A Surrey provincial court judge has ordered a couple with a family income of $131,000 to pay support for their severely autistic son while he’s in the provincial government’s care under a special needs agreement.
The director of child, family and community service applied for the order against the parents of the child. The parents and child’s name were not revealed by Judge Kathryn Ferriss, who granted the order on Feb. 13.
The court heard the parents first noticed there was something wrong when the boy, now 16, was two years old. He was diagnosed with autism a couple years later.
The teenager, who stands at six feet two inches tall and weighs 220 pounds, does not speak and uses an App on an iPad to communicate. After his diagnosis, the parents decided his mother would stay at home with him and the family has since relied on the father’s income.
When the boy turned 13, Ferriss noted, “certain behaviours began to surface.”
“He can have unpredictable behaviour and, while not being intentionally aggressive,” the judge said, his “attempts to get attention or initiate play have resulted in him striking or kicking people.
“He has broken things in the home and injured himself and his mother. As a result, he needs to have two caregivers at all times,” Ferriss noted in her reasons for judgment. The court heard the boy has injured school staff to the point some were put on workers’ compensation benefits.
The judge also noted that while there was funding for respite care, “finding appropriate caregivers was difficult.” The parents received money to hire staff on respite days but there are few trained to handle the teen’s behavioural issues and families in a similar situation are “competing for the better ones,” she said.
Sometimes respite workers failed to show up, leaving the mother alone with her son and on these occasions, his father told the court, he was fortunate to have an understanding boss who would let “race home” to help. Eventually the teen was placed under a special needs agreement and moved to a home with two staff members on hand at all times. The boy lives there four nights per week, and stays the other three with his parents, who buy all his clothing, and feed him for the days he’s with them.
His older sister, who is attending university full time, is not able to be at home when he’s there because he throws things at her and hits her. She is also not able to access the full amount of student loans on account of her dad’s salary, and as a result works five days a week to help support herself with her parents paying $100 weekly for her food, $6,000 each year for tuition and $500 for books. Because she’s over 19, the director argued, the daughter shouldn’t be considered a factor in determining the amount her parents should pay toward supporting her brother.
The court heard the father, age 51, has no RRSPs and has “liquidated his whole life” to support his son, spending roughly $100,000 on his needs.
“They tried everything – private autism school, neuropsychology – and ‘no stone went unturned,’” Ferriss noted. “They are struggling to make ends meet.”
She also noted the couple has “made many sacrifices” to accommodate their son’s needs, “often without relying on any government funding” and “have done everything humanly possible for two parents to do.”
The judge said the boy “was lucky to be born to such parents” and observed that “neither parent wants to lose their son.”
She found, however, that they do have the “capacity” to pay child support as proscribed in the director’s support tables, and set the amount at $936 per month starting in July, with $481 monthly until then, on a “temporary basis,” to arrange their finances and perhaps the mother can find work.
The director had asked for the payment to be $1,175 per month.
The court heard the mother has not worked for more than 12 years. She told the court she has not had physical control over her son since he was 12, and that he injured her “almost every day,” once hitting her very hard on the middle of her spine when she turned her back on him for a moment. He has also punched, kicked and bitten his father.
Despite that, the parents are adamant they don’t want to see him in the director’s care, and know of other parents with autistic children who are not required to pay child support to the director.
Ferriss said permanent planning is needed. “He will need support and assistance through Community Living BC, likely for life.”
“As the child is not in their physical care any longer, the parents are not eligible to receive the Child Tax Benefit or the BC Family bonus for the child,” Ferriss noted. “In this case, the parents are not eligible to receive the $500 per month Autism Funding and the child Disability Tax Credit either.”