B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development was in Penticton on a fact finding mission on Wednesday.
While in town, Stephanie Cadieux (MLA Surrey-Cloverdale) made several stops, including one at the OSNS Child Development Centre.
As well as touring the facility, the minister also sat down with new executive director Manisha Willms and recently-elected OSNS board president Tyler Chick.
“I’m taking this opportunity to tour some of my MCFD offices and service providers in Penticton and give them a chance to tell us what they do well and what they’re proud of and, as well, talk about some of the challenges they’re facing,” said Cadieux. “I know from the perspective of the centre we’re visiting here today, certainly the challenges are similar to other parts of the province. There’s lots of kids we want to be able to provide service for and there are always challenges meeting the demand.”
The centre offers a range of early intervention programs for children developmentally at risk from new borns to kindergarten year.
The minister added, like similar facilities, the work done by the Penticton office is invaluable.
“Child development centres really help the children get the best start in life and learn to cope with a disability if they have one but also to grow and develop,” said Cadieux. “It is also really important for families to know the support is there, to be able to talk to people who understand.
“It’s really about the sense that people get that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
The minister, who is in a wheelchair herself, added it is necessary to remember while it may be the individual who has the disability, it impacts everyone around them.
“But as well as with the challenges, (there) are also the opportunities it presents to come together and build a sense of community, that’s welcoming,” she said. “The more we can do for children in the early years, even before they start school, we know pays off.
“Give them (children) a really good start and they’re likely to have more success as they go into adulthood.”
For her part, Willms was very happy with the opportunity to speak with the minister.
“It was such a positive meeting,” she said. “We were just so excited to be able to showcase our services to that level of government. They just seemed so positive about what we are doing.”
Willms added the challenges discussed included the historic and ongoing shortfall in operating costs and continuing the current integrated preschool program combining children with developmental disabilities and typically-developing kids.
Educating the general public about the value of the service and the dividends it pays down the road in cost savings in the areas of schooling, health and social costs was also addressed.
Joining Cadieux at the centre was Penticton MLA Dan Ashton, who is also a member of B.C.’s finance and government services committee.
As a part of the task force, he is currently visiting a number of communities throughout the province to put together a prospectus that will help formulate the 2014 budget.
“I was ecstatic that the minister could come up and have a look, and specifically the OSNS and some of the challenges they face,” said Ashton, who was a board member when the centre first began. “The finances are definitely one of the issues and this (meeting) is the thing we need to hear because it will give direction for the future budget but the trick is we’re going to have to keep that balance.”
Willms expressed her appreciation for the local MLA’s help in having the centre’s voice heard at the provincial level.