A Special Report
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is a quotation from William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. On this topic, no matter what terminology is used, it has been a privilege to focus time and effort on some very special people in our home education family. Webster's website says that the word special stresses having a quality, character, identity... of its own.
AHEA knows that those of you who have these exceptional children in your home have faced extra challenges because of your choice and commitment to home educate, since you've felt it provides the best environment for your child. We, in turn, made a commitment to you to seek to address this issue, and we have. It has been a regular discussion point in our advocacy work with the government for over a year now.
Last fall we invited families with special needs to participate in a survey on this topic. We collaborated with another stakeholder so that we could gather data from a wider group. The resulting information from respondents confirmed what we had heard and seen. As was shared in a Political Update blog last November, "There is no funding for diagnosis and support for children with diverse learning needs under The Home Education Regulations, The Guide to Education, and the Funding Manual." This is a serious problem that affects a great many of our home education families.
- 38% had more than one child with special needs
- 11% were single parent/caregivers
- 90% were traditional, parent-directed home educators
- 77% were formerly in the public system
- 59% left within 1-3 years and another 27% left after 4-6 years
Everyone AHEA has spoken to about the topic has been very kind and cares about the needs that we are discussing. People have not been calloused, whether or not they personally have a child that may require additional support. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, caring needs to result in some very specific actions in order to be of help. Families don't want empathy - they want the kind of support that will make a real difference in their life.
There have been changes to the previous coverage that have left big gaps in the services being provided to families. The temporary solution has been to provide some additional direct funding to certain boards or groups. While it helps some families, there are still going to be a great many left out in the cold. These types of band-aids can have two problems - 1) they create a competitive funding and hiring practice between providers/boards that reduces the effective use of the funds available, especially in the rural areas, when the funds are all coming from the same place and 2) they fail to address the issues of real accessibility for all to even fundamental services.
Careful listening resulted in confirming that our problem was not unique to home education. Most people are unaware that our families receive no direct resources or support and that they have to secure resources for their child themselves. Children and families throughout the province, in all systems, are having challenges getting the help they need even with funding. Did you know that each severe special needs coded child brings an additional $16,465 to their school board to utilize in general, not specific, support for that child? Access is not consistent, whether or not funding is available. The parents who home educate are well aware that they are not being financially assisted. Think about the statistics that I shared earlier while you read how bluntly some in the government would respond to our families.
"Parents of students with disabilities have the choice to home educate their child. Some may have children who do not have a diagnosed disability but who may still require specialized supports and services. These parents are not required, as a school authority would be, to develop and implement an Individualized Program Plan (IPP) or Instructional Support Plan (ISP) in accordance with the standards for inclusive education. If there is an identified need for supports and services, parents can discuss options with their family doctor or other health care provider as they may be aware of community agencies, such as Alberta Health Services (AHS), that can support their child. For a listing of the services provided by AHS in their area, parents can either visit www.ahs.ca/pedrehab or contact their local health centre for more information on services. Should a parent determine their child would benefit from supports and services to assist with their learning, they are responsible for securing those resources."
AHEA has been clear that we are not seeking extra educational dollars - we are seeking access for our families to supports and services for children that precludes an educational context. Of course their learning is affected, but addressing some of the root issues would be very helpful in making learning and focus more possible. The government also needs to understand that every home education plan is done on an individual basis because all of our children deserve to be seen individually. This is why these parents take their children out of the system and take them home. They feel that they can do a better job, even without the money, and they do or else they wouldn't keep home educating. The people who actually have the right standards and properly understand inclusion, when it comes to children, are their parents.
AHEA has had two very specific goals in AHEA's advocacy - philosophical agreement and practical action. Our initial focus has been refined to one very clear and pointed question:
to equal access to supports and services, outside of any learning context?
