The Government of Nova Scotia has betrayed its promise by placing young disabled children into institutions
For 20 years, governments in Canada have promised to close residential institutions for disabled children and replace them with appropriate services so that children could continue to live with their families, form healthy attachments and attend inclusive school settings. Following a documentary expose in 2013, the government of Nova Scotia renewed its commitment to closing such institutions.
Yet this week, ground was broken for a residential institution in Sydney River, Cape Breton which would house autistic children as young as 2 years of age, away from their families 24 hours a day. The Province appropriated $1.2 million towards the segregated home for disabled children.
The Nova Scotia Government has broken its promise to the families of Nova Scotia. In its Roadmap for Choice, released in 2013, the Government set a ten-year timeframe for closing residential institutions and clearing waitlists for supportive housing and community living.
If the Government claims to be committed to closing all residential institutions by 2023, then why is it building new ones?
Disability rights advocates and families have been fighting for decades to close residential institutions, and in April 2019, the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia sent an open letter to Premier Stephen MacNeil demanding that all such institutions be closed. This is being echoed by even more families in this time of COVID-19, because disabled Nova Scotians living in congregate care facilities are in danger of catching COVID-19 or are unable to visit with their parents and family members due to the threat of COVID-19.
Shamefully, 80% of federal funding for autistic and intellectually disabled people’s housing is still being allocated for segregated institutions. What families need is support for children to live with their families and independent living (apartments, in the community) for disabled adults. Building new residential institutions like this breaks the government’s promise to end the era of segregated residential institutions.
A recent decision by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry ruled that the institutionalization of disabled people is harmful and discriminatory. The construction of a new group home for autistic and intellectually disabled children is a colossal step backward. The fact that children as young as two years old will be living there is particularly obscene.
It doesn’t matter how many measures they take to address sensory overload, and it doesn’t matter how many Superman or Bob the Builder decorations they include. An institution by any other name is still an institution. It is not home for these children, and they need to be home.
Families want to keep their children at home, but all too often they are not given adequate supports to do so, so they turn to institutions like this. These institutions lead to a lifetime of segregation and isolation for the residents. Disabled children should remain with their families and have access to appropriate support services at home, and not live in residential institutions.
If the Government of Nova Scotia believes in honouring its promises and protecting the human rights of disabled children, it will halt construction of this project right now. It will make sure that future funding decisions that affect disabled Nova Scotians involve the full input of disability groups such as Autistics United Nova Scotia, Autistics for Autistics Atlantic Provinces, People First Nova Scotia and the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia-- and be based on the solid research about where disabled children should be living: at home and in their communities!
Our provincial government should immediately cease all funding for residential institutions for disabled people and re-direct said funds towards meaningful supports to keep children living at home and attending public schools with their non-disabled peers, and community-based living options for adults.
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