Kelowna child development centre fighting closure by provincial government | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna child development centre fighting closure by provincial government

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Kelowna’s Starbright Children’s Development Centre has been helping preschool children with special needs for 57 years but that’s about to end for the non-profit organization now that the provincial government has awarded a multi-million dollar contract to a private, for-profit business to create a “Family Connection Centre.”

“I’m not sure if it’s understood just what ripple effects this will have for our families,” Starbright’s executive director Rhonda Nelson told “Our concern with our families is that, if there is a disruption in services, it has a huge impact because there’s reams of research on that small window of opportunity when a child is in that early intervention stage of growth, from birth to school entry, how important those services are. We worry incessantly now about what’s going to happen with them.”

Starbright starts working with some children with “support needs” from birth until they go to school. They have about 1,000 children a year accessing their services and, since there have been no funding increases for a decade, there is a long waiting list.

Staff get special training on an ongoing basis so, for example, they use the same techniques as hospital staff when they work with newborns who have acute feeding issues.

They are funded with an annual grant of about $5 million from the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development. They also receive a small amount of donations from supporters.

Nelson learned in October 2021 that their funding would be redirected to one of four pilot programs to create Family Connection Centres in B.C. that will work with children of all ages.

Starbright did apply to get that contract, realizing they would be closed if they didn’t expand to include older children.

“We didn’t hear what the Ministry’s final decision was until our staff starting seeing job postings for positions they have now that were being put out by for profit businesses that were part of the contract that was awarded,” Nelson said.

They searched the government website and finally were able to find confirmation of that contract being awarded, but it wasn’t until Jan. 12 that they were able to meet with government staff.

They were told, at that time, their funding was going to run out on March 31, but that there might be transitional funding.

Nelson has now been told that there will be transitional funding until the end of June but doesn’t know what that means in terms of staffing.

Last Friday, she sent letters to Premier David Eby and Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon, inviting them to visit the centres.

The letters also included a proposed solution.

“This ‘pilot’ of the conceptual concept of a Family Connection Centre could proceed with only Kindergarten – 19 years of age children and youth,” her letter says. “That age group is already within the school system, and through the operational data collected from families and youth, it could be determined if indeed this model will work.

“Starbright could be issued a separate service agreement, with the additional required funding to eliminate our waitlist, for the same length as the Family Connection Centre issuance, while it continues as the hub it has been to serve the needs of the youngest most vulnerable citizens.”

She has yet to hear back from government.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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