Little Ryder Davies was facing major life challenges well before he was even born due to his birth mother’s ongoing alcohol consumption during her pregnancy. But his adoption at age four added another one, because it left his new family with just one year to get Ryder the supports he needed through B.C.’s Early Childhood Development program.
Once a child turns five, he or she can no longer access ECD supports. Factor in waits for service of months or even years, as well as delays in diagnosis, and the reality is that some B.C. children are actually aging out of these services before ever receiving any.
And as Ryder’s family also found out, the level of ECD support varies dramatically from one community to another. When they relocated to a new town in order to find better housing, they found themselves back on yet another waitlist for services.
The family had presumed Ryder would have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) when they adopted him, as his birth mother had talked about her drinking. However, the boy has now been diagnosed with autism as well.
Ryder did receive some supports before he turned five, says mom Carrie Davies, but he needed much more than he got.
“We still haven’t seen the speech therapist,” says Carrie. “We were just getting into speech with him when we were living in Armstrong, but then we had to move because we couldn’t find a place to live. Now we’re in Sicamous, and there’s no consistent speech therapy here. He has started kindergarten and people are not going to be able to understand him, and that’s going to lead to all kinds of other problems around behaviour.”
Ryder has been receiving eight hours a week of support at his preschool, says Carrie. But she knows better than most parents that a few hours of help from a support worker falls short for many children, being a daycare support worker herself.
“I see the struggles,” she says. “The kids need more and more support, and they don’t receive it. Where I work, we’ve got four full-time support workers for hundreds of kids waiting for services. All you can do is manage in the moment.”
Publicly funded supports are still available for children after they start kindergarten, but the responsibility shifts from the Early Childhood Development program to the school system.
Resources are stretched across many more youngsters and many more competing needs; families generally report a significant decline in availability of supports, which can lead to the priorizing of certain youngsters over others based on which child’s immediate needs present most urgently.
Ryder is the youngest of four children. Two of Ryder’s older siblings also received therapies interventions and supports when they were infants and toddlers.
Carrie’s 13-year-old son received supports shortly after his first birthday, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour that continues to be unsafe to remove for fear of paralyzing him. He received a number of therapies as a toddler, recalls his mom, including speech and music.
“He’s doing well now – he has limited use of one hand and foot, but he has figured things out,” says Carrie. “My husband has only one arm, so I know our son has learned a lot from him about how to manage.”
The family’s 12-year-old was born six weeks premature, with a condition that was tensing her muscles to the point of rigidity. “We did have to wait a while for her services, but I think having Liam already in services helped us get services sooner for her,” recalls Carrie. “She was getting services by six or seven months old.”
And while the family’s oldest child never received child development services, he probably should have, says Carrie. He struggled with ADHD and aggressive behaviours in his early school years, and it wasn’t until his parents got him into an alternative school in Grade 3 that the situation improved.
“There had been no successes in school up to that point,” recalls his mom. “He was ‘the bad kid.’ But the alternative school was the ticket for him, and now he’s in Grade 11.”
Services for Ryder now that the family has relocated to Sicamous have not only been harder to come by, but difficult to arrange with Carrie’s work schedule. When child development centres are limited by a therapist’s availability, families don’t have the same flexibility to be able to make an appointment that works with their own work schedule. There were times when Ryder missed a therapy opportunity because neither of his parents could take the time off work to accompany him.
“Here, most of the therapists are available only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so if I happened to be working those days, I couldn’t get Ryder in,” notes Carrie.
In these times of scarce resources, the best a parent can do is be a ferocious advocate for their child, says Carrie.
“I am definitely a good advocate,” she says. “I fight because no one else will. My advice to parents is that they always be their child’s best advocate. If what they’re getting isn’t helping, keep fighting. And it’s better to do that sooner rather than later, because early intervention is everything.