No Cuts For Kids

Reinstate Early Interventions Funding for Alberta’s Children Now.

Please take one minute to voice your concerns and help ensure access to supports for children are put back in place this school year.

Alberta’s children and families are facing unprecedented challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Added to these stressors are UCP announcements to reduce funding for early education supports, including occupational therapy (OT) services, for children who are most at risk of being left behind.

We support equality for all children living in Alberta. OT services are essential for children with disabilities as they often require support to integrate successfully into classrooms and communities.

Let’s get early education funding reinstated. No child should be left behind!

What happened to the PUF Grants Program?

Program Unit Funding (PUF), which follows children through early education, will no longer apply to kindergarten students. The program was reduced to two years from a three-year model (now only available to children aged two years eight months to four years and eight months) Previously, children up to age five years and 11 months could qualify. Read More

Instead, the funding will be rolled into the new Specialized Learning Support Grant, which allocates money in a general envelope for the entire school.

The new Specialized Learning Support Grant will only support those children with severe disabilities or severe language delays. This means that many children with moderate delays in language and motor skills may no longer receive occupational therapy supports as they may not qualify for the Specialized Learning Support Grant.

The total amount of funding available for children who have a severe delay is now decreased because access to funding is based on how many hours of programming the child receives under this new model. Virtually no pre-Kindergarten aged children attend school for a full day resulting in substantially reduced funding available.

Child Assessments Only Available Privately

Under the new model, Alberta Health Services no longer provides families with assessments, forcing many early childhood operators to pay for private assessments. Some privately owned early childhood service providers have to find money in their existing budgets to pay for an assessment needed to determine PUF eligibility.

Deep Cuts Mean Fewer Children Receiving Help

In February of this year, the Alberta Government made changes in funding provided to the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) resulting in a 76 per cent drop in PUF for the school board, from $39 million this year to just $9.5 million moving forward. Where some 1,040 pre-kindergarten children were once served by the program, only 600 are now eligible to apply.

Funding Streams Even More Difficult for Families to Navigate 

Not only is less funding available through the PUF grant program, the new model will force families to navigate through three government ministries to try to find the funding they need. Read More

The Alberta Government has dissolved the Regional Collaborative Services Delivery (RCSD) that was created to help coordinate a number of services between the departments of Education, Health (including Alberta Health Services), Children’s Services and Community and Social Services.

Schools Now Decide Where Supports Dollars Will be Spent 

Alberta’s 61 school boards received $136 million less this school year compared to 2018-19, according to government documents obtained by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Read More

How does the Alberta Government plan to hold schools accountable for how the funding is spent? Schools were already struggling to make budgets work, especially with increased costs due to Covid-19. Schools have less funding for everything students need, including children with special needs.

Many therapist positions have been reduced or eliminated. There are now fewer therapists to serve a larger number of schools.

More Funding Given to Private Schools 

In 2020, the UCP cut PUF funding by 2 million and increased private school funding by 3 million. Alberta now has the highest per-capita funding of private schools in the country at 70 per cent of public school students, compared to 60 per cent in Quebec, 50 per cent in B.C. and Manitoba and zero percent in Ontario. Read More

Private schools have the ability to pick and choose their students and weed out applicants they don’t want, including children with special needs.

These subsidies directly deprive public school systems of much-needed funds that could be spent to ensure early childhood supports are in place.

Some Kids Will Fall Through the Cracks

Case 1 – Julie

Julie is 3 years, 8 months of age. She is diagnosed with a severe total language disorder and is accessing PUF under a code 47. After initial assessments with the learning team, it is becoming clear that Julie will benefit from further assessment to see if she meets the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD). In addition to her language disorder, Julie also: Read More

  • Shows decreased interest in her peers and lack of reciprocal interactions with others
  • Shows extremely restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests
  • Eats only a pureed food diet due to textual aversions
  • Is not toilet trained
  • Self-harms (by banging her head) during period of frustration
  • Is a flight risk in the classroom and at the playground
  • Engages in physically aggressive behaviours towards peers and staff (scratches, spits, hits, kicks etc.) when she cannot adequately express her needs and wants.

Julie requires the expertise of an OT to be on her learning team to be successful in her learning environment. The team explains to parents that a referral is necessary to determine if Julie meets the criteria for ASD. Parents are on board and speak to their physician about initiating this referral. However, the waitlist is 18 months long so Julie’s coding will remain as a code 47. Parents cannot afford to pay for a private diagnostic assessment.

Remaining coded 47, means that Julie will receive less funding dollars which will impact the frequency of visits from other professionals that she would benefit from intervention from (i.e. OTs, behavioral consultants etc.). Minister LaGrange has mentioned that funding amounts now reflect the actual needs associated with the different codes. This is untrue and Julie’s case is just one example of 100s (if not 1000s) of children across Alberta that will now not have their funding match their actual needs.

