Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Autism Residential Care in NB from 2005-2010: Nothing Has Changed

I have been publicly proud of this beautiful province of New Brunswick when it comes to helping autistic school children and pre-schoolers.  For those age groups I would stack New Brunswick's autism services and real accommodation up against any jurisdiction in North America, even better funded jurisdictions like oil rich Alberta and traditional Canadian economic hub Ontario.  When it comes to taking care of autistic youths living with the challenges of autism and Aspergers though New Brunswick is in very bad shape and has absolutely nothing to brag about.  

In New Brunswick we have an ad hoc system of residential care which has seen New Brunswick adults with autism shipped out of province far from families who love them. We have seen some NB adults with autism living on a hospital ward (information conveyed to me but unconfirmed). We have seen NB autistic youth and adults whose aggressive behaviour even with family members end up in jail facing assault charges.  On some occasions family members are urged by Social Development workers to press charges since the Criminal process will often result in a psychiatric assessment not otherwise available from public funds. The most severely affected by autism reside in a psychiatric hospital in the non central, Northwestern corner city of Campbellton again far from most family members living out their lives. I have visited that hospital and saw caring people in charge but people who have to deal with limited resources.

Things to day are not much different than they were 5 years ago for New Brunswick's autistic adults severely affected by autism who require residential care and treatment. 4 1/2 years ago New Brunswick was infamous for housing an autistic youth charged with no wrongdoing on the grounds of a youth correctional center in Miramichi pending his transfer to the Spurwink facility in the State of Maine.  As the Toronto media headlines faded away, so too did the apparent willingness of government to provide a decent residential care system for New Brunswick adults with autism. I have been part of a contingent of autism representatives that has surveyed the needs of our autistic population and presented our suggestions to government to consider on severeral occasions.  Still no action.  Still nothing to help our autistic  youths and adults in need of decent residential care and treatment.

Following is a Toronto Star article on the incident 5 years ago that saw the autistic youth residing on the grounds of a correctional facility because there was nowhere else for him to go in the Province of New Brunswick.

Autistic boy kept in New Brunswick jail

No other place for him to stay 13-year-old must go to U.S. hospitalNo other place for him to stay
13-year-old must go to U.S. hospital

BUREAU, Oct. 19, 2005

HALIFAX—A 13-year-old autistic boy now living in a New Brunswick jail compound will be sent out of Canada because there is no home, hospital or institution that can handle him in his own province Provincial officials confirmed yesterday the boy is living in a visitor's apartment at the Miramichi Youth Centre and will be moved to a treatment centre in Maine by November.

They stressed he is not under lock and key, has no contact with other inmates and is living outside the high wire fence that surrounds the youth detention centre.Nevertheless, the jailhouse placement and the transfer to Maine have outraged mental health advocates and opposition critics.

"They put this boy in a criminal facility because he is autistic," said Harold Doherty, a board member of the Autism Society of New Brunswick"Now we are exporting our children because we can't care for them. This is Canada, not a Third World country.``We are supposed to have a decent standard of care for the sick and the vulnerable, but we don't." 

Liberal MLA John Foran echoed his concern. "This boy has done nothing wrong, is not the subject of any court order, but is in a penal institution." Provincial officials yesterday insisted critics are misrepresenting the nature of the boy's situation and that in fact the province has done everything it can to help him. "This individual is not being held, and is not incarcerated," said Lori-Jean Johnson, spokeswoman for the family and community services department. "He has housekeeping, bath and a separate entrance. We are just utilizing existing resources."

Privacy laws prevent officials from discussing anything that would reveal the boy's identity, including details of his previous living situation and the whereabouts of his parents. This much is known: He suffers from a severe form of autism and is a ward of the state, under the guardianship of the minister of family and community services. He was living in a group home until recently, but became so violent that he was judged a danger to himself and others. At a psychologist's recommendation, he was moved to a three-bedroom apartment on the grounds of the Miramichi Youth Centre, a prison for about 50 young offenders. Two attendants from a private company watch the boy around the clock, at a cost to taxpayers of $700 a day. Johnson said she does not know any details of his care. 

Doherty said the jailhouse placement and move to Maine highlight the desperate need for better services for autistic children in New Brunswick and across Canada. He said staff at most group homes in New Brunswick aren't trained to deal with autism and don't understand the disorder. "If you don't understand autism, things can become very bad very quickly," said Doherty, who has a 9-year-old son with the disorder. "We have been pushing for (better facilities) in New Brunswick for several years. This is not a crisis that has popped up in the last two days. Residential care is a critical element for these people and it is not being provided."

Johnson said the provincial system of group homes and institutions that care for children and adults with psychiatric disorders and mental disabilities works for most people. "We do have existing resources, but once in a while, there will be an exception. Here, we are looking at a very extreme case." The boy will be moved to an Augusta, Me., treatment centre at the end of the month, said Johnson.

The centre, run by a non-profit group called Spurwink, specializes in dealing with autistic adolescents. A Spurwink representative did not return a phone call from the Toronto Star. Provincial officials could not detail the cost to keep the child at Spurwink, nor did they have information about why he's being sent to Maine, rather than a Canadian facility in another province.

The political standings have changed during the past 5 years in New Brunswick.  Mr. John Foran has been part of a Liberal government in power for almost 4 years now.  The Liberal government of Premier Shawn Graham,  especially  former Education Minister Kelly Lamrock, has done much to improve the lives of New Brunswick autistic students and pre schoolers.  But for New Brunswick's autistic youth and adults in need of decent residential care and treatment it is a different story.

5 years ago things were desperate. Little has changed since then for New Brunswick's autistic youth and adults who have been so badly in need, for so long,  of a modern comprehensive residential care and treatment system.

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Tammy said...

This is ridiculous. More and more, I have been looking into what happens when our children get older. What kind of care will they get if I am not around? Let's face it, my husband and I have to always be around.

dianabol said...

I wouldn't say this is appropriate treatment for young boy. Isolation can make his condition even worse.

Anonymous said...

Any serious folks out there, here in NB, to help us advocate and work on the Adult Services issue for our kids??

Dawn Bowie

Ian MacGregor said...

Has there been any effort to link to others who need residential care who do not have an autism diagnosis. There are several reasons one can become intellectually disabled, to a degree which requires such care, autism, Down's, injury, etc.

Also looking more globally will better enable governments to estimate the amount of residential facilities needed.

sustanon said...

Goverment spends bilions on things that are completly obsolete. This is what they should be taking care of first.

Anonymous said...

We need places like this everywhere! Any ides how to star one in Houston Texas? My son is autistics, at times violent. That makes it very hard to find good places for him. Our kids deserve to be happy. My son used to smile a lot more than now, he doesn't smile anymore. Any ideas how to stae a place like NBC?