Some Surrey parents are once again speaking out about reduction in support worker hours for their children – something they’re saying is becoming a “yearly struggle.”
Rebecca Kiesewetter has two sons who go to school in South Surrey, and initially, both of their support worker hours were cut. She appealed both and they have since been reinstated.
She called it a “blanket reduction of support hours.”
According to the district, “In planning for the fall, and throughout the following school year, the case manager, in consultation with members of the educational team, completes a thorough evaluation of student needs. This evaluation is then shared with district staff, who determine hours based on each student’s specific needs.”
The district adds that these needs are “evaluated regularly with supports adjusted in accordance with students’ needs throughout the school year.”
Kiesewetter said the allocated hours are “not lining up with the needs assessments that have been sent in.”
For her oldest son, who is going into Grade 7 in the fall, she was told the district would “need to review further.”
“This is a child who has severe anxiety and aversion to unfamiliar people. (He) only learns from his ABA support worker, is not able to communicate when stressed. He’s verbal, but when he’s with unfamiliar people and he’s under any kind of stress, he’s not able to communicate his needs.”
Kiesewetter said the reductions seem to be “age-related.”
“Autism is lifelong… and not everyone is able to become independent. Every parent wants more than anything for their child to be independent. It hurts even more so when you have to say, ‘My kid isn’t independent and I don’t know if he ever will be.’ That’s the reality that you have as your child grows, you have to get closer and closer to accepting that that may not be the case for everyone,” she said.
“If my children actually were able to achieve independence, I would be the first one celebrating, saying, ‘Yes, please, take these hours back. We’ve done it. We’ve made it.’”
But she said “this isn’t unique to my family.”
Lama Alsaafin said the hours for her son, 12-year-old Ahmad (Moodi) Awad, were also initially reduced for the upcoming school year. She appealed and they’ve also been reinstated.
“It’s a yearly struggle,” Alsaafin said. “It’s a stress that I have to address every single year.”
Alsaafin said part of the criteria for having support workers is a child being non-verbal. Moodi, she said, is non-verbal.
“His needs are very obvious. He’s not one of those Autistic kids that parents need to address their concerns because there are underlying issues, things that are hidden, teachers and school administrators cannot see. For my son’s case, it’s very clear.”
Alsaafin said she was told the initial reduction in hours was “a mistake,” but “as a mother, I don’t believe it’s a mistake.
South Surrey mom Juliane Khadra said it is “unacceptable” that parents of kids with special needs have to fight every year for the support hours.
This year, Khadra is reliving the same ordeal she went through two years ago to have the district reinstate 30 minutes per day of support that was to be cut from her son Liam’s allocation for the 2018-2019 school year.
Any time without support poses not just a threat to Liam’s progress at school as a student with autism, but also to his safety, as he has a life-threatening heart condition and is a flight risk, Khadra said.
While Khadra won her 2018 fight, and didn’t have hours cut for the current school year, she was exasperated to learn that she would have to fight anew this year – as Liam heads into Grade 7 at White Rock Elementary – despite the fact that Liam’s assessment information hasn’t changed.
“Just the whole process is extremely painful, especially at this time,” Khadra said, referring to the pandemic.
“It has to be changed, this cannot go on.
“They do have enough budget, that’s what upsets lots of parents as well,” Khadra added, citing savings that must have been realized during the past months’ school closures.
“Why does it have to come to our kids? Do our special kids matter at all?”
Surrey School Superintendent Jordan Tinney told the Now-Leader said that every year the district goes through an analysis, so that means “any given year, there always are students who will have reductions.”
He acknowledged it can be “very difficult” for parents and their children.
“Also as a system, right, we want students to move to independence and as they get older and move toward independence, often we also peel back on the hours slowly and in a thoughtful way so that they can continue to receive support.”
Tinney said everything “goes back to the needs assessment.”
“You literally have to go down to the individual stories because every child is unique. It really is true, especially when it comes to children with special needs.”
Tinney said the district put an addition $7.3 million into the educational assistant budget.
“But that doesn’t mean that every parent will receive, every child will receive the same amount of hours and it doesn’t mean that some children may not have a reduction in their hours.”
While both her sons’ support workers have been reinstated, Kiesewetter said there are still other parents waiting to hear back.
“There’s inconsistency; some parents have had no response, some parents have been told they’re waitlisted and some parents have been told they’re being reviewed.”
She said there seems to be a lot of parent advocacy required “in order to ensure the supports are put in place.”
“If I had said nothing, my son wouldn’t have his hours back.”
But Kiesewetter added that not all parents may know they can advocate or have the ability to.
“It takes so much effort out of you to advocate, so not everybody’s in a place to do it,” she said. “Somebody might not even know that that’s not the final word necessarily.”
– With files from Tracy Holmes