Year in Review: Gaps in systems for special needs big news

It is never long before the problems surrounding the area's special needs children become part of the conversation.

When discussing education in the Cowichan Valley it is never long before the problems surrounding the area’s special needs children become part of the conversation.

Early in the year, a mother approached the Citizen to talk about her situation.

Jenelle Pavlin’s daughter was slipping through the cracks in her Cowichan Valley public school and sliding towards an uncertain future — just one of the special needs students the public school system was failing.

“I’m frustrated,” Pavlin said later before she finally made a decision to pull her daughter from the mainstream system in favour of home schooling. “I’m at the point where no one is listening. I want to educate the public about how hard it is to get help.”

“I’ve waited three years, gone to multiple meetings with the school and with doctors and psychiatrists and all these agencies.

“It’s all about trying to get help for my child at school: a support system put into place, an IEP [individual education plan], and some assistance. It’s about trying to get a chronic health designation, and the wait list and how things keep happening to set you back another year,” she said.

Pavlin wasn’t alone in recognizing a problem.

It’s the kind of story that’s all too familiar to Susan Stacey, occupational therapist (OT) for School District No. 79.

She’s served in her position for more than 22 years, and urged the school board in the spring to take action quickly to help Valley children like Pavlin’s daughter who can’t get help.

School-age therapy has been around for a very long time, with the Cowichan district a progressive voice in the province, she said.

But, as with many other areas of public education, her own workload has increased steeply in the last two decades from 32 students in 1994 to 355 in 2015.

Stacey was concerned that in the Cowichan Valley’s public schools, students with OT-related needs wait far too long for OT support.

“I tried calculating that and it’s mind-boggling when you start going through the numbers. Some students have waited 10 years for service,” she told trustees.

Teachers, too, admitted seeing problems in their classrooms.

Class size and composition is huge when talking about special needs children, and those “grey area” students not yet designated as needing specific help can skew the numbers, Cowichan District Teachers Association president Naomi Nilsson reported to the school board at a spring time meeting.

“One of my colleagues that I taught with is now teaching Grade 7. He has seven designated kids in his class and there are three more on a wait list. And, because they are Grade 7, he is hoping they will get designated by the end of the year,” she said. “Grade 8 will see them leaving elementary school. When you suspect that a child will get a designation down the road, you put them on a wait list. I was talking to another teacher who has actually placed a student on a wait list in Grade 2 and, in Grade 6, that student had still not been designated,” she said.

But young children with special needs were not the only ones in the news in 2015.

In July, Valley mom, Sandra Anderson, brought her story to the Citizen.

She was desperately worried because her son, Kody, caught in a no man’s land between high school and adulthood, had seen his lifestyle change from busy to barren just because he’d turned 19.

Kody has Down Syndrome and is developmentally aged eight to 10, meaning “he could never be left on his own; he has lots of needs,” she shared.

But the active young man still has a great zest for life, according to his mom.

She described a typical day in the school year he’d just finished.

“He’d get up and take the bus to Cow High where he’d be in school all day. They’d swim, do very active recycling, wood work, P.E., things like that. Then, after school, he’d get on the bus and go over to the Clements Centre for their after-school program. He’d do that until 5:30 p.m. in the evening four days a week. Some days he would go from there and he would either go to bowling or other sports with Special Olympics. He was very, very busy, very much in the community,” she said.

Programs available through places like the Clements Centre and Providence Farm that offer a variety of activities from working in a kitchen to gardening, and fun like bowling and yoga are either not always appropriate for special needs adults or are already full, Anderson said.

Others in the Valley, heard Anderson’s call for help and a push began to secure funding for a support program for young special needs adults in the Cowichan Valley.

A big rally was held in downtown Duncan in August to raise awareness about the problems facing young adults with special needs. It attracted many supporters, including school trustees and Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley.

Following that, SandiLea Gibson and Adam Clutchey said they were excited about building on the success of the rally.

“We were trying to think of something to gather the troops together and it was great,” Clutchey said.

From the size of the turnout, the issue is striking a chord with Valley residents.

“It’s huge. It has been for years,” Gibson said. “Recently, we finally realized there’s no way we can allow this to slip onto the back burner,” she continued.

They and others have formed a group called the Next Step Outreach Day Program Society. Clutchey, a special needs teaching assistant, and Gibson, who runs the cafeteria at Cowichan Secondary School, are sharing the job of president of the society.

The aim is simple: start running programs for special needs young adults in the Cowichan Valley between the ages of 19 -30.

As the year ended, they were still working on getting the project going.

Gibson, who has worked with special needs youth in her cafeteria before, knows there are many ways to provide some useful activity for young people like Kody.

Clutchey is modest about his contribution, saying he just spread the word through Facebook but Gibson is blunt.

“He has been absolutely crucial. Of course, we are a team, but Adam got our butts on fire.”

Thinking up ideas for programs was pretty simple. But, getting the money together is tough and the group is hoping Routley will add his muscle to the effort.

Routley knows about the problems of caregivers first hand because he has a grandchild with autism. He came out and spoke passionately at the rally in Duncan, offering his support.

“He won’t stop until he gets somewhere with this,” Clutchey said.

However, the provincial budget is tight and many programs simply don’t get funding anymore.

Gibson said she is worried about these “sudden” adults.

“For so many of them, life stops,” Gibson said. “I can tell you how many kids who worked at Cow High with me in the caf are just walking the streets now. It’s terrifying really that there’s no place for them to go because they are not needy enough.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There still has been no arrests and the investigation is ongoing into the deaths of Nellie Williams and Fran Shurie on Christmas Eve, 2019. Police are asking for the public’s assistance in solving the crime. This memorial, located near Trunk Road and Canada Avenue where the crime occurred, still stands at the site of the double homicide. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Investigation continues into Duncan double murder

Police ask anyone with information on Christmas Eve, 2019, crime to contact them

An Island Health graph showing COVID-19 cases in the central Island by local health area between Dec. 27 and Jan. 23. (Island Health image)
Central Island’s COVID-19 case spike shifting, says Island Health

Cowichan Valley has seen the highest number of cases, but Nanaimo and south Island seeing upticks

Extensive water on No. 4 and 5 at the Mount Brenton Golf Course following heavy rains earlier this month. (Photo submitted)
Mount Brenton Golf Course does a booming business in 2020

A total of 15,000 more rounds played than the previous year

The memorial site for double-murder victims Nellie Williams and Fran Shurie, located in Charles Hoey Park, will be allowed to stay for another two months after the City of Duncan changed its policy on temporary memorials. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Duncan allows temporary memorials to stay longer

Policy change related to memorial for double-homicide victims in city park

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Most Read