BY SCOTT MCDONALD, THE STARPHOENIX
Unless federal policy changes or funding can be found before July 1, Saskatchewan children up to age seven with special needs and developmental delays who live on-reserve will no longer have access to early childhood intervention programs, or ECIPs. It's disappointing this issue hasn't received deserved attention.
Saskatchewan ECIPs employ professionals such as teachers, social workers, nurses and early childhood educators, who provide parents with the skills needed to understand and address children's individual learning challenges through to school age.
They support families through home-based services, and help them connect to services such as therapists, doctors, pediatric specialists and developmental centres such as the Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program. They also support families in the transition to schools or other programs from the home environment.
While ECIPs receive provincial funding to serve other families, funding that comes from Ottawa to support families on-reserve is being eliminated. This effectively eliminates a service that's been available to reserve children since the early 1980s.
Aboriginal Affairs officials suggest that individual First Nations can fill the gap from existing programming. However, bands only will be able to cover ECIP services if they can divert funding from other programs. Current programs such as Aboriginal Head Start have been suggested as alternatives to ECIPs, but these have different mandates and only provide services from three to five years of age, which is often too late for children with developmental delays.
While the federal and provincial governments are trying to strengthen service to improve outcomes for the aboriginal population, this cut totally defeats those efforts. Withdrawing special needs services from reserves will make children with vulnerabilities even more vulnerable.