The Ford government fell thousands of spaces short of its own target to provide core clinical services to children with autism by fall 2022, figures obtained by Global News show.
The province set a target of signing up 8,000 Ontario children with autism into its newly created needs-based therapy program by the fall of 2022. By August, however, it had reportedly managed to register just 888 children, leaving officials with a seemingly impossible task to hit the target.
An internal progress report dated Oct. 31, 2022, obtained by Global News through a freedom of information request, shows that by mid-fall, the province remained thousands of spaces short of the government’s promise.
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The report said that just 3,304 children had been enrolled in core clinical services by the Autumn of 2022, while just 1,511 children had entered into service funding agreements by Oct. 31.
The report defined an enrollment as having been completed when a family accepted an invitation to core clinical services, and not when children were actually seeing the benefits or funding flowing to families.
“The numbers clearly indicate what our community suspected was the case,” Alina Cameron, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, told Global News.
“Up until at least Oct. 31, this whole thing has been an exercise in paper pushing. (I believe) most of the people in that 1,500 came from the legacy cohort, families that were previously in service … that wasn’t taking anyone off the waitlist.”
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The figures are a far cry from the promise the province made to the families of children with autism at the end of 2021.
“This will provide stability for families, while enabling more children to access core clinical services,” the province said of its Ontario Autism Program in a Dec. 3, 2021, media release.
“The government is on track to meeting its commitment of providing 8,000 children with funding for core clinical services by fall 2022.”
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In a statement to Global News, the Ford government argued it had not missed its target.
“We can confirm that we have met our target of enrolling 8,000 children and youth in core clinical services,” a spokesperson said. “Moving forward, our government remains focused on registering as many children and youth with AccessOAP as quickly as possible.”
They did not address a detailed list of questions, including examples of previous public statements and the data obtained by Global News. The spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions.
The target referenced by the province was to “enroll” 8,000 children and young people in services, with no reference to a time frame.
That stands in contrast to previous pledges the province made. For example, the Dec. 3, 2021, media release promised 8,000 children would have “funding for core clinical services by fall 2022.”
The number of actual funding agreements in place by Oct. 31, halfway through the fall, was just 1,511 — 19 per cent of the stated 8,000 target.
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Since the Ford government overhauled autism programs in Ontario, families face a complicated journey — one that has generally been slow.
First, a letter must be sent to eligible families asking them to enroll in the province’s new online portal. The portal is the gateway to autism services and, without it, families cannot begin the process required to get a funding agreement in place.
As of Oct. 31, a total of 25,517 letters were sent to families inviting them to transition to AccessOAP, the registration portal. That is a drop in the bucket of the roughly 60,000 families on Ontario’s registration list.
The list was recently removed from the government’s website, advocates with the Ontario Autism Coalition note.
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The letters sent to families come with a code to enter the online system, effectively accepting the invitation. As of Oct. 31, roughly 40 per cent of those invited to transition to the new system — 10,032 — have accepted.
“Doug Ford’s record on autism funding is abysmal, but this is a new low,” said Monique Taylor, the Ontario NDP’s critic for children and community services.
“Today’s revelations show that Ford and Minister Fullerton couldn’t even come close to their own pitiful benchmark of funding just 8,000 kids in 2022.”
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Once a family is in the system and registered, more steps follow before a funding agreement to receive services can be finalized.
After a child is registered for core services, a needs determination interview is scheduled. During that meeting, the funding level is calculated based on several factors.
Advocates with the Ontario Autism Coalition said they have heard reports from parents of interviews being scheduled far into the future. Then, once a needs determination has been completed, the funding agreement needs to be completed and sent off.
In some cases, errors in the paperwork and other delays can put the actual payment of a funding service even further into the future, advocates say.
“They destroyed a program without having another one ready to go and left tens of thousands of families at the edge of a cliff,” Cameron said.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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