Provincial Government Changes Course on Autism Funding
After months of outrage over controversial changes to the Ontario Autism Program (OAP), the Doug Ford government—which faced extreme resistance from parents and advocates throughout the province—has changed course on autism funding.
Today (July 29), the province announced that, after listening to feedback from residents, it's expanding the scope of the autism expert panel to provide advice on what a new "needs-based" and sustainable autism program would look like.
The province openly acknowledged that its current approach is not working, but blamed the previous Liberal government for mismanaging the OAP waitlist.
“My message to families of children and youth with autism is, we have heard you, and we are taking action,” said Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
“Our government is committed to a needs-based program that provides children and youth with the supports they need to thrive. Over the past number of weeks, I have met with service providers and families of children with autism who share a common goal to provide the best possible care and make a positive difference in the lives of children and families living with autism in Ontario.”
The news comes after months of protest from parents and advocates who said that the government was hurting children with autism by imposing a "one-size-fits-all-approach" with a funding cap and age restrictions.
Today, Smith said that the province is taking steps to continue to provide service while working on a new needs-based autism program.
The province says the new program should be in effect by April 2020.
The province says the Autism Advisory Panel has been asked to develop recommendations for a new OAP with the goal of helping as many children as possible. The government says the panel is examining results from online surveys, telephone town halls and written submissions as well as considering relevant evidence, science and data and will submit its advice by the end of summer.
The province’s 20-member autism expert panel includes parents of children with autism, clinicians, autism self-advocates, service providers, former public servants and others.
In the meantime, families will continue to receive services outlined in their current plan until its end date. At that time, families will be able to renew their plan for a second six-month extension of up to six months at their current level of intensity, or less where clinically appropriate.
The province says there will be no gaps in service.
For children not in service, childhood budgets will continue to be issued to families as the province works towards a new program.
As previously announced, Ontario is investing an additional $278 million in the province’s autism program, bringing the total amount of funding to $600 million annually.
“The advisory panel’s expert advice will be critical to ensuring our investments across government, including in Ontario’s health care system, promote and advance a truly child-centred approach,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “I look forward to receiving their recommendation. In the meantime, we are continuing to listen to families of children and youth with autism and remain fully committed to supporting them through enhanced supports.”
The move to change course also followed a damning internal report that revealed the province botched the autism funding file.
According to the Globe and Mail, the review—prepared by PC MPP Roman Baber and obtained by the Globe—said the Ford government purposely spread misinformation about the costs and waitlist backlog to justify cutting funding to the program.
After the government announced the changes earlier this year, parents and families staged protests, arguing that the new policies could bankrupt them.
The Globe says the report was addressed to Ford and Dean French, Ford's former chief of staff who recently resigned after news broke that he was appointing friends to prestigious positions.
The province says the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Education are working closely to better align and integrate services and supports for school-aged children with autism.
“Our government is committed to ensuring Ontario schools are safe and inclusive places for students with autism,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “We will work tirelessly with Ontario families, educators and school boards to achieve seamless transition for children and enhance school-based supports.”
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