The provincial government plans to dissolve regional boards that govern children, families and persons with developmental disabilities.
On Wednesday, the province announced it will be introducing legislation in the fall to eliminate regional Child and Family Service Authorities and Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) boards.
Those boards will be replaced with Family and Community Engagement Councils that combine the two agencies and liaison between the Department of Human Services and community residents.
“They’ll bring information from the ministry to the community and if the communities have concerns, they will take those concerns forward to the ministry,” said Diana Rowe, a member of the PDD Central Region Community Board, on Thursday.
The existing boards are expected to be collapsed by the end of December.
Rowe said the new councils would be similar to health advisory councils.
Health advisory councils were developed when Alberta Health and Wellness eliminated all nine regional health boards in 2008. The regional boards, including David Thompson Health Authority Board that governed Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, were wiped put and replaced with a single, provincial board for the new provincial administration Alberta Health Services.
Rowe said eliminating the regional PDD and child and family boards won’t affect the care of individuals.
“It’s just that governance piece will change from the board to the ministry. That’s the big change. Services will not change to the individuals.”
A regional system for the social programming will still exist.
She said the councils will make it easier for children with developmental disabilities to transition to adult supports with PDD.
“That makes sense. It’s trying to streamline that in a new method that will make sense for everyone, especially for families,” Rowe said.
Lily Breland, of Red Deer, a guardian for her two adult sons with developmental disabilities, said local boards will likely have even less influence on provincial policies than regional boards.
And she worries the changes will not even touch the inefficiencies in the PDD system.
“There’s so many layers of bureaucracy now.
“For me as a private guardian, trying to get an answer from PDD regarding my sons’ funding is virtually impossible with the layers of bureaucracy I have to go through,” Breland said.
She said she has been waiting since spring to find out if funding changes are in store for her sons.
In May, hundreds of people with disabilities and their caregivers protested outside the legislature against the province’s plan to cut $42 million in supports for Persons with Developmental Disabilities.
The province says funding hasn’t been cut and actually increased.
Bill Lough, president of Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Centre, which is still fighting the closure of Michener, wondered whether recommendations from community councils would be respected.
“I think they will centralize a lot of the decision-making into Edmonton,” Lough said.
The province is talking about listening to communities and creating collaborative local solutions, but the province sure didn’t listen when the community asked them to keep Michener Centre open, he said.
Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski said the changes to PDD and Child and Family Services is all about serving people better by eliminating the division between social-based assistance programs and developing “one-stop shopping.”
“It’s just part of the transformation to provide services in a more efficient way, a less frustrating way. Especially when you’re dealing with disabilities, you don’t want the process to be so difficult it’s more frustrating,” Jablonski said.
Craig Loewen, the press secretary to Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, said the changes are expected to reduce costs slightly within a few years, but there is no target amount for savings.
“The thinking is eventually there will be costs savings, but there’s no set goal. This is a policy-driven decision,” Loewen said.