Ford’s Ontario Autism Program missed target by 80% according to Hamilton not-for-profit

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Published February 6, 2023 at 5:55 pm

$120 million boost in autism program funding announced in Ontario

A not-for-profit in Hamilton that supports caregivers of people with diverse needs is “disappointed” that the Ford government missed its target to provide core clinical services to children with autism by more than 80 per cent.

Autism families in Hamilton and across Ontario have faced a massive waitlist over several years and governments of helmed by two parties.

The Premier Doug Ford-led PC Party of Ontario government promised a new needs-based Ontario Autism Program (OAP) just over three years ago. Fourteen months ago, it promised that 8,000 children would have funding by last fall, but a media report on Sunday said only 1,511 such funding agreements were in place by Oct. 31.

Balance Support and Self-Care Studios in Hamilton issued a statement on Monday (Feb. 6) in reaction to those reports. Referring to a previous announcement from the province in December 2019, Balance said it had been “cautiously optimistic” about an end to a cycle in which “no government had got it right.”

Monday, it said while the creation of an independent intake organization that runs the AccessOAP portal has improved registration, getting children and families help continues to lag.

“While much progress has been made, we are still disappointed that this government did not meet its target,” Balance stated.

“Both the pandemic, and delays in getting AccessOAP up and running have been catastrophic to this OAP’s rollout and implementation. Families are still confused about the process and what is offered.

‘”While the processing of registrations and issuing of OAP numbers has been faster since AccessOAP took over the administration of the OAP from the Ministry, much more needs to be done to streamline the process of getting families into Core Clinical Services; as well as informing them of the supports that are available to them now.

Global News, which made a freedom of information request to obtain those figures, also quoted a Dec. 3, 2021 media release where the province promised 8,000 children would have “funding for core clinical services by fall 2022.” Global reported the response it received from a Ford government spokesperson said the target was to “enroll” 8,000 children, and did not refer to a time frame.

Balance mentioned that Hamilton (and Ontario) children and youths with disabilities do not have access to a program with the goals and intentions akin to the OAP.

“If this government is going to implement a true ‘needs based’ program, then it should be for all needs — not just one diagnosis,” Balanced added. “Otherwise, it’s simply discriminatory… We need to see more progress with the OAP’s implementation and a prioritization of supporting all disabled Ontarians.”

The report indicated just more than 40 per cent of the 60,000 waitlisted autism families, or just over 25,500, have received letters inviting them to transition to AccessOAP. And around 40 per cent of those families, or just more than 10,000, have accepted.

That works out to a take-up that is in the range of 16.72 per cent of the size of the waitlist.

Meantime, Balance says its supports for caregivers include peer-to-peer programming; an RSSW (registered social service worker) for support and guidance; and holistic self-care services such as yoga, reflexology, and Reiki.

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