Estimates - DCRE (16 May 2006)


From Human Services Committee Hansard
16 May 2006

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Department of Community Resources

Mr. D'Autremont: — Thank you, Madam Chair. I would like to welcome the minister and his officials here today. We also believe that the civil servants working within the department work very hard at their jobs and do a good job with what they have to work with.

I think a lot of people though across Saskatchewan have a great deal of difficulty though with the policies being put forward and the manner in which the government wants them implemented when it comes to social services. And because of that, we have questions that we need to ask of the minister and the department in relationship to those policies and how they’re being implemented. While those questions should not reflect on the performance of the people working within the department, rather they reflect on the inadequacies of the government.

So, Mr. Minister, one of the issues of concern in my area, in Cannington constituency, deals with the residential school known as the Glenn McGuire School in Oxbow. This is a residential school for people that are severely handicapped. Most of them are in wheelchairs. They attend the Glenn McGuire School even though that they don’t normally reside in that community. Rather they are resident within the community of Oxbow at the school during the week — Monday to Thursday — arriving Monday morning and going home Friday afternoon.

Up until now they have received some support from social services, I believe, in aiding with that area. At the present time the school board along with the Department of Learning is proposing to build a new school in Oxbow. That will mean the elimination of the current Glenn McGuire School. The teaching aspect of it will be incorporated into the new school.

From my understanding of the people in the community that the Glenn McGuire School will cease to operate as a school this coming fall. Yet the parents with children in that school don’t wish that to happen. They’re looking for avenues of support from government to support that particular residential component of the schooling.

Does DCRE [Department of Community Resources and Employment] offer support for children who are in those kind of circumstances and not resident in their home community and not resident with their parents?

Hon. Mr. Belanger: — Thank you very much for the question. One of the points that I want to raise before I ask Ms. West to respond to you is that, as you are aware, there are things that we always have to be cognizant of in terms of trying to make Saskatchewan a very caring, compassionate province. And in keeping with the Premier’s theme of no one left behind on the path to opportunity, one of the key responsibilities that we have as a minister is to ensure that the people that have some challenge of some sort, whether it’s a disability or some other problem area, that we look at them and certainly try and incorporate them and provide to them a quality-of-life service and then to work very closely with them. And to also above everything else is to respect them.

So we have first and foremost on our mind trying to make sure that the people with special challenges and needs in our province are not forgotten. And we will continue having them first and foremost in many of the decisions and some of the discussions that we have in the department. I’m going to ask Ms. West to elaborate on your specifics, and then we go to the next question.

Ms. West: — Yes, good afternoon. Betty West, community living division. We are certainly aware of this situation in Oxbow. And our staff have been working with the families and with Learning as part of their strategy to make some changes to the Glenn McGuire School.

In any circumstance where we’re working with families, we look at what the needs of that child are and what the needs and wishes and desires of the family are, and try to bring to that some choice in terms of resources that might be available to those families. I’m not familiar with the exact circumstances of all of the children and youth in that school and what the planning is, but I do know that we bring to those families what we bring to other families in the province.

And some of those options are some supports in the home if that’s indeed still an option for that family, or if they have family members who may be living close enough to that school that their children can continue to access it. We also will look at out-of-home placements if the families desire that and if service providers are available to them.

Mr. D’Autremont: — Well under the current circumstances there, the service providers are in place at present. I believe that there is between 8 and 12 children currently resident in the Glenn McGuire School. Or at least I think about eight are resident and there’s an additional four from within the community that attend the school, you know.

So the facility is there. The people are there. They wish to continue to provide that service. There was a public meeting there I think about 10 days to two weeks ago. The parents that were there certainly wanted the service to continue. And yet with the changes on the school boards, that has become a problem. And the parents were told initially that with the amalgamation of school boards, that that wouldn’t engender any change of programs within the system. And yet the amalgamations took place on January 1, and the school was slated for closure this coming fall with the discontinuation of the residential portion of the program.

