Parents and guardians of autistic children marked the six month anniversary of the Ontario government’s autism funding model with protests outside of Conservative MPP offices across the province.
Hastings-Lennox and Addington MPP Daryl Kramp’s Napanee office was no different, as a group of about 10 stood in the rain on a Tuesday afternoon, brandishing signs calling for a needs-based model to be put in place immediately.
The province-wide protest was planned in advance of premier Doug Ford’s announcement that changes would be coming to their original ‘one size fits all’ plan. The new plan promises to deliver a needs based approach to be put in place by April 2020. The changes weren’t enough for some families, and the protests went ahead on Aug. 6.
“There was some good points for sure, we like the change in tone, we liked the fact that the government admitted that their original plan was not sustainable, it wasn’t working,” said Kelly McGarry, a mother of an autistic son who has been on a waitlist to receive treatment for over two years. “We of course embrace that and the fact that they need to change course was very well received. We also liked the fact that kids in therapy would not be cut off from therapy. The downside is the new needs based plan won’t take effect until April 2020 and that’s just not acceptable. Most the kids on the waitlist have been waiting upwards of four years now. They’re losing a lifetime of skills every year they wait. The government knows what the right thing to do is. They had plans in place, they’ve had an internal report, the Roman Baber report was released a month or two ago, it basically laid out what the autism plan should be. Everyone knows what should happen, there’s just been delay after delay.”
McGarry says as uncertainty hangs over the program, skilled autism therapists have sought jobs in other provinces.
“That profession was strong-armed by the previous minister,” said McGarry. “They weren’t treated with respect. These are people supplying life altering therapies. That’s not the way we should treat them.”
“Our families are already stressed to the max,” she added. “We have high needs kids, most of us have gone down to one income to support our children. So many expenses, so many stresses.”
Kramp, who wasn’t at his office at the time, responded to a phone call from the Beaver.
“Do I expect it will be one quick announcement and everything will be all done? No, I think it will probably end up being in stages,” Kramp said of the timeline. “I don’t want to pre-judge the people that are on the committee to try and find a solution. We’ll have to make sure there’s a continuation of support until this report is brought forward and depending what is in the report, we’ll have to evaluate how we’re going to implement that. We made a commitment to get the entire thing done by April 2020, but hopefully as much as possible, earlier than that.”
Kramp says his government has also promised to provide more funding than was in their original plan.
“Even though we’re spending more money than when we first brought these modifications and changes in, while we solved some problems, particularly those that weren’t eligible for assistance, the solution disadvantaged some of the people who were already on there. While we may have solved one problem, we had unintended consequences that frankly, need to be addressed.”
Kramp says he’s met with families and heard their concerns and will take them back to the committee in charge of formulating the final plan.
“It’s a highly emotional issue,” said Kramp. “Any time you’re dealing with families and youngsters in particular, it’s extremely emotional.”
McGarry said the issue isn’t limited to the Conservatives and hopes a stable plan will be put in place that isn’t at risk of being altered following every election.
“Don’t make us rally and protest,” McGarry said on behalf of families with autistic members. “We are so busy that we don’t need the added stress. But make no mistake, we will do it.”