Ford government defends layoffs at autism centre, warns more to come

By Cynthia Mulligan

The day after nearly 300 autism service providers were given layoff notices at ErinOakKids, a centre in Mississauga, the Minister of Social Services, Lisa MacLeod, issued a statement defending the move and warns of more to come.

“We understand the challenges that occur during a transition period can be unsettling, but our intended result is a system that provides more choice to families and parents. As these changes are implemented we anticipate further staffing changes.”

The Minister also stated that she expects service providers will be re-hired once more children come off the wait list and demand will increase. Of the 300 employees laid off at ErinOakKids, around 180 will be rehired on a contract.

A spokesperson with the Ford government on Tuesday told CityNews the layoffs are an “adjustment” and the “market will right itself.”

In February, the government announced a massive overhaul of the autism program which will offer more children less therapy. Their individual budgets will be capped at $20,000 a year per child under the age of six and $5,000 a year for ages six to 18.

Children who need intense therapy can require $80,000 worth of therapy a year.

The changes have been met with intense backlash because of the “one size fits all” approach. Each child gets the same funding –- regardless of where they are on the autism spectrum.

The government maintains only 8,400 children receive funding for therapy, while 24,000 children have been languishing on the wait list and the overhaul is necessary to clear it.

On Friday, CityNews broke the news that no child has received funding for autism therapy even though the government promised they would start coming off wait lists on April 1. That means no child has come off the wait list since October when it was frozen, at which time according to the government the program had run out of money.

In a statement on Friday a spokesperson for Lisa MacLeod told CityNews that authorization-to-spend letters are expected to go out next week which was also reported in our coverage. In response to our first tweet breaking the news, the Minister sent a tweet out a short time later saying “Cheques are going out next week. My office told you that.”

MacLeod is facing intense backlash from the autism community leading to speculation she might be part of a cabinet shuffle. A Ford government spokesperson defended the changes on Tuesday, saying they will give parents more choice to decide what their child needs but acknowledged “it’s going to take some time.”

When asked what they say to parents who fear their children will be lost during the transition CityNews was told “our priority is to make sure every child receives support and is taken off the list.”

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