Ontario must create a strategy to help the developmentally delayed
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – An all-party committee at Queen’s Park is working toward necessary recommendations to help developmentally delayed people.
Feb 03 2014. Editorial
They are heartbreaking scenarios that will only get worse with time: aged parents can’t find housing for their developmentally delayed children; mentally challenged adults living amongst the elderly in long-term care; exhausted families refused requests for help.
It’s the reality of Ontario today, a province that still has no overall strategy to help families with developmentally delayed children. Parents may be young or in their final years, but the province’s fragmented system seems to offer little hope – just long waiting lists and nightmarish bureaucracy. It’s an untenable situation.
It’s certainly true that the Liberal government has a limited pool of money to spend on social programs. But in this area, Ontario has little choice. It must take action, particularly when its rapidly aging society includes elderly parents who can no longer care for their adult children.
Time is slipping away. That’s why the government must create a developmental-services strategy that will help the estimated 80,000 Ontarians, over the age of five, with an intellectual disability such as Downs Syndrome or autism.
It’s heartening that an all-party committee at Queen’s Park has been travelling the province, listening to families, caregivers and advocates. With a minority government, it will take cooperation from all three political parties to reach agreement on important improvements such as housing and daytime care services. So far, it appears that the committee members agree that the status quo is unacceptable. That’s good news.
After all, as Progressive Conservative deputy leader Christine Elliot notes, these are families in crisis. “They are desperate for the government to understand them, and help them,” says Elliott, who lobbied for thecommittee.
Now working on a late February deadline for an interim report, Elliott says the committee will issue its final recommendations in May.
The Liberals must listen. For starters, they can offer families struggling with exhaustion some caregiver support, whether it’s for a couple of hours a week or an occasional weekend away. Finance Minister Charles Sousa would be wise to include respite money in his spring budget.
At the same time, it’s not possible to recommend new programs without acknowledging what advocates and unions have long been warning: government austerity is forcing cuts in programs that are supposed to help families find the right education and supports for their children.
Currently, some 385 non-profit agencies with 18,000 staff provide some form of care, often through community living agencies. But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents many of the workers, says recent surveys show that many agencies are taking “drastic measures” to manage increased operating costs.
They are cutting staff hours, eliminating jobs, reducing program hours or chopping programs altogether. Allowed to continue, the sector will become even more confusing and inadequate.
However daunting, change is possible.
As the union report notes, Saskatchewan worked toward the elimination of waiting lists by creating new residential group homes, extra supports for community living and new day program spaces.
Ontario should do likewise. The plight of the developmentally delayed has inspired all three parties to reach consensus on at least one critical point: it’s time for a strategy that offers help — and hope.
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