What is causing the significant decline in legacy Ontario Autism Program children?

Minister’s Smith oversight of the Ontario Autism Program has resulted in a 21% decline of children receiving services under the legacy ABA program

The latest Ontario Autism Program monthly numbers published on the Ontario government website featured some statistics that made me say hmm.

I always appreciate when Patrick Monaghan revises the government’s “in service” figures to separate out the number of children receiving Childhood Budgets versus those legacy OAP children still in service via behavioral service plan extensions. As you can see, the number of children remaining in service is dropping each month:

From July 2019 to January 2020 the number of children in service has dropped by 2,141, or a 21% reduction.

This is a significant uptick in service reduction in comparison to the first quarter of fiscal year 2019–2020 running April 2019 to June 2019. From a Freedom of Information (FOI) report we know that the number of children in service as of March 31, 2019 was 10,365 as reported by Mike Moffatt in his article Costing out the Tories’ Autism Cuts. The reduction in children during this period was 174, or just 1.7%.

Could this all be due to children being discharged from the program? It’s fair to say that many indeed were discharged, following regular procedure of transitioning out of services and into the school system.

However we’re seeing evidence from many parents on social media that their Direct Service providers have removed them from services and replaced their service with a Childhood Budget cheque under the rationale that the providers no longer have the capacity to provide the services.

This is an interesting development in the ongoing controversy of the Ford Government’s handling of the autism file. Childhood budgets were only supposed to be provided to children who were on the waitlist for services, whereas the policy for those in service was to continue receiving services at the same or reduced level they previously had been receiving until the new OAP is launched (a clinician determines level of need in the legacy program). At no point did the government announce a policy of converting those in service to Childhood Budgets.

It’s well known that many Direct Service providers have laid-off staff due to the uncertainly brought on by the Ford Government’s changes to the program. Given that these providers take their marching orders from the Ministry, I believe it is fair to say that the conversion from services to Childhood Budgets came from the ministry itself.

Given the costs of providing direct services are hidden from clients, families may have unwittingly accepted a Childhood Budget not knowing how much service the budgets could provide. Anyone who had a child receiving intensive behavioral services would have received a rude awakening to discover they did not receive nearly enough budget to cover their child’s needs.

But given the Ministry’s policy to maintain services at the same or reduce levels based on clinical need, why were these families not offered the Direct Funding Option (DFO) based on the number of hours in the behavioral service plan at the DFO rate of $55 hour?

I believe families that were auto-converted to Childhood Budgets instead of being given DFO have been short-changed big time by the ministry, and in fact I’d definitely say the ministry broke the spirit of their policy by doing so.

As of writing this, we’re on Day 529 since the September 27, 2018 directive from the Ministry to freeze program entries from the waitlist. It’s seems the more this saga goes on, the more twisted it gets.

Given the lack of transparency from the Ministry, only another FOI request will tell the true story of the decline in the legacy numbers. My money is on the decrease disproportionately coming from the Direct Service providers versus DFO providers.

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

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