By MPP Toby Barrett
Three years ago, Ontario’s Autism Program was facing some major challenges that had been decades in the making. The program was under-funded, with a long waitlist. We had a program that did not provide the much-needed range of clinical services. Further, we had a waitlist that was not moving the way it should. Over the past several years, I have heard this time-and time-again from families.
Our government took action to start to rectify these issues by listening to and focusing on children and young people, and their families, who are facing challenges.
We doubled the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) budget to $600 million per year so we could address the number of children receiving nothing at all. We also brought together our Ontario autism panel to expand foundational services; such as early years support, urgent services and, of course, core services.
Even though the OAP continues to be rolled out, roughly 36,000 children are receiving some level of support already. This is more than three times the number of children supported under the previous government. We are making gains each day but there is still more work to do.
Our government has taken the time listen and work with the members of the autism community, to understand how to better support children and young people on the autism spectrum, and their families. Two years ago, I hosted a listening roundtable for concerned families at the Hagersville Legion.
With the recent doubling of the autism budget, to $600 million, we have an opportunity to build a world-class autism program here in Ontario.
The Autism Workforce Capacity Action Plan, part of the $600 million investment, will expand access in rural and remote communities, provide new training for clinicians, and allow service providers to hire and train new staff and support more families. These investments will better enable the province to continue inviting and onboarding more children and young people into the needs-based OAP.
As well, in July we announced more than $62 million to build capacity among service providers to deliver high quality clinical services for children and young people receiving support through the needs-based OAP. This investment will continue to create a stable, efficient, and skilled workforce so more families can access the core clinical services they need.
These services are needs-based ensuring families can work with a clinician of their choice to develop a treatment plan based on their child’s individual needs and goals.
The capacity action plan builds on the strong foundation of public and private providers who are currently serving people with special needs across the province. The plan was developed with input from the autism advisory panel, the implementation working group, as well as families and service providers.
This ongoing work with respect to autism aligns with our long-term vision that people with developmental disabilities be fully supported so they may participate in their communities and live fulfilling lives.
People with developmental challenges and their families expect and deserve to enjoy all the rights and opportunities the rest of us take for granted, like going to school, holding down a job, and having real choices and control over decisions that affect them.
Our plan focuses on people in addition to the systems around them.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk