The Ontario government is extending funding for families with autistic children until they transition to a new needs-based autism program.
The move comes after Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, announced late last year that the province’s new autism program won’t be fully in place until 2021, instead of 2020 as previously promised.
The delay caused parents watching the announcement to burst into tears because they say their children will continue to suffer without the services they need.
Families receiving funding under the government’s old needs-based program, established by the Liberals, will be extended. And those receiving the Progressive Conservatives’ new childhood budgets – either $5,000 or $20,000 depending on age – will be eligible for interim one-time funding once their current agreement expires, the government said.
“Our government formerly committed to a seamless transition for children and youth currently receiving behavioural plans. Today’s announcement reaffirmed that commitment,” said Palmer Lockridge, a spokesperson for Mr. Smith.
The delay came after a government-appointed advisory panel released a report in October, calling on the government to reverse its widely criticized approach to funding autism therapy for children.
Former minister Lisa MacLeod had said the government’s plan would clear a backlog of 23,000 children awaiting treatment. But some families said the capped funding – $20,000 a year for children younger than 6, and $5,000 a year after that – was nowhere near what they needed for therapy.
Until the new program is in place, parents won’t be getting government funding for autism therapy based on the needs of their children, which can cost up to $80,000 a year.
Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and a member of the government’s autism advisory panel, said Friday’s announcement is partly good news, but doesn’t mend the trust issues between the autism community and the provincial government.
“It’s disappointing to me that the [government] has waited until now to tell people this,” she said. “All that this shows is that this government responds to public pressure.”
She said the autism community is planning another protest at Queen’s Park on Feb. 18, when the Ontario Legislature resumes from winter break.
NDP MPP Monique Taylor, the party’s critic for children and youth services, said the move shows the government still does not know what it is doing on the autism file.
It should not have taken so long for the government to realize that cutting off children from their current treatment was a bad idea, she said. And in the meantime, the parents of children who were not in the Liberals’ treatment program will be left with either $5,000 or $20,000 a year to fund treatment that can cost many times that amount for some – the original PC plan that prompted protests at Queen’s Park.
“Families are so frustrated. They have no idea how to plan and how to move forward for the future,” Ms. Taylor said, adding that many service providers have long waiting lists, or have reduced their services in areas of the province, particularly in the North, in the wake of the government’s changes. “Parents are at their limit.”
With a report from Jeff Gray in Toronto
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