VICTORIA - British Columbia's social development minister says mentally disabled adults will no longer be forced to move from group homes against their wishes, except in certain circumstances.
Stephanie Cadieux released the first of two review reports that she ordered since community groups and families began complaining earlier this fall about cuts and insensitive treatment at the hands of Community Living British Columbia.
The Crown agency admits in the report that some families' wishes were not respected and that too often officials moved disabled adults against their will on the grounds the new placement would be better for them.
"For the most part, people will not be moving unless they agree," said Doug Woollard, who became the interim chief executive officer of the agency last month after his predecessor resigned amid the intense public criticism of the agency.
"That is a shift from where CLBC has been in the past and we acknowledge that we caused significant stress and difficulty for some families who felt that they were pressured and that they didn't really have any options."
Faith Bodnar, executive director of the B.C. Association of Community Living, said the change appears, on the surface, to be a good one, but she said the interim report leaves too much wiggle room for her comfort.
"I want to trust," she said.
The report states that staffed residential facilities — group homes — "will continue to close in the future, but there is no intent to close most or all group homes."
A closure could occur when only one person is left in a facility and there are vacancies nearby, or when the service provider "refuses to negotiate a mutually acceptable contract within the parameters of province-wide funding rates," among other factors.
"I think there might be many community-based providers that might turn that around and say 'What happens when CLBC refuses to negotiate?'" said Bodnar.
For weeks, the Opposition NDP and individual families have been hammering the government over more than 60 closed group homes, cut services or an outright lack of service for about 750 people.
Besides the resignation of the agency's CEO, the previous minister was demoted. In September, the ministry provided an extra $8.9 million to help people with developmental disabilities with urgent health and safety needs.
The new cash raised the ministry's annual budget to $710 million, but the community groups said an immediate budget increase of $70 million was needed.
Cadieux acknowledged the agency's budget is putting pressure on its ability to deliver services.
"I think that to say that there are no financial pressures on the organization would be incorrect. I think it's very clear that there are. I think it's very clear that they're doing the best job they can to meet those challenges at the current time," she said, noting the financial audit of the organization has not yet been completed.
When asked if she would be asking Treasury Board for more money, she said ministers across government are looking for more money for their programs.
But Bodnar, whose group is a non-profit advocate, said the agency needs at least another $30 million per year to keep up with demand.
"It can't operate on a budget that doesn't get an increase every year," she said.
The report said in 2010-2011, there was a six per cent increase in the number of eligible people registered with the agency, but the agency received only a 2.8 per cent increase in provincial money, including the extra infusion in September.
Cadieux said 63 families have contacted a team established last month to deal with concerns and that 21 of those problems have been resolved.
— By Wendy Cox in Vancouver