Case 2 – Jackson

Jackson has a moderate language delay. Unfortunately this is not the whole picture. He requires substantial support from an occupational therapist to function in a classroom setting. In addition to his language delay, Jackson also: Read More

  • Can’t perform any of his self-care tasks such as taking off his shoes or coat
  • Is not toilet trained and can’t feed himself with a spoon
  • Has several sensory differences which impact his ability to participate in classroom routines such as; not wanting to touch any sticky or messy textures during snack and project time, only eating a small variety of foods, and refusing to participate during music and gym because of significant sensory differences
  • Has severe fine motor delays. He is unable to use scissors, hold a pencil, or draw any shapes and often avoids project time completely.

Despite a high need for services and support to function in classroom routines, Jackson will receive no funding under the new model. New PUF eligibility changes remove the role of occupational therapists from coding children. What will happen to Jackson  and other children like him without occupational therapy support and access to funding?

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a type of health care that helps to solve the problems that interfere with a person’s ability to do the things that are important to them – everyday things like:

  • Self-care – getting dressed, eating, moving around the house,
  • Being productive – going to work or school, participating in the community, and
  • Leisure activities – sports, gardening, social activities. 

Occupational therapists, often called OTs, are the primary providers of occupational therapy services.  OTs are:

  • university educated professionals that apply their specialized knowledge and skills to recommend a course of preventive or corrective action that will help people lead more productive and satisfying lives,
  • trained to understand not only the medical and physical limitations of a disability or injury, but also the psychosocial factors that affect the functioning of the whole person – their health and their wellness, and 
  • a regulated medical profession; occupational therapists must be registered with their provincial regulator in order to practice legally in Canada.
How does Occupational Therapy help?

An occupational therapist will try to find out why a client cannot do what they would like or need to do.  An OT may check:

  • Your physical abilities like strength, balance and coordination
  • Your mental abilities like memory, coping strategies, organizational skills
  • What materials or devices you use to participate in activities like furniture, utensils, tools or clothes
  • What social and emotional support is available to you at home, school, work or in the community, and
  • The physical setup of your house, classroom, workplace or other environment

Depending on what the problem is, the occupational therapist can help you solve it by:

  1. Helping you overcome your disability. OTs do this by:
  • educating or instructing you on how to do things with the abilities you have – e.g. getting around your community in a wheelchair
  • suggesting activities that will help you improve or maintain the abilities you have – e.g. improving your coping strategies
  1. Adapting the materials you use.  OTs do this by changing the things you use:
  • around the house – e.g. a special key holder to make turning keys easier
  • in sports or leisure activities – e.g. a playing cards holder
  • at work or school – e.g. special tools that help prevent injury to hands and back
  • to take care of yourself – e.g. special bath or toilet seats
  • to get from place to place – e.g. car modifications such as one-handed steering wheels
  1. Recommending changes to the environments where you do your everyday activities. OTs do this by recommending that you:
  • change the physical layout of your workplace, home or school – e.g. lowering/raising desktops, countertops or cupboards
  • find out about the supports in your community – e.g. specialized public transportation
  • work with the people in your community – e.g. providing education about a disability to the teacher or employer
  • work with the government to encourage health living – e.g. request funding for special equipment

Through client-centred care, occupational therapists not only help overcome barriers but help prevent:

  • unnecessary hospital stays and readmissions
  • premature moves to a nursing home
  • work injuries due to poor workstation positioning and other organizational strains
  • school dropouts due to poor attention spans or reading and writing difficulties
  • unemployment among people with a developmental disability or a mental illness

There are several ways to help:

Share this with your network.

Together, our voice can make a difference!

Please take one minute to tell your MLA to bring back early education funding. You are free to add a few sentences or words to our message content or to re-write the message in your own words. You can also review and pull from the background information below.

Share why this issue matters to you personally.

  • Are you the parent of a child who will be impacted?
  • Are you a teacher with first-hand experience of how OTs have helped children in your school?
  • Do you believe the government should ensure access to the supports kids need to be successful at school and in the community?

Thank you for taking action for children and families in Alberta!

Action is Needed This School Year!

  1. Reinstate the Program Unit Funding (PUF) programming that is slated to be eliminated in the 2020-21 school year and maintain funding support for early childhood services (ECS) programming.
  2. Explore funding reallocation in consultation with service providers, schools and families prior to implementing program changes.

In the absence of OT support in ECS, children who are currently “at risk” are more likely to develop complex needs and face the reality of not being able to “catch up” to their same-aged peers. We define “at risk” children as those children experiencing physical, cognitive and/or emotional barriers to success.

OT services play an integral role in school classrooms and in ECS programs in particular.

We support all children to be independent and we work alongside teachers and other school staff in an inclusive school environment to deliver evidence-based strategies with proven outcomes. With reduced access to OT services, children with disabilities and their families will struggle to integrate successfully into their classroom and school communities. Children who are currently “at risk” are more likely to develop complex needs versus catching up with same aged peers.

Hear from a parent

– Julie

Hear from a teacher

– Megan

Hear from an OT

– Carrie


Society of Alberta Occupational Therapists