More than 100 people are being laid off at a treatment centre for children with disabilities — a move the centre says is a direct result of Ontario’s changes to autism funding.
The minister responsible said more “staffing changes” across the sector are likely.
ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment says in order to continue providing services to children with autism it is eliminating 291 full-time positions, which include front-line staff and management, and is bringing 178 people back on nine-month contracts, timed to when the centre’s funding will cease.
“In order for our organization to be able to continue to provide much needed services to children with autism and their families in this new environment, we have had to make some significant staffing reductions,” Erinoak said in a statement.
“These were very difficult decisions and we would like to thank all of our dedicated staff for the excellent care that they have provided to children during our time as a transfer payment agency for the delivery of autism services.”
Premier Doug Ford repeatedly promised during the election last year that not a single person would lose their job under his government.
The Progressive Conservative government is moving to give money directly to families to pay for autism therapy, instead of funding the service providers. Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said in a statement Tuesday that will give families more options in accessing services.
“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,” she wrote.
“As these changes are implemented we anticipate further staffing changes. However, we know these changes will also mean an increased demand for autism-related services as funding is increased and more children come off the waitlist. As a result, we expect service providers to become re-employed across the sector as a result of demand from these families in the immediate future.”
The program as originally announced in February would have given each family on the wait list up to $20,000 a year until their child turns six, and $5,000 a year until age 18, but families protested, saying those amounts weren’t nearly enough, particularly for kids with severe needs, whose therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year.
MacLeod eventually backtracked, promising to double the program’s budget to roughly $600 million and look at how to add needs-based supports.
NDP critic Monique Taylor slammed the reduction in front-line staff who help kids with autism.
“We support an Ontario Autism Program that’s fully-funded, needs-based and evidence-based, and we believe that taking help away from children with autism is callous, and can have devastating long-term impacts,” she said in a statement.