A report from British Columbia's representative for children and youth says the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing problems with the support system for children with special needs, leaving families feeling abandoned.
Jennifer Charlesworth says it was not possible to examine the impacts of the pandemic outside the context of what she calls an outdated system for tens of thousands of children who have disabilities, chronic health issues or neurological conditions.
The report calls for immediate action in eight areas, including the creation of a family-engaged communication strategy in the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the extension of all pandemic-related benefits until next fall for families with children who have special needs.
The report's findings are based in part on a survey of 545 families conducted by the representative's office last month, as well as interviews with families about their experiences during the pandemic.
Asked "What do you need right now during the pandemic?" 60 per cent of survey respondents said they needed to know whether their family was eligible for any pandemic-related supports in the absence of clear communication.
Mitzi Dean, the minister of children and family development, responded to the report, saying she knows families are struggling and has asked staff to expedite a new provincial framework for supporting children and youth with special needs that was in progress before the pandemic.
"I want to hear directly from those who are affected. That's why I have asked ministry staff to set up an advisory council to help ensure those voices are heard," Dean said in a statement.