Staff at the office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth — which will be shut down this spring, with investigations transferred to the ombudsman — were told at a meeting that more than 40 of them in Toronto will likely be laid off, sources say.
Officially, however, “the exact number is yet to be determined,” the Ontario Ombudsman’s office said in a statement.
One employee who spoke to the Star said staff were told the best-case scenario is 24 of 67 investigative-related positions will transfer over, but all advocacy jobs will be axed.
“Two-thirds of staff is a lot,” said the Toronto employee, who did not wish to be identified.
The child advocate also has an office in Thunder Bay that will be shut down.
Ombudsman Paul Dubé is taking over investigations done by the children’s advocate, by May 1 at the latest, under provincial legislation brought in by the Ford government last year.
Advocacy will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services — and Minister Lisa MacLeod has said she will also personally assume such duties — and it will create roundtables to give youth a voice.
Meanwhile, MacLeod came under more fire Thursday for changes to the province’s autism services, but said the government will go ahead with its plan that is meant to clear the 23,000-child wait-list for services, and ensure more children receive support for services.
As of April 1, families will qualify for up to $20,000 a year for each child under 6 — up to a lifetime maximum of $140,000. Children older than that can access up to $5,000 a year up to age 18, to a lifetime maximum of $55,000.
However, amounts are based on a sliding scale depending on family income, and only those earning less than $55,000 in net income will qualify for the entire amount.
Intensive therapy for children with severe needs can cost up to $80,000 a year, and some families are bracing for a drop in support from the government.
Parent Sarah Farrants of London, who made the trip to Queen’s Park, said “there was no hope in there today” from PC MPPs. “Listening to them and watching them applaud her (during question period), there’s no hope for parents.”
She and mom Brandi Tapp later met personally with MacLeod to outline their concerns.
“We told Lisa that it took 96 days with the Liberals,” to get the former government to improve the system, said Farrants, whose 3-year-old son is on a wait-list for autism therapy.
“We’re not going away. These are our children.”
“I would prefer to go back on the wait list than to move forward with this program,” Tapp added. “She is offering sub-standard therapies to 23,000 children so she can look good on paper by clearing the wait list.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said parents feel “betrayed” by Premier Doug Ford, who “promised families so much” during the election campaign.
“This premier has done nothing to offer anything to parents,” Horwath said. “The promises were big, but the result was nil.”
MacLeod — noting the province is spending $321 million on its autism program, up from the $256 million the Liberals budgeted — said “I understand that there are a lot of parents who are concerned about this plan, but there are a lot of parents who are going to be relieved with this plan.”
She said it’s “heartbreaking” to hear from upset families.
“As a mother, I can appreciate parents fighting for their children,” she added. “As the minister, I have to make sure I am supporting as many children as possible.”
With files from Rob Ferguson
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy