Ontario autism program to offer direct funding at families’ urging

Queen's Park in downtown Toronto, Ont., on May 29, 2015. Craig Wadman / File / Global News

TORONTO – Ontario families of children with autism will be able to choose between using government-funded services or receiving funding to pay for private therapy, as part of an overhauled program, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Liberal government is set to announce Thursday that the $533-million Ontario Autism Program beginning next month will soon include a direct funding option, something families have long been clamouring for.

“We’ve been advocating for direct funding for 12 years,” said Ontario Autism Coalition president Bruce McIntosh. “We know that it’s a better option for families in terms of the flexibility…The cost per child for the government is lower. Everybody benefits from this funding model.”

While some families prefer the government-funded direct service model because they don’t want to have to manage the money and keep time sheets, many want the flexibility of direct funding, McIntosh said.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Ontario Autism Coalition urges more supports for children with autism in schools

“The therapists can come to your home,” he said. “The times of service delivery are different. The direct service agencies restrict you to sort of a nine-to-five on weekdays, whereas you can do evenings and weekends with a private provider.”

When the Liberal government initially announced a new autism program early last year, it said it would do away with the distinctions between Intensive Behavioural Intervention and Applied Behaviour Analysis and blend them into a service that would tailor the intensity of therapy to a child’s individual needs.

But that program was not due to roll out until 2018, and in the meantime the government said it would stop funding IBI for kids over four, giving families of kids removed from the IBI wait list $8,000 to pay for private therapy during the transition.

The families said that would only pay for a few months of therapy, not two years.

Premier Kathleen Wynne put a new minister on the file, who quickly announced that those families would get successive payments of $10,000 for private therapy until the new program was up and running. The start date for the program was moved up to June 2017.

READ MORE: Ontario looking at offering direct funding as part of new provincial autism program

Now, Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau will announce that there will be a new and permanent direct funding option in the Ontario Autism Program by the end of the year, government sources said.

Story continues below advertisement

Families already receiving the $10,000 payments for private therapy will continue to get them until the permanent funding is up and running.

There was a direct funding option under the old program, but only for kids under five and it capped the funding at $39 per hour for providers. It wasn’t true direct funding because that cap was “artificially low” and meant families still had to pay top ups out of pocket, McIntosh said.

“The experiment hasn’t been a free, open market for services and as a result of that requirement, it really did come down to a two-tier system,” he said.

READ MORE: Ontario boy with autism can’t bring service dog into class, family goes to human rights tribunal

Details are still being worked out for the new direct funding option, but it would have no age cap, the sources said.

Any new fee cap would be about ensuring children get the same level of service, no matter which stream they are under, they added.

A government-commissioned analysis about 10 years ago found that the average cost per hour for direct service was $55, versus $37 for direct funding – something Ontario’s auditor general highlighted in a 2013 report.

Sponsored content