Province boosts funding for early intervention programs

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Karen Casey at podium

The provincial government had good news this week for workers in early intervention programs.

Karen Casey, Nova Scotia’s education and early childhood development minister, announced increased support to improve access.

Casey says spending on services and programs will increase by $2.6 million over three years. Early intervention programs are services for young children diagnosed with, or at risk of, developmental delay.

The programs support children and their families from the time the child is born, to when they go to school. Across the province, the government funds 17 non-profit organizations delivering early intervention programs.

The review, released Tuesday, includes recommendations to hire more interventionists, increase salaries, improve access to all communities and raise awareness.

“We’re all very excited. It’s been a long time coming,” says Erin Jolly, executive director of the Cumberland Early Intervention Program.

“Across the province, we’ve been advocating for many, many years to address things like the wait lists, funding levels and salaries. So this is kind of the first time a government has taken a serious look at early intervention.”

Barb Crouse, executive director of Valley Child Development, near Kentville, says the government worked with these programs in putting together the review. She says it’s starting to feel like the government is listening, and understanding the importance of the early years.

Currently, some programs have wait times of more than a year before interventionists can meet with a child and their family. In those cases, children may be too old by the time help is available.

To address this, Casey says the government will immediately hire new interventionists.

“We’re looking at probably 10 to up to 15 or 16 new interventionists being hired (across the province), but that will depend on the number we need to respond to the wait lists.”

The immediate next step is for the government to work with the programs to confirm current wait lists. Cumberland is one of the areas Casey noted with a high wait time.

Jolly expects her program will receive funding to hire new staff within the next two months. She estimates they would need one full-time and one part-time staff member to reduce their current wait list.

Funding is also on the way to address low salaries among early interventionists. The average salary in Nova Scotia for these positions is $32,000. Comparatively, the average salary in other provinces with similar programs is $39,400.

The review also included the intention to improve awareness and access of these programs to all communities, including First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities.

Kim Elliott, executive director of the Institute for Human Services Education in Truro, says increased support will help this.

“We’ve always had a good relationship with First Nations, and any of our community partners … again, more bodies on the ground, means that perhaps we can do more, we can serve a different population, or serve First Nations populations better.”