If the children were still resident in the community, they could access the Glenn McGuire School on a one-day-at-a-time sort of a thing. Those that were not resident in that community though however had to access a school in their own location, which up until now hasn’t had the facilities to provide that service. So the parents’ concern is that if the residential component is discontinued, then how do those children continue to attend the school in Oxbow and receive the benefits of staff that have been in place for a long time? This school’s been operating for 35 years now so that’s . . . I mean the staff hasn’t all been there for 35 years. But the staff is in place. They understand the needs and how to deal with children with those circumstances.

The community itself is used to having these children within their environment and are used to dealing with them and recognize them as important contributors to the entire social structure in the Oxbow area.

The children on the playground are used to them and so it’s not a strange atmosphere either side from the people from Glenn McGuire or from the other students in the school. So it’s a comfortable environment for everyone.

The parents that I’ve talked to feel this is a very worthwhile program for their children. In fact is there’s this one lady that is concerned that this school gives the rural special children of Saskatchewan a safe place to learn and they fit in. In some cases the only friends these children have ever known are the other children in their school.

So it’s a special place for these children and it looks like they need some support from Learning certainly. And Learning will allow the school to continue to take place. The problem is the residential component. From that aspect though, there is a need for this department to participate with the parents to ensure that that opportunity’s available for them.

Ms. West: — Yes, just to respond again to your question. Certainly, I mean, as you have stated, the plan in Oxbow is for the closure of the residential part of that school. And that’s something that, a decision that was made by the school board and folks involved in the education field.

For this department, our responsibility is working with the families and the children or youth who are attending that school who are not resident of that community, and assisting that family in finding some options that work for them, whether that is attending school somewhere else or whether it’s trying to support them residentially in the community of Oxbow. And that’s the responsibility that we have and are working with those families to do that.

Mr. D’Autremont: — If there was a group home circumstance, and Redvers has a number of group homes for adults. And I’m not sure if there are different rules and regulations when it deals with children because these children are generally ranging in age from 10 to 12 up to, I think it is 21 or 22. If they were in a group home circumstance, what kind of support would DCRE offer them?

Ms. West: — Children who are below the age of 18, generally speaking, are not in group homes in the province. Our strategy as a department has been to support families to continue to care for their children at home in their home communities.

When youth reach the age where many youth are planning to leave home at 18 or 21 or 22, for people in that age range or older, the group home services that are available are needs generally that are identified by communities. And they may be group homes that can support three or four or six people. And as you mentioned, there are some in Redvers and there are also some in Estevan, in that part of the country.

Now we have not, to my knowledge to this date, been approached by that community for a group home development there, to my knowledge.

Mr. D’Autremont: — Under a group home type of situation . . . I know that children leave home at various ages, sometimes sooner than we want. And is there a bottom age limit when a child leaves home that DCRE provides support for them or doesn’t provide support? So if they left home at the age of 14, would DCRE provide financial assistance for them to be resident in some other location?

Ms. West: — Our first strategy is to try to support that child in the family home and that youth in the family home. We do not have a specific age limit that says anyone below a certain age cannot access a group home but it’s certainly not generally the preference. It’s not the preference of families and it’s certainly not our preference either. For the most part our young adults when they come into group homes are in the 21 and beyond age range. We have and our agencies have supported some young adults younger than that but very few.

Mr. D’Autremont: — Yes. In this particular case the parents believe that it’s in the best interests of their children that they have more of the group home during the school day; that if a circumstance, whatever it may be, happens during the school day they have their residence right there to be able to go back to for whatever necessities and reasons they may involve.

And over the period of time, the 35 years that this residence has been functioning, the parents that have been involved . . . And there was parents at the meeting that I attended that had had students in there and were no longer in there; they had gone on. And there was parents there that had current students in that school.

And the parents that were involved in this felt that this was the best solution for their child and their family, that this provided a learning experience that they hadn’t been receiving in their own home communities because the staff were not as familiar with the needs of these children and the other children in the school weren’t as familiar with the circumstances of that particular child. And so that’s why these parents feel that this is a valuable resource to have available for them and their children.

So I would like to encourage the department to work with the parents on this and see if some kind of a amiable solution can’t be found to work out with the parents, DCRE, and Learning and the school division to make this happen.

Hon. Mr. Belanger: — Yes, I would certainly encourage my officials to look into the matter and to report to your office as to the findings of that discussion, and some general direction as to what people are feeling that we need to go so we can take that direction fairly quickly.

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