Behavioural therapists say they have been warned of looming layoffs as the Ford government overhauls the autism system, saying new funding limits for families has led to the uncertainty.
“They are anticipating (job losses) April 1, with the first wave of kids” as the provincial changes come into effect, said one, noting a number of small and regional service agencies have told staff they will be let go.
Stephanie Ridley is among parents of children with autism at Queen’s Park on Feb. 20 to voice their opposition to the Ford government’s overhaul of the province’s autism program. (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star File Photo)
“The plans for layoffs are rolling out,” said another. “I know several small (service providers) that have already had open discussions that layoffs will begin the first week of April.”
Meanwhile, school boards are appealing to the province for some direction — and resources — saying children no longer accessing therapy at autism centres will expect those services to be provided in schools.
Both Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod and Education Minister Lisa Thompson have received letters from school boards, with Halton District School Board trustees saying they are “gravely concerned about the changes” — and that they need to know what the government’s implementation plan is. Without one, and additional funding, student safety is compromised, they say.
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Thompson told reporters at Queen’s Park on Wednesday that her ministry is “working with our school boards and this is a very sensitive situation and we are going to make sure we get it right for the students.”
Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod speaks during question period at Queen’s Park on Feb. 20. MacLeod has come under fire from parents and advocates for changes to the province’s autism services (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR)
She noted the province already spends $3 billion in total on special education.
But NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles called it “disturbing” that school boards haven’t received any word from the ministry.
“Boards are telling us there has been absolutely no communication around the situation,” said Stiles, a former school trustee.
“Things were tough enough,” she told the Star. “School boards already spend more than they are given for special education, and it comes through other funds. They are just moving shells around.”
Cathy Abraham, head of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, said “we don’t know how many students will be coming — we don’t know the degree of their need, we don’t know the services required. We need to know what will happen so we can plan, because we want to be able to serve these children.”
MacLeod has said the government is “committed to eliminating the 23,000-long wait list for families of children with autism” and will do so in the next year and a half.
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Under the changes, the government will introduce a childhood budget allowing families to choose the services they want. They’ll be eligible for up to $20,000 a year for children under 6 — with a lifetime maximum of $140,000. Children older than that can access up to $5,000 a year up to age 18, to a lifetime maximum of $55,000.
The government’s plan will provide autism services to more children — though that means some families will receive far less than they do now.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
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