Current diagnostic tools for determining whether children with disabilities are eligible for programs that meet their needs are inadequate. Both professionals providing services and parents agree that too many children with disabilities and their families “fall through the cracks” because the means of assessing their needs are wholly inadequate. Stepping in to address this problem is Saskatoon Communities for Children (SCC), whose Disabilities Working Group recommends devising a Common Functional Assessment (CFA) tool to be used by multiple service organizations to acquire more meaningful information about a child’s needs. The nature of the CFA tool and how it would remedy current systematic inadequacies is detailed in Wendy MacDermott’s report, Common Functional Assessment and Disability-Related Agencies and Departments in Saskatoon.
According to the Disabilities Working Group report on the CFA tool, “The basic purpose of a functional assessment would be to look at the broader needs of a child and his/her family when making a judgement about access to services, rather than building the gateway to services only around a very specific criteria or a specific diagnosis. … A common functional assessment would take into account factors such as deficits in age appropriate behaviour, physical mobility of the child, level of independence of the child, psychiatric needs of the child, stress on the family, financial stress facing the family, and equipment needs of the child” (p.2). Current methods rely solely on medical or psychiatric diagnoses or use of Intelligence Quotient tests, all of which might fail to identify a child’s particular needs. The CFA tool, however, would serve as an initial screening tool to identify a child’s unique needs, and, following that, refer him or her to the agency best suited to address those needs. This would also aid in reducing redundancies in assessing those with multiple needs. The CFA tool would be more general in nature, exploring issues like safety concerns, aggressive behaviour, sexual behaviours, and family support needs.
The goal is to ensure that children do not slip through the system because more narrow tests failed to document sufficient needs to warrant service provision. To aid in devising the questionnaire that makes up the CFA tool, service professionals were interviewed to learn what kind of information would help them better assess a child’s needs and how to make services more responsive to ensure that those in need receive support. Similarly, parents were asked what kinds of questions would be useful to determine their child’s needs. A copy of the CFA tool devised by the Disabilities Working Group is included, covering issues of personal care, sensory / physical problems, behaviour, safety concerns, general health, and family support needs. The CFAtool has since been tested for reliability, validity, and user friendliness. The CFA tool ensures that those needing assistance in raising children with disabilities are more readily be able to access those services. A more recent version is available from Saskatoon Communities for Children.