Autism layoffs ‘premature,’ says Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod

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TheStar.com – Politics/Provincial
March 26, 2019.   By

Any layoffs because of changes to the Ontario Autism Program are “completely premature,” says Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod.

During Tuesday’s question period, New Democrat MPP Monique Taylor noted the most recent cutbacks, this time a Northern Ontario service provider that is letting 19 staff go.

“We already know that northern and rural communities are underserved, and this disastrous new autism program is making it worse,” Taylor said.

But MacLeod called any job losses under the new autism program “completely premature, and we’re encouraging agencies to find a better way.”

“We’re going to clear the wait-list over the next 18 months with 23,000 more children receiving some support from their Ontario government, which I would expect would mean we would need more service providers to support that.”

On Monday, MacLeod also said the current level of funding — $321 million — could double to as much as $642 million in the coming months under further “enhancements” to the new system she announced last week.

Those enhancements include extending current behavioural therapies for children for six months, as well as ending means testing and also moving toward a system that provides more funding based on a child’s needs.

Changes to the Ontario Autism Program, first announced in February, were designed to share funding among more families, but also drastically cut services for many of those already in the system.

The new plan gives families the ability to choose the services they want, sets out “childhood budgets” for those with autism — $20,000 a year for children under 6, up to a maximum of $140,000, and $5,000 a year after that up to age 18 to a maximum of $55,000.

Families, however, can spend about $80,000 a year for a child with severe needs.

Initially, the government had said high income earners would receive less funds, but last week MacLeod said that was no longer the case. She also said parents can spend the money on additional services such as speech therapy.

Autism Ontario has just signed a $750,000 contract to help families adjust to the new system, MacLeod also said.

Her ministry will hold consultations through the summer to determine how to move forward on more needs-based funding.

On Tuesday, Taylor accused the Ford government’s plan of putting families “in crisis, and we have a complete disaster of an autism program right now in the province because the minister failed to communicate before she put the policy in place.”

She said the Child and Community Resources, in the Thunder Bay area, has laid off 19 staffers.

“There were not enough trained therapists in Northern Ontario before the changes to the Ontario Autism Program, and now there will be even fewer, as organizations like Child and Community Resource centres are forced to make layoffs,” Taylor said.

“The new autism program is making services harder to access for northern and rural Ontarians. Instead of investing and strengthening autism services, this minister has gutted them.”

Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington has also announced it is closing down its Ontario Autism Program as of April 1, blaming a “significant change in funding” under the Ford government.

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics.

https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2019/03/26/autism-layoffs-premature-says-community-and-social-services-minister-lisa-macleod.html

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