Changes to Ontario’s (still) flawed autism program show Ford government can be pushed back

Posted on March 24, 2019 in Child & Family Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials
March 24, 2019.   By

From the moment it was announced it was obvious that the Ford government’s overhaul of how Ontario provides for children with autism was a half-baked plan.

The government simply hadn’t thought beyond its headline claim that it was getting rid of the wait-list for services where it claimed thousands of children “were left to languish” by the previous Liberal government.

Children’s Minister Lisa MacLeod’s plan to get rid of the wait-list by spreading existing provincial funding far more thinly was such a disaster in the making that the government couldn’t even keep all its own political staff on board for a single day.

Now it seems that even MacLeod is coming around to seeing — and even more importantly convincing Premier Doug Ford — that the new program is unworkable.

So on Thursday — after a steady six-week drumbeat of experts urging the government to go back to the drawing board and furious protests at Queen’s Park by parents of children with autism — MacLeod unveiled some welcome changes.

The government has eliminated its income testing provision, which meant that only families earning less than $55,000 in net income could even qualify for the full funding amounts. That’s an important step forward.

So, too, is the six-month extension for kids currently receiving quality funded therapy under the old system. From a cynical perspective, this change is the government’s attempt to quiet the loudest critics and kick the can down the road. But the kids who were about to lose the funded intensive therapy they desperately need have a six-month reprieve.

And before that’s up, hopefully, the government will have improved its overall program.

MacLeod’s promise to consult parents over the summer about the possibility of additional support to help those with “more complex needs” opens an important door to further changes to this misguided one-size fits all program.

Financial support shouldn’t be provided according to a child’s age, as the Ford government decided, but according to their needs.

To be sure, these announced “enhancements,” as MacLeod calls them, don’t truly fix this flawed program. This still amounts to a $331-million plan that does not meet the needs, especially for those on the high-needs end of the spectrum and girls who are who are often diagnosed later than boys so doubly suffer under the government’s age discrimination, which provides far less funding for kids over the age of six.

But the changes are a sign that the Ford government is movable and open, albeit belatedly, to listening to experts. That’s a refreshing turn of events given how very rare it is from this government.

The usual response to criticism from Ford and his ministers is to double down and steadfastly claim there’s broad support for whatever they’ve done, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

So, in that context, any willingness to fix something they’ve made a mess of is significant.

MacLeod was well over the top with her claim that “these are great enhancements to a very good, responsible plan that is fair, equitable and, most of all, sustainable.”

They’ve taken a terrible plan, which spread money too thinly simply in order to claim that the PCs are slaying the big bad Liberal wait list, and made it a little bit better.

And as they consult with parents again, perhaps this time they’ll listen. We hope that leads to further “enhancements” that will provide the access and funding for the services that kids with autism need.

It may not be much, but it’s a little more hope than they had a week ago.

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