The government needs to audit how funding for autism services is spent by the nine regional providers in the province, says an advocacy group that is also urging an end to wait lists.
Speaking at Queen’s Park on Monday, the Ontario Autism Coalition said the service providers are in a conflict of interest as they both operate services and distribute the funding — funding that can go for the programs they provide or directly to families who then find their own private services.
President Laura Kirby-McIntosh said families are often coerced into staying with providers’ services and away from the “direct funding option” because that money goes elsewhere.
“They choose to pay themselves first,” she said. “They persuade people who have come to the top of the wait list that they should choose (the service provider option) over direct funding, and if they don’t choose direct service, then they find out that only direct services are available.
“These games have been going on for close to 15 years. This cannot continue.”
Kirby-McIntosh also said that in the past couple of months, providers have created a third, “new wait list” for families wishing to receive the direct funding.
Stouffville mom Thulasi Sangar said her 6-year-old son Kavin is languishing on the new transfer wait list — even though she has found a spot for him with a private provider — and they have been given no indication when they will receive the direct funding.
“We were told there was a new wait list,” she said at Queen’s Park. “… Our number is 28. We have been on this list since July, and our number has not changed.”
Lisa MacLeod, the minister of children, community and social services, said earlier in the legislature that the government recently distributed $62 million to the providers to keep services going, as it consults on changes.
“We found that there’s been a disjointed patchwork of systems that need to be improved and we are committed 100 per cent to making sure that we make the lives of those struggling with vulnerabilities, that much stronger,” she told reporters.
In a statement sent Monday night, MacLeod said the government is working to ensure the $62 million is going to the families that need it most.
“We’re currently evaluating how best to invest the remaining $38 million dollars of our campaign commitment to autism services,” the statement said.
NDP MPP Monique Taylor (Hamilton Mountain) said “autistic children should not have to suffer when changing from the direct service option to the direct funding option, but they are.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy