Several months after learning the government would not be renewing its contract, the Starbright Children’s Development Centre has finally had a chance to meet with the minister in charge.
“It was very critical, ” said Rhonda Nelson, Starbright’s executive director. “The minister is the first person, of course, within the sitting government that has actually met with us.”
Nelson along with Starbright board chair Carol Meise met with Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development, on Wednesday.
“I learned from them more about the details of the services and the families that they serve,” Dean said.
The pair was introduced as guests in the legislature by B.C. United MLA for Kelowna-Mission Renee Merrifield just ahead of question period.
“As you recall, Starbright is a non-profit children’s development centre serving families with children from birth to six,” Merrifield told the legislative assembly.
Starbright has been providing support services to children in need for 57 years.
However, the government opted to centralize those support services and in January announced it was ending its contract with Starbright.
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The government instead would create a pilot model that includes Family Connection Centres (FCC) in four communities.
One of those communities is Kelowna, where the FCC would provide services to children from birth to 18.
The news led to a public outcry, with parents fighting to keep the facility that focuses solely on early intervention.
The ministry reacted with a two-year contract extension but Starbright wants to provide the services for good.
“We’re absolutely listening to parents. We’re listening to advocates. We’re listening to stakeholders,” said Dean.
While Dean made no promises about keeping Starbright open, she told Global News that the new model will eventually be thoroughly reviewed.
“We’re going to be evaluating all of the pilots, family connection centers, and we’re going to be evaluating all of the procurement processes as well, which we’ve just gone through in the four pilot areas,” Dean said.
But the fear is that by the time that happens. it may be too late for Starbright.
“Evaluations take time. There’s lots of data to be gathered, lots of interviews to be held, however the government is going to do it,” Nelson said. “Whatever happens, Starbright wants to be here so that based on the results, we may continue to be the primary provider of services.”
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Nelson hopes the contract is extended until those evaluations can take place.
In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Children and Family Development said work is underway to possibly make that happen.
“We are working collaboratively with Starbright to further extend their contract with the same term as the pilot family connections centre contracts – three years with two one-year options for the Province to extend. For the Okanagan, this means more services for children and youth with support needs and their families, coming from both the FCC pilot as well as Starbright.”
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Nelson said one of the most encouraging developments from the meeting was the minister accepting an invitation to come to Kelowna and visit Starbright.
“We’ll be setting that up in the next few months…so I’m really happy to accept that invitation,” Dean said.
Last month, B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon toured the facility.
Starbright has yet to hear from the premier’s office whether Premier David Eby plans on accepting the invitation to visit the site.
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