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‘Bit of a band-aid’: Starbright contract extended two years

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After a month of parents and staff desperately trying to stop the closure of the Starbright Children’s Development Centre, the Ministry for Children and Family Development has extended its contract for another two years.

A rally was held in Kelowna, B.C. Saturday morning, celebrating the extension, and also fighting to keep the centre open permanently.

“When you’re organizing this sort of thing you don’t really know what the uptake is. But we’ve had so many people join our group, signing petitions and we just knew the community was behind us,” said Amy Johnston, rally organizer and Support Starbright founder.

The extension was confirmed late Friday evening and on the surface, it appears to be a huge win for Starbright, but it’s also being looked at as a temporary solution for an inevitable problem.

“It is a bit of a band-aid as we will be running parallel to the FCC (Family Connection Centres) pilot, but it does give an opportunity for some of our waitlists to be addressed, and the FCC to see if they can handle the complex cases that we have. Although we are going to be regrouping and looking at what our next asks are,” said Carol Meise, Starbright Children’s Development Centre board chair.

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Click to play video: 'Rally planned for Saturday morning in an effort to save the Starbright Children’s Development Centre in Kelowna'

Rally planned for Saturday morning in an effort to save the Starbright Children’s Development Centre in Kelowna

The fight to keep Starbright open has caught the attention of BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon, who urged premier David Eby to visit the centre after he was invited by Starbright staff.

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Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield says the extension is only a temporary solution.

“Really it’s not enough, it’s unnecessary trauma that this community is experiencing right now, having that support threatened,” said Merrifield.

The new system created by the government is called Pilot Family Connection Centres and is for children ages zero to 18 in four B.C. communities including Kelowna.

Ultimately this would end the ministry’s contract with Starbright. It would be given to ARC Programs, which is a private company that will contract out services to other private companies and non-profit organizations.

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Parents are hoping Starbright and ARC can co-exist.

“I’m actually excited that there could be a new centre in town, but I want it to be building on the experience and the systems we already have in place not tearing it down,” said Johnston.

“We need to have more. There are kids who are falling through the cracks. It’s not about trying to do something new, it’s about figuring out what’s working and building to make it even better.”

The announcement to extend Starbright’s services came as a surprise to many parents, making some feel like there was a major lack of communication from the Ministry leaving some parents in the dark.

“There’s been no direct outreach with the parents and when you’re dealing with children who are higher needs, consistency and having a plan is the most important thing. You’re building on months and months if not years, of work,” Johnston said.

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Parents and staff involved with Starbright say they will continue to fight to keep the centre open in the community.

The centre has helped children like 9-year-old Ania, who has now finished with Starbright and is hoping it will be here for other children.

“A lot of kids here need Starbright and if Starbright is shut down then they won’t have anywhere to go or anyone to help them,” said Ania.