One-time funding saves deaf preschool in Burnaby for one year

A one-time infusion of cash from the Ministry of Children and Family Development has saved a unique Burnaby preschool for deaf and hard of hearing children – for now.

The Deaf Children’s Society of B.C. runs a preschool at South Slope Elementary School.

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South Slope is also the elementary campus for the B.C. School for the Deaf.

What sets the Deaf Children’s Society program apart is that it is the only preschool in B.C. where kids are taught in both English and American Sign Language.

Earlier this month, however, the society announced funding cuts were threatening to shut the preschool down within two months.

After pushback from parents and the deaf community, including letters and an online petition that garnered 40,214 signatures, the Ministry of Children and Family Development announced last week it was providing $750,000 in one-time-only funding to the BC Family Hearing Resource Society, the organization that subcontracts the Deaf Children’s Society to provide services to some of the province’s deaf and hard of hearing children from birth to school-aged entry.

Deaf Children’s Society executive director Lisa Meneian said the funding infusion (a total of $230,550 for her organization) will allow the society to keep its preschool running for one more year.

“We’re committing to the year,” she said. “Of course, we’re back to the drawing board after that. This one-time funding does not mean everything is over. We need to continue to advocate and actually make sure that we’re moving forward as far as the government recognizing and accepting the language rights of deaf children.”

Meneian said the Deaf Children’s Society will still have to cut services, but at least the preschool can stay open for now.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development signed a contract with the BC Family Hearing Resource Society in 2015 to take responsibility for services to the province’s deaf and hard of hearing kids from birth to school-aged entry.

Demand for those services has increased by about 40% since then, but the funding has never gone up.

That has meant less money for two organizations (The Deaf Children’s Society and the Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre of BC) that used to get their funding directly from the ministry but now get it from BC Family Hearing Resource Society.

Meneian estimates it would take a total annual budget of $5.5 million to bring B.C.’s early intervention services for deaf and hard of hearing kids up to international best practices.

Currently, that budget is about $2.5 million, according to Meneian.

The ministry said it is looking into it.

“This is one important step as we continue to work together to better understand all of the issues in serving this community,” read an emailed statement after the $750,000 in one-time funding was announced. “Demand for services for children who are deaf and hard of hearing has grown significantly in the past decade, and these ongoing pressures are being considered as part of the development of our child and youth with special needs service framework.”

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