Day 173: An Ontario Autism Program announcement that announced little
Despite the hype that this would big a big announcement, we didn’t learn too much today at either the press conference or associated press release.
Let’s go through the press release paragraph by paragraph to see what is new:
Ontario is continuing to listen to families of children with autism and the Autism Advisory Panel. Based on their feedback, the province is expanding the scope of the autism expert panel to provide advice on what a new needs-based and sustainable autism program would look like. To facilitate that work, Ontario is extending existing behaviour plans and continuing to bring children off the waitlist to ensure continuity of service for families.
The language that the program will be needs based, and not simply have a needs based component is new. In practical terms, we still don’t know what that means.
The Minister (Todd Smith) has mentioned in the past that the scope of the autism expert panel was being expanded, so that’s not new.
“My message to families of children and youth with autism is, we have heard you, and we are taking action,” said Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. “Our government is committed to a needs-based program that provides children and youth with the supports they need to thrive. Over the past number of weeks, I have met with service providers and families of children with autism who share a common goal to provide the best possible care and make a positive difference in the lives of children and families living with autism in Ontario.”
Today, Minister Smith announced steps Ontario is taking to provide continuity of service while providing the necessary time to design a new needs-based autism program by April 2020.
APRIL 2020?!? IS THIS A JOKE?!?!
Seriously, we’re going to continue on with the same incredibly wasteful, incredibly harmful Childhood Budget model until the end of the fiscal year.
It’s noteworthy that the April 2020 date was not mentioned in the press conference (as far as I can tell, please correct me if I missed it).
This is the biggest thing we learned today, and it is not good news.
New mandate for the Autism Advisory Panel
The panel has been asked to develop recommendations for a new, needs-based and sustainable Ontario Autism Program with the goal of helping as many children as possible. The panel is examining results from online surveys, telephone town halls and written submissions as well as considering relevant evidence, science and data and will submit its advice by the end of summer.
Nothing new here (other than the needs-based program part covered in Paragraph 1). The Minister, despite all his talk of transparency, still isn’t releasing the panel’s full mandate.
Extension of existing behaviour plans
Families will continue to receive services outlined in their current Ontario Autism Program Behaviour Plan until its end date. Families will then be able to renew their plan for a second six-month extension of up to six months at their current level of intensity, or less where clinically appropriate. There will be no gaps in service.
This will come as a great relief to those families. If you were looking for good news from today’s announcement, here it is. (Which makes it strange they buried it on graf 5).
Continuing to bring children off the waitlist
For children not in service, childhood budgets will continue to be issued to families as the province works towards a needs-based program.
We knew this, but it’s helpful to have it confirmed. What we didn’t know was that this would be continuing until APRIL 2020.
As previously announced, Ontario is investing an additional $278 million in the province’s autism program, bringing the total amount of funding to $600 million annually.
The Premier has mentioned this $600 million figure many times. Parents will believe it when they see it. (And, again, the issue with the program wasn’t the budget, it’s how incredibly wasteful it is because it doesn’t consider a child’s needs. And it still won’t, until April 2020 at the earliest).
“I have every confidence that together, we will get this right. It’s clear we need to ask the advisory panel to provide us with a broader set of recommendations and advice — and we need to give them the necessary time to do so,” said Minister Smith. “In the interim, we will continue services for families, move more children into service and give our experts the time they need to bring forth their considered recommendations. These measures will also bring greater transparency for parents and families across Ontario.”
“The advisory panel’s expert advice will be critical to ensuring our investments across government, including in Ontario’s health care system, promote and advance a truly child-centred approach,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “I look forward to receiving their recommendation. In the meantime, we are continuing to listen to families of children and youth with autism and remain fully committed to supporting them through enhanced supports.”
The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Education are working closely to better align and integrate services and supports for school-aged children with autism.
“Our government is committed to ensuring Ontario schools are safe and inclusive places for students with autism,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “We will work tirelessly with Ontario families, educators and school boards to achieve seamless transition for children and enhance school-based supports.”
Spin spin spin. But no new details.
In summary: some good news, more bad news.
What we didn’t get today:
- Any indication of how this new program will actually work (beyond that it will be “needs based”).
- Any additional transparency, outside of the new start date and the extensions of existing service plans.
- An apology.
Let’s go back to my five (plus one) asks of the provincial government. Why plus one? Because kids deserve extra.
We received none of these today.
Moffatt’s Five (Plus One) Ontario Autism Program Asks
By Friday, August 30, at 5PM at the latest, I call for the government to:
- Abolish the colossally wasteful ‘Childhood Budget’. Services must be determined and provided on the basis of clinical need, not capped by age or any other factor, with service providers directly funded through OHIP.
- Develop a system of strict regulation, regular audits and a standard rate card for autism service providers.
- Reinstate the system of ‘first come, first served’ for autism services, with monthly public reports on the size of, and average waiting time for, each individual waiting list.
- Produce and release a comprehensive plan, with key performance indicators, to increase capacity in the autism services system.
- Provide and release a comprehensive plan, with key performance indicators, to provide support for students with autism in schools.
- Issue a formal apology, by the Premier, to the children of Ontario, for the bullying, abuse, and insults they have endured from his government.