KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It often pays to speak up when you believe your Community Services caseworker isn’t treating you fairly. No matter how difficult and scary that is.
Just ask Kate. We wrote about Kate (not her real name) earlier. Her son Michael, who is autistic, is not fully toilet trained yet, but Community Services refuses to help her pay for diapers and wipes.
This time the issue is glasses. Michael needs them to see.
The problem is that Community Services was only willing to pay for one pair of glasses for Michael, without a warranty, and supposed to last two years. That was not realistic, Kate told her caseworker. Michael is an active five year old who is autistic. He will break a few before he gets the hang of it, she predicted.
Kate found out about a free program for kids offered by the Atlantic Superstore, got Michael a pair of glasses on her own, and sure enough, some two days later he came home from school with his glasses broken. Folks who administer the Early Intensive Behaviour Intervention (EIBI) program Michael is enrolled in were going to work with him, but it will take time before these efforts pay off, Kate says.
So, no glasses for Michael.
“I went down to Social Assistance, and asked to talk to somebody. But nobody came out. They are there to serve people that need help, and unfortunately we as a family need their help,” Kate says. “I wanted people to take the glasses and see that they are broken. I just wanted somebody to come and talk to me, I am a human being.”
Last week, many weeks after the glasses broke, Kate received a call from her caseworker, who told Kate that only option was to appeal the decision.
“We are begging for extra diapers and wipes, obviously I don’t have 200 extra dollars for a pair of glasses. That’s just common sense. I don’t understand what the problem is,” Kate told her caseworker. “That’s just the way it is, it’s policy,” was the response, according to Kate.
So Kate, who is fearless when it comes to standing up for her kids, appealed the decision, and she attached 13 letters written by professionals, paediatricians, daycare workers, social workers, and so on, all recommending that the department fork out the money for a pair of kids glasses with a warranty for Michael.
That all happened last week. She also called her MLA, and she contacted the tiny but mighty Nova Scotia Advocate. Yesterday afternoon we submitted a couple of questions about her case to the department.
“(Community Services) does have specific amounts in policy that staff adhere to when approving special needs items. While we can’t speak to specific cases, it should be noted that supervisors have the ability to conduct an administrative review and provide an amount above what is listed in policy in exceptional circumstances such as the one described,” responded Heather Fairbairn, media relations advisor for the department, early this afternoon.
Just about the time that email arrived in my inbox, Kate was getting a phone call from Community Services. The department issued a purchase order for two pairs of glasses for Michael, with warranty. When one pair breaks, Kate can get it fixed on warranty, and Michael still has the spare one to use.
“We’re a month into it, and now they are going to help us. I don’t understand these people,” says Kate. “Why do you have to do all these things before they will actually help? That doesn’t make any sense. They weren’t doing anything before you asked questions.”
This story has a happy ending, but you can’t help but wonder how many people would just have surrendered much earlier. There’s a lesson here for her fellow social assistance recipients, Kate believes. “People just should never give up.”
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