Ontario sees an 83% decrease of kids in service one year after promising to fix botched autism plan

Children, Community and Social Services Minister Todd Smith

After posting this article on the morning of July 17, hours later the Ministry tweeted that they revised their monthly numbers. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The ministry sent me a message in response to this article to check out their revision.

The revision was due to double counting 4,497 one-time funding invitations. This error impacts the analysis in the original article below. More to come on that.

Original article

It’s been one year since the Ford government started it’s interim plan of doling out cheques to families with children on the autism spectrum. While the government at first struggled to administer the program with low uptake numbers, the number of families that have at least received an invitation for a “childhood budget” cheque has reached 36,648 according to the government’s monthly autism numbers released on July 15.

On the surface, these numbers look pretty good, but an invitation to receive an age-based cheque is not the same as having money in hand, and for those that have received funding, there is no way to determine if those funds are being used for autism therapy services like ABA, speech and language, occupational, etc. as parental choice with an inadequate budget for services may choose to spend the funds on a bevy other eligible items including respite and technological devices. Useful things, but hardly meets the threshold of being “in service”.

The reality is that nearly 2 years since “freeze-gate”, thousands of autistic children are still waiting for the services they need.

In analyzing the latest numbers, it would appear that thousands of spots on the waitlist for services would have opened up.

Back when the government first started publishing their monthly numbers in July 2019, there were 10,191* children in the legacy program. Fast forward a year later, and the number of legacy program children looks at lot different. At most there are 2,519** legacy children with the possibility that there are as few as 1,673***. That’s a drop between 7,672 and 8,518 of kids in service.

Would 8,518 spots have opened up during the course of one year under normal circumstances? Perhaps not as there are reports of some legacy program kids being converted to childhood budgets, some by choice so they could access services other than ABA, others not by choice as ABA service capacity shrunk due to the market instability fabricated by the government’s policy flip-flops. Still, thousands of spots would have opened.

This amounts to a lost opportunity for many, and a financial burden for many others as they struggle to provide for their children. Bottomline, thousands of kids who waited their turn for years would be in service right now if the Ford Gorvernment’s interim plan had been to unfreeze the autism program waitlist while they took the time to determine how to structure a new needs based program. What a disgrace.

Back in early 2019 when the former Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod was planning to blow up her Liberal predecessor’s program, her staff threatened the The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis (ONTABA) organization with a “long four years” if they did not support her plan. MacLeod’s Chief of Staff reply to a clinical psychologist concerns over program changes was for parents to remortgage their house if they want the gold standard treatment. Nice guy!

Well guess what? This callous and reckless attitude continues to impact autistic children today.

If the goal was to get the government off the hook for providing an expensive “gold standard treatment” for autism, then with a 75–83% drop in legacy kids coupled with 36,648 invitations for age-based cheques, they’re well on their way to achieving their goal.

I can’t help but think that when these autism numbers were revealed this week, that Lisa MacLeod and her former chief of staff Tim Porter were cheersing each other over a Zoom call.

Mission nearly accomplished.

*Derived by subtracting the 762 “Families receiving childhood budgets” from the 10,953 “children currently in services”.
** # registered less the sum of those with childhood budgets and 1-time funding invitations
*** total from above less 846 newly registered children since June 2020 (42,167-
41,321) that likely have not yet received an invitation for funding. Thank-you Patrick Monaghan for keeping a running log on the government’s monthly numbers.

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Scott Corbett

Scott Corbett

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