External review needed even with new funding, Community Living says

An external review of how the provincial government treats adults with developmental difficulties is still needed even as additional funds are channeled into the system.

That was the first-glance response from Kamloops Society for Community Living (KSCL) to government measures announced Thursday after months of controversy.

"I'm optimistic," said Gail Saunders, executive director of the local society. Founded in 1956, KSCL is an independent nonprofit group that contracts, along with others, with Community Living B.C. to provide services.

"I think any money will be very helpful."

Community Living B.C., the Crown agency that provides services to adults with developmental disabilities, became the focus of controversy last year for its practices. It was paying $300,000 a year in incentive bonuses to executives while closing group homes and cutting day programs and other services.

Some CLBC managers were accused as well of conflict of interest for issuing home-share contracts to friends and relatives.

Premier Christy Clark announced another $40 million is being added to CLBC's budget on top of $10 million added last September. She also said the agency will move away from a one-size-fits-all model for its clients.

The system still requires more funds, an estimated $65 million advocates say, to support a backlog of 2,000 people currently waiting for service. Overall, though, Saunders is encouraged.

"One size fits all absolutely doesn't work," she said. "The report says they will work with individuals and families. Will it be enough? I don't know. It's been quite difficult for the last while."

Some of the issues date back, not months, but years, she noted.

The NDP Opposition is still calling for an external review of the agency, saying the overhaul doesn't go far enough and comes from government officials reviewing their own policies.

"I'm hopeful there will be more to come," Saunders said. "I think it would be good if an external review were done."

Mona Banek, a Kamloops parent who has an adult son with developmental disabilities, is similarly hopeful of the changes.

"I think also it indicates a change in attitude," Banek said. "I think it's very positive and I'm very encouraged."

She was among parents who rallied outside CLBC's Kamloops office last fall to protest the cutbacks. The cuts affected clients in the Lower Mainland but there were fears they might occur here, she said.

"We do feel we were listened to," Banek said.

"It's really kind of a civil rights issue, that people should be treated with dignity, that they should have rights, that they shouldn't be placed into individual models of support that don't reflect their ambitions of how they want to live," Saunders said. "You always have to try to focus on people."

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