Changes to Ontario Autism Program pose challenges to families, agencies

Sweeping changes to the Ontario Autism Program will take effect on April 1.

Rather than funding programs and services for children with autism, the province will be dealing directly with parents. It’s a change that has led to ongoing uncertainty, as service providers may be forced to change how they operate.

Kameron Baker is five years old and full of energy, but going to the park allows him to run some of that off.

“Right now, he’s at a stable level, but it fluctuates every week, every month,” said Tiffany Baker, Kameron’s mother.

In August, Kameron was diagnosed with severe autism.

The senior kindergarten student has been on the wait list for services since October.

“We were told about approximately a two-year wait and we were OK with that because in two years he would have received the appropriate services needed to help him. And now, we don’t know anything, and as for the funding amount, we might not get any kind of services,” said Baker.

Kameron has been going to Grandview Children’s Centre for occupational therapy, but that could soon change as the agency says it’s being forced to start charging a fee for service.

“We have never had to run accounts for families. We’ve never issued invoices for our services so we really need to think about our infrastructure we have at Grandview to be able to operate in this new way,” said Lorraine Sunstrum-Mann, Grandview Children’s Centre CEO.

Last year, Grandview received $3.4 million from the provincial government for the Ontario Autism Program.

As of April 2020, it will receive no money.

“We will have services for families currently in service continue right through until the end of August in some cases and so we’re negotiating with the government to fund those services based on the old program,” said Sunstrum-Mann.

Grandview has 357 clients and took in over 65,000 visits last year.

In order to prevent job loss, Sunstrum-Mann expects the facility needs to generate $2.3 million annually.

Other agencies around the province are also feeling the pinch. Surrey Place in Toronto says it has also been in contact with other agencies in Ontario to get a sense of what they’re doing.

“Agencies across the province are facing very tough decisions as a result of the ministry announcement, including implementing new staffing models that fit with their new service delivery model. We anticipate there may be some layoffs going forward, however the degree and timing of such is, at this time, uncertain,” said Steven Finlay, Surrey Place CEO.

As for Kameron, Baker is worried about her son’s future. She’s gone as far as emailing the premier but hasn’t heard back.

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