It has been timely to be able to bring this focused effort to Minister LaGrange's attention, as she had a brother with special needs. Her family experience makes her personally informed and aware of some of the struggles that are faced. There have been many opportunities and people involved at different levels in the Ministry of Education in AHEA's efforts. And it quickly became obvious that this is something we could not expect the Minister to correct on her own. One couldn't help but realize the impact of the other Ministries that are involved in this area. That's a real complication, as there are currently four Ministries that are supposed to be serving/meeting this need: Education, Health Services, Children's Services and Community and Social Services (italics are mine). There is so much red tape draped over this issue that one should include the Ministry of Red Tape Reduction too… so we did. We have also advocated for this with MLA's across the province, who have been supportive.
It was encouraging to be invited to a meeting with Premier Kenney and Minister LaGrange to discuss this particular issue in some detail. Progress and effort are being made, and I want to believe that it will bear fruit. I was told it may not happen as fast as I'd like, and that is the truth. AHEA would like to see an immediate correction, and we've all seen how fast the government can move when it is motivated to do so. It is understandable though, even in our desire for real change, to know that if we want more than a bandaid it will take some time and resolve.
The philosophical question's answer is now a big 'P' policy issue for the government to address outside of any specific ministry. Frankly, it is a 'yes' or 'no' question and we have made the case. We think that we see an agreement in theory, even if it is not in writing yet. All children should have access, and our work continues in supporting anyone who is working on correcting the issue. We reiterate that we are talking about children before and through school ages. Once an adult, different programs apply that are long term in nature and are beyond our realm.
We need to also ensure that this is no longer tied to an educational system that provides assistance to only some. While there has been some encouraging work as of late, the fact is that it is still limited to some families and not all. That it is not the type of access to support for children that we ultimately desire. We want the kind of course correction that will result in more than a nod in the direction of home education families.
The practical side of this question has seen us focus on three specific items that should be easy for the government to see, address and implement. We would like to see access to assessments, speech therapy and physical therapy. If there was a centralized intake where assessments happened, and then a direct referral to a qualified source of support for the children, I think we'd be looking at real progress and a platform that could be built on in future years. This would be a much more efficient use of funds and manpower, as both are limited. At a time where cost savings is a real question for our province, home educators are again proposing a way to help keep costs more closely tied to the need.
There are a few cautions that we have brought up for their consideration that are important to be heard and properly addressed. They are related to the lessons that we should have all learned by now… Respect for parents must undergird any and all systems related to our children. This type of 'support' must not undercut or circumvent parents in the process. They must retain the right to obtain or refuse government involvement or opinions. The government must seek to implement measures that protect parental decision making. Critical at all times, it is especially important to have safeguards in this area. It was important to make this clear in the meetings we've had. The family is a sacred and important structure - the building block of any health society. Undermining it is not without consequences to not only the family, but to our communities and culture as well.
AHEA values and supports all of the families it has the privilege to advocate on behalf of. Home education is not always an easy choice, for the sacrifices are real and different for each one. But it can be the right choice for families and children no matter what their reasons for starting or continuing are. We care about your success and your burdens. It is our joy and responsibility to speak to and ease as much as we can on your educational journey. These special children and families have enough challenges already and they need us to work together to cut through whatever is making this more about bureaucracy than real access to help in a timely manner. Let's hope that we will have more good progress to report sooner rather than later.
The government does not have a realistic idea how many families in home education are affected by a lack of access to supports. Would you help us understand the reality of your needs so that we can represent you more effectively? Please click here to fill out a brief follow up survey. Your information will be held in confidence and only generic information will be used to assist us in our work on your behalf.
AHEA is an independent voice for parents that home educate, though our work often has far reaching implications in supporting and advocating for choice, parental rights and the family in general. If you would like to support AHEA in our efforts please click here.
Feel free to share with your friends that may find this topic and our work of interest. Thank you!
Will you ask your own MLA, and others in government, AHEA's question to encourage movement on the issue? "Are children with special needs, and their families, citizens of Alberta that are entitled to equal access to supports and services, outside of any learning context?"
3 20/21 Funding Manual, Pg 112