Ontario’s big investment in developmental services is overdue

Posted on in Inclusion Policy Context

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario’s budget must give important details on how $810 million for services to help those with developmental disabilities will be spent.
Apr 20 2014.   Editorial

It’s no secret that Ontario’s system to help people with autism and other developmental disabilities is in crisis.

For years, families have begged for help while their children languished on waiting lists for day programs, training or personal support workers.

But the Liberal government’s binge of pre-budget announcements now includes a promise of $810 million over three years to eliminate the long wait times for both children and adults.

Targeted at those with autism and other cognitive delays, the money could provide major improvements in the day-to-day lives of struggling Ontarians. Long overdue, those services would help many receive life-enriching support instead of occasional emergency care.

As the Star’s Laurie Monsebraaten and Andrea Gordon report, the government is promising that waiting lists for children will be eliminated within two years and those for adults within four. Right now, Ontario spends more than $1.7 billion on developmental services, but some 21,000 adults and children still can’t get the help they need.

Community and Social Services Minister Ted McMeekin is also promising to provide residential care for more than 1,400 people with urgent needs and offer transition help to 4,200 adults when they leave school, get a job or move out of home. McMeekin says the government is “acutely aware” that thousands are waiting for programs and services they need: “This is not acceptable to me or to our government.”

Those are welcome words. But as opposition MPP Cheri Dinovo of the New Democrats notes, they are meaningless until specific spending details in the budget demonstrate that the money will go where it’s most needed. Important questions remain unanswered: How quickly will the money roll out? How much will go to programs or directly to families? Will some of it be used to settle pay equity issues? And will the government appoint one person to lead on this file?

The budget’s details will give parents a better sense of how much support they will actually receive — particularly when many rightly argue that help is needed now and not four years down the road.

The Liberals are clearly well aware of the problems families face. In addition to the Star’s 2013 series on autism, four separate groups have been investigating the failure of Ontario’s developmental services system.

The Auditor General’s report on autism services found serious problems, as did an investigation by the Ontario ombudsman. A panel of autism experts is providing the government with advice. And finally, a Queen’s Park committee on developmental services is expected to release its recommendations next month. Spearheaded by Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott, the committee hearings held across the province and heard heartbreaking stories from families whose children were failed by the system.

However promising the Liberals’ funding promise may be, it’s understandable if some of those affected great it with cynicism.

If the budget details show that the funding will truly make a difference, then the Liberals will deserve praise, finally, for money well spent.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2014/04/20/ontarios_big_investment_in_developmental_services_is_overdue_editorial.html >

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