There is still much uncertainty regarding the future of Kelowna’s Starbright Children’s Development Centre and what its potential closure may mean for the families that rely on its specialized services.
Although Starbright has received transitional funding from the province to remain open until the end of June, what happens after that is unclear.
“We’re heartbroken,” said Dr. Rhonda Nelson, executive director. “Our agency has been a hub of services for decades, and we know how to structure services to meet the needs of children.”
Part of Starbright’s mission statement is to “…support the growth and development of children with exceptional developmental needs through early intervention services and empower their families…”
That mission is now in jeopardy after the provincial government changed its service model supporting neurodivergent children and their families.
It has moved away from an individualized funding model for families to a needs-based community hub model.
Pilot programs for Family Connection Centres (FCCs) will serve the Central Okanagan (Kelowna), and three other regions in the spring, with province-wide implementation set for 2024.
Starbright submitted a request for proposals months ago to become one of those FCCs.
“We were aware that with such a massive change we needed to put forward a workable proposal that would be something that the province could consider,” added Nelson.
It was Jan. 5 this year that Starbright learned the contract for the FCC was awarded to Arc Programs.
“This has been very upsetting to families and Starbright staff,” said Nelson. “They’re extremely worried.”
One of her major concerns if Starbright were to close, is support and services for children up to six years old, especially as they transition to the school system.
“To grow the best that they possibly can, to acquire the skills that they will need.”
Starbright provides services for babies to school-aged children, while the FCC model includes all children and youth to 19 years old. She suggested the solution could be a twinning of services, an FCC for kids up to six and another for those six and older.
“That solution has been posed by different groups, by families, by other service providers, so we’re hoping.”
Parent Mohini Singh, who is also a city councillor, is a staunch supporter of Starbright.
The organization provided support for her daughter 17 years ago when she was five.
“The intensive work they did helped my daughter, helped me, helped my family. In a year she started going to kindergarten,” she explained.
Singh added she was shocked to learn Starbright is likely closing.
“A lot of parents are going through a lot of anxiety. This centre is truly a lifesaver.”
Over the years Singh, along with other community members and groups, including the Kelowna Professional Firefighters Association, have raised funds for Starbright to cover the cost of equipment and other items not provided through provincial funding.
“When I turn to anybody to ask for support for Starbright, no question because this centre does such good work,” she added. “We bought into the success of Starbright.”
Nelson has invited Premier David Eby to visit Starbright to see the support and services it provides to families.
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