Ford government has delayed Ontario’s new autism program as it extends controversial Childhood Budgets for another 18 months

Doug Ford answering questions on autism during the 2018 leaders debate

The February 3 Ontario Autism Program (OAP) announcement turned out to be a more of a publicity stunt, a way for Minister Todd Smith to get out in front of the two year anniversary of Lisa MacLeod’s introduction to Childhood Budgets on February 6, 2019 that sparked outrage from parents. The truth is that Smith continues to not deliver on his promises, instead he has in effect implemented Lisa MacLeod’s Childhood Budgets scheme with yet another extension of the interim solution.

As of January 2021, the Ontario government’s monthly OAP numbers has 40,231 children with invitations issued for childhood budgets or interim one-time funding. So with just 600 kids entering a pilot project of the need-based tool, there’s really 40,000 or so that will be extended for the interim funding renewal. What’s bigger, 600 or 40,000?

Well, Smith got many headlines touting the 600. CBC News came through with the headline Ontario launching autism program in March with initial enrolment of 600 children. So did Global News with Ontario launching autism program with initial enrolment of 600 children in March. And many other news outlets followed suit.

This was an initial news headline win for Ford. But that started to change as the media interviewed autism parents and advocates. CTV Toronto came out with Ontario parents say Ford government’s new autism program is not needs-based. CBC News with ‘Not a truly needs-based program’: Autism program changes concern northern families. CityNews Toronto with Parents pan new Autism program. QP Briefing really cut to the chase with Parents Slam New ‘Needs-Based’ Autism Program For Funding, Age Caps.

The bottom-line is that it is far-fetched to believe 600 children will start receiving needs-based therapy come March 2021. Rather, the ministry hopes to have 600 children sign up to pilot their new assessment tool in March. They need to go through the process, have a funding allotment assigned to them, then they’re on there own to seek services. This takes time, and the reality is that there isn’t excess capacity to just move these 600 kids into service. In fact, in many areas of the province capacity has been decimated due to the instability created by Lisa MacLeod’s Childhood Budgets program. Furthermore, no contract is in place to award the Independent Intake Organization that will employee the Care Coordinators.

Minister Smith says his goal is to have 8,000 youth in core services “by the end of this year when the program is up and running.” Unfortunately these types of promises can’t be taken at face value as promises to have a new program up and running in April 2020 didn’t happen, and now all Smith has to offer is a pilot project. How long will the pilot run? What is the success criteria? If the criteria fails, do they launch another pilot to refine the process? This stuff doesn’t happen with a snap of the fingers. Will they get 8,000 youth in core service by the end of 2021? I’ll believe it when I see it.

The reality is these Childhood Budgets continue to be the plan that the Ford government has put in place through stall tactics. The 18 month renewal of the Childhood Budgets and Interim one-time funding effectively means that this interim program will remain in effect through the next Ontario general election that is due on or before June 2, 2022. That’ll be at least 1,345 days (3 years and 8 months) from the September 2018 waiting list freeze that MacLeod secretly implemented and hid from parents. Think about that. Think about all those children that were next in line to enter the Ontario Autism Program back in the Fall of 2018. They had already waited 18 months to several years to enter the program. Now tack on another 3+ years due to the utter incompetency of the Ford government on this file. That’s 5 years, if not more of waiting for the services.

And to think that the Ford government’s new motto for Ontario is A Place To Grow, that’s certainly not the case for autistic children. These are the same children that Doug Ford spoke about during the 2018 Leaders Debate:

Well I’m going to make sure we have proper funding, proper resources, proper schools for any children with autism. We will be there to support you 1000%. What I can tell you one thing, I promise you, you won’t have to be protesting on the front of Queen’s Park like you did with the premier here.

You can watch this exchange below:

Political Scientist turned IT professional serving Canadians in the public service. Father of 2 incredible boys on the autism spectrum.