'Not good enough': Parents weep as province reveals autism program will face another delay
TORONTO -- Parents of children with autism burst into tears Tuesday as the Ontario government announced another delay in getting those kids the services they need.
Children, Community and Social Services Minister Todd Smith announced that a needs-based program will be phased in over two years, instead of being up and running in April as previously promised.
Parents who were watching the announcement, some of them clutching pictures of their children, began weeping and saying, "not good enough."
"We're desperate for help from this government and they're giving us nothing," Faith Munoz said later. "This is garbage. This is a very sour Christmas for our families."
Once fully up and running in 2021, the program will offer core services that include Applied Behaviour Analysis, speech language pathology, occupational therapy and mental health supports, time-limited urgent services for families in immediate crisis, early intervention for young children, school readiness services, and workshops and other training for families.
Smith said only the workshop and family training piece will be ready in April. The rest is underway and will be rolled out as soon as possible, he said, but it is complex and will take time to be fully implemented.
"We're building a program that recognizes that every family's experience is different and that children and youth on the autism spectrum have different levels of need at different points in their lives," Smith said.
"The end result will be a program that gives families access to multiple pathways of care."
Smith had already signalled that an expert panel's report from last month would form the foundation of the new program, and he said Tuesday he accepts its key recommendations.
In the meantime, families will get interim funding of either $20,000 or $5,000 to pay for services, depending on their child's age -- the maximum annual amounts they were to get under a failed plan announced earlier this year.
That plan sparked outrage, forcing the government to go back to the drawing board and nearly double the amount of money it will allocate to an autism program.
Then-minister Lisa MacLeod, who was ultimately demoted, justified the program by saying the wait list of about 23,000 children needed to be cleared. But many parents said they preferred to wait under the old Liberal government program, knowing that once off the waiting list their child would get the needed amount of therapy.
"We must remember this was self-inflicted.... They did not need to scrap an entire program instead of making enhancements to that program," said Kristen Ellison, mom to a nine-year-old son on the autism spectrum.
"Not only did you do it to yourselves, but you did it to the most vulnerable children in this province. It's unacceptable. It's disgusting. It's abhorrent and we need better from this government."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 17, 2019.