Community Connections will close the East Kootenay Behaviour Intervention Program in June amid mounting costs. Source: Facebook

Fernie women step in to save autism program

Branch Out Learning and Behaviour Therapy to replace EK Behaviour Intervention Program in June

A program that supports families and the needs of their autistic children will cease to exist in the East Kootenays next month amid mounting costs.

Earlier this month, families received a letter explaining that the East Kootenay Behaviour Intervention Program will end due to a worksite closure. The last day of operations is set for Friday, June 28.

The letter further explained that they are unable to cover their overhead costs and despite advocacy to the Province, the funding model will remain unchanged.

Families with children on the autism spectrum currently receive a certain amount of provincial funding from the Autism Funding Unit to help support the therapy their child will need.

The behaviour intervention program, provided by umbrella agency Community Connections and largely driven by parents, has provided services to children diagnosed on the autism spectrum since 2011.

“But in that funding model, there’s no room for facility costs,” said Community Connections Assistant Director Kim Levie. “Our program is amazing, I have nothing but great things to say about the program and about our staff, but it’s just about the funding model. We just cannot cover the costs.”

Levie said they are not the only child development centre in the province; there are others that also follow the same funding model.

“Many agencies are having the same discussions but the Province isn’t willing to look at it as facility-based, or create a separate model for a facility-based program,” she said.

The EK Behaviour Intervention Program is one of many programs that Community Connections provides to the East Kootenay region. There are two locations for the program – one in Fernie and one in Cranbrook.

When they started the program, it was attended by just two children. They now service 73 families. Levie hopes the families can continue to receive the strong support that they need.

Shortly after the letter was sent out, two employees of Community Connections issued a release with a newly formulated plan of action to help continue services for children and their families.

In light of the closure, they have decided to create their own private service, which they hope will allow services to continue for the families they previously supported.

Behaviour Consultant and Clinical Adviser, Simone Bourassa, and Regional Senior Behaviour Interventionist Tabitha Simson are two of four behaviour interventionists that work in Fernie, alongside three other staff in Cranbrook.

In Fernie, the program is currently run out of Max Turyk and in Cranbrook, the Child Development Centre.

Bourassa started as a behaviour interventionist in the Elk Valley about 15 years ago. Working alone, she drove 1000km a week, going from house to house. She didn’t have anywhere to prep her work or a support system, aside from a supervisor in Kelowna.

When she started with Community Connections Society, Bourassa says she discovered the benefits of working in a centre-based behaviour intervention service. She thinks it’s important for staff and very valuable to children, and families.

Bourassa says it provides amazing education opportunities for children to develop their social and play skills, while staff have a support network; each other.

“With the pending closure of the East Kootenay Behaviour Intervention Program, such an immense need in these communities, Tabitha and myself didn’t hesitate to establish a plan and develop a new program,” said Bourassa. “So that is Branch Out Learning and Behaviour Therapy.”

“We’re really passionate about what we do and we really care about these families, and our communities and the children. I couldn’t see the program just dissolving and melting away. I couldn’t sleep at night,” she added.

The funding for the program will remain the same, at least on a provincial level. Bourassa and Simson, however, will be paying out of pocket for all startup costs associated with Branch Out.

That being said, the two explained they will be hosting some fundraisers and will need the community’s support in order to offset some of these overhead costs.

They plan to continue to provide the same level of care, support and community-minded behaviour intervention services under a new, more viable framework.

They will also be focusing on ‘branching out’ their service model to provide inclusive summer camps, open to all children in the community, as well as behaviour intervention training programs, special interest groups and expanding on connecting kids through specific interests.

As a registered autism service provider with Autism Community Training, Bourassa will be working to provide workshops and community education sessions.

The group hopes that the transition from the EK Behaviour Intervention Program to Branch Out will be seamless.

“The Behaviour Intervention Program plans to close June 28; we would like to open June 29,” said Bourassa.

The group hopes to continue at the same locations in both Fernie and Cranbrook. They will be inviting any previous staff members to transition to the new Branch Out program.

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