistants

The provincial Progressive Conservative government has backed down from a controversial move, after being stung on the weekend by accusations it was trying to balance its budget on the backs of preschool children living with special needs.

Just two days after an exclusive story in Saturday’s Free Press detailing information about the government’s hold on all additional funding applications for its Child Care Inclusion Support Program — which pays the cost for aides to assist children with special needs at daycare centres and nursery schools — Families Minister Scott Fielding said the government has done an about-face.

“I had some consultations with our premier,” Fielding said Monday.

“All the applications that are pending and meet criteria will be supported... I know the premier feels strongly about this, too, and that our most vulnerable people are covered.”

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The provincial Progressive Conservative government has backed down from a controversial move, after being stung on the weekend by accusations it was trying to balance its budget on the backs of preschool children living with special needs.

Rebecca Chambers’ four-year-old son Henry, who has been diagnosed with autism, had his funding for a daycare aide approved.  (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Rebecca Chambers’ four-year-old son Henry, who has been diagnosed with autism, had his funding for a daycare aide approved. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

Just two days after an exclusive story in Saturday’s Free Press detailing information about the government’s hold on all additional funding applications for its Child Care Inclusion Support Program — which pays the cost for aides to assist children with special needs at daycare centres and nursery schools — Families Minister Scott Fielding said the government has done an about-face.

"I had some consultations with our premier," Fielding said Monday.

"All the applications that are pending and meet criteria will be supported... I know the premier feels strongly about this, too, and that our most vulnerable people are covered."

Fielding said he wouldn’t comment on why the government changed its mind so quickly on this file when other controversial cuts — including closures to Winnipeg emergency rooms and Misericordia’s Urgent Care — are going ahead. He said he would comment only on matters that come under his portfolio.

He said with this issue, "it is important sometimes to take a breath.

"We want to listen to our citizens... it’s always important to listen to people."

'A step in the right direction'

Just minutes before Fielding spoke with the Free Press Monday afternoon, parents of two preschool children living with special needs said their children suddenly had been approved for funding.

Devin Newton holds two-year-old daughter Hailey. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Devin Newton holds two-year-old daughter Hailey. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I am relieved to hear the government has reconsidered their approach so that children needing support will receive it," said Devin Newton, father of two-year-old Hailey, who lives with Down syndrome.

"Continuing to fund this essential program is a step in the right direction and I am looking forward to full implementation of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities."

Rebecca Chambers, mother of four-year-old Henry, said she received separate phone messages Sunday from a government official and day-care employee, notifying her the funding had been approved.

"I really think it was (the Free Press) story that did it — the calls came before (other stories) about it," Chambers said.

Chambers said her son, who was diagnosed with autism last year, got a spot at a daycare after four years of waiting and was originally told there was no money to pay for an aide.

The government pays $12.5 million so 1,053 children with special needs can go to daycare or nursery schools.

But, until late Monday, parents of preschool children living with special needs who wanted to put their children in daycare or nursery schools were being told the government had put on hold all additional funding applications until further notice.

Earlier Monday, Fielding admitted his priority when he got to the office was to order his staff "to identify the ones who are the most critical and urgent."

"It was the first thing I did when I got to the office on Monday," Fielding admitted during a scrum at the site of an upcoming Habitat for Humanity housing building project.

'A terrible decision'

Liberal health critic Jon Gerrard said earlier Monday he was angered when he learned about this issue.

"It’s the last place there should be cutbacks," Gerrard said. "It’s a terrible decision.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Families Minister Scott Fielding: '...obviously, anybody who is in critical or urgent need, we will prioritize these people.'</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Families Minister Scott Fielding: '...obviously, anybody who is in critical or urgent need, we will prioritize these people.'

"This funding is critical for these kids. Whether a child with Down syndrome or has cerebral palsy, they not only need the extra help, but it comes at a really critical part of their lives. If you can help them now it makes a big difference in their future."

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine said she’s had "lots of calls" from families worried about funding for their child.

"When you have a child that has special needs or disabilities or cognitive-development issues, you are already under stress," she said. "There are families that I have spoken to who are just crying and just devastated and so worried."

Fontaine wonders if the provincial government is hoping to use newly announced federal child-care funding to assist in financing the Child Care Inclusion Support Program. She said Manitoba must take responsibility for funding the initiative.

Earlier this month, the province signed on to an agreement with the federal government for more than $46 million during the next three years to create more child-care spaces.

But while all the provinces and territories are agreeing to create spaces which affect families "more in need" — including those with children living with special needs — it’s not known if the money can be used to fund aides for these children.

Fielding admits they hope the province’s recent agreement with the federal government also could help pay for aides for these children.

— with files from Larry Kusch

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Kevin Rollason.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at 11:37 AM CDT: Updated, adds images.

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