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June 15, 2006

BC neglecting deaf children

From: Georgia Straight - Vancouver,British Columbia,Canada - Jun 15, 2006

By russ francis
Publish Date: 15-Jun-2006

Adrian Dix, the Opposition NDP critic for children and family development, has attacked the government’s approach to dealing with hearing-impaired children after a newly released report found serious problems with the province’s early intervention program.

Dix told the Georgia Straight that there is “kind of a crisis in services” in B.C., especially for children under five years of age. “Part of the challenge for kids with hearing impairments is that often diagnosis is key, in terms of response,” Dix said. “The government is very much ‘You’re on your own with this.’”

The situation is challenging for the parents of the approximately 120 B.C. children diagnosed with hearing problems each year, Dix added. Parents should be receiving more help, he said. “And it’s clearly in the interest of everyone that they get it, because the earlier the intervention and the more assistance that’s provided at an earlier age, the less costly it is in the long run for the school system and everyone else.”

Earlier this month, the Straight obtained a copy of the report via a freedom-of-information request. The report, completed on February 3, 2006, by the Finance Ministry’s internal audit and advisory services division, found that the early intervention program has serious deficiencies when compared with similar programs in Ontario and Colorado.

The program is administered by Provincial Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (PSDHH).

“Parents report being left alone to research and decide which program will best suit their child’s needs,” the audit notes. “For some this is a difficult process.”

“Overall, we found a need for improvement in the presentation of information provided to parents as well as the support parents receive at the time their child is diagnosed,” the report says. “The structure of the current service delivery model is not optimizing parental choice and flexibility.”

The early intervention program is contracted out to three Lower Mainland agencies: the B.C. Family Hearing and Resource Society, the Vancouver Oral Centre, and the Deaf Children’s Society. The B.C. government paid the three agencies a total of $1,218,516 for the year ending March 31, 2006.

But the auditors found that all three agencies have administrative costs in excess of the government’s 10-percent guideline. Over the past three years, the costs ranged from 21 percent to 42 percent of total spending. Most of the administrative costs were for wages and benefits for non-program staff, the audit says.

Wages and benefits accounted for between 71 percent and 78 percent of total spending over the three-year period.

Yet all three agencies had accu?mulated surpluses of between $664,378 and $2,228,403 each, suggesting that the government might be able to improve the program without spending more.

The audit also uncovered problems with the contracts themselves, noting that they do not follow government policies. For example, one contract requires the provision of a preschool program but does not state the required qualifications for staff.

Another does not specify the maximum or minimum number of children. As well, neither of those two contracts specifies what activities are to take place, or how PSDHH will monitor the program.

“It is difficult to assess whether the deliverables are attainable because performance measures and targets have not been established and incorporated into the contracts,” the report says.

As well, PSDHH does not link contract funding to the agencies’ performance, the report says. “Moving to performance-based contracts would help ensure that PSDHH obtains value for money and pays only for services received.”

The audit discovered that PSDHH does not receive adequate information from the three agencies concerning their performance: “Monitoring activities are informal and not documented and performance-reporting requirements are not sufficient.”

According to government policy, all service contracts worth more than $100,000 must be awarded using a competitive process. But the contracts for all three agencies, each in excess of $100,000, were awarded without competition, the report says.

The auditors say that their review took place in August 2005, and although the government was already considering alternative service-delivery systems, the report deals only with the situation at the time of the audit.

“Our expectation would be that PSDHH, the agencies and the BC Early Hearing Program work in collaboration to respond to our recommendations, so that services for families with deaf and hard of hearing children are integrated, effective and efficient,” the report says.

On March 3, 2005, premier Gordon Campbell announced a new $73-million program to screen every child under the age of six for hearing, dental, and vision problems. Of this, $19 million was for “Sound Start”, a program to ensure that children born with congenital hearing loss receive early screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

©2006 Vancouver Free Press