We must find a path for the severely disabled

By MPP Toby Barrett

As a caring society, we have a moral obligation to help those who cannot help themselves. However, many with severe developmental disabilities are not getting the care or treatment they need.

We are seeing the advent of a public health epidemic — young people with severe physical and mental disabilities now entering adulthood. We must find a path for this cadre of young people who are no longer part of the school system and now require additional family support, respite programs, home care and, in some cases residential care.

The Callaghans, a family from Simcoe, have a 20-year-old daughter Anna. They are just one of many families in desperate need of assistance. They recently visited Queen’s Park and exemplified the difficulty in planning for severely disabled loved ones, in particular as they exit the school system. How can families like the Callaghans appropriately care for their loved ones when government is not in a position, or refuses, to properly address this issue? They need somewhere to turn and it’s time government offered a place to turn.

We need to think of parents and caregivers who need support so they in turn can continue to provide care for their loved ones. If there was ever a question whether action is needed, it became painfully clear several weeks ago when an Ottawa family, the Telfords, were forced to leave their 19-year-old son at a developmental services office because they were no longer able to provide care for him. Mrs. Telford’s son Phillippe has autism and functions at the level of a two-year-old. He also has Tourette’s Syndrome and insulin-dependent diabetes. The Telfords had begged for help and had been on waiting lists for a number of years, but nothing was happening. Absolutely desperate and overwhelmed, they concluded they had no option but to give their son over to the government in order to get him the services he needed in order to keep him safe.

More and more, we’re hearing stories of parents, often in their 60s, 70s or 80s who are desperate for help for their loved ones. They’re terrified of what will happen to their child when they are gone. They’re concerned there are no appropriate housing options available for their children, little chance of employment and no opportunities to have a life like everyone else.

Christine Elliott, Health Critic for the Official Opposition, recently put forward a motion to establish a select committee to create a comprehensive developmental services strategy for Ontarians. We can’t keep doing things the same old way. We need to look at the system across many ministries, because it’s not just about community and social services but also health, education, and children and youth. We can address these problems through flexibility and choice.With this resolution, we now have an opportunity to refocus, to set priorities, and wake up Ontario’s social service system through approaches and programs laden with fresh, cost-effective ideas to address the complex problems we’re hearing about today.

I continue to advocate that it’s those on the front lines and clients themselves who should be invited to explain how developmental services can work smarter and more productively.

The vision remains an effective, affordable, accountable system that supports and invests in families and in their communities, where adults are as independent as they can be.