People will ‘scramble’ to find care with new plan: Whitby autism care advocate

Click to play video: 'How the Ontario autism program overhaul may affect Durham families'
How the Ontario autism program overhaul may affect Durham families
A man who rode his bike across North America, pushing for better access to autism services, is speaking out after the province announced it will be rejigging its funding plan. Jasmine Pazzano has more – Feb 7, 2019

Many families may struggle to find quality care for their children with autism following the Queen’s Park overhaul of the Ontario autism program, warns a Durham Region advocate.

Chris Potvin, whose 10-year-old son is on the spectrum, says he worries what the changes following Wednesday’s announcement may mean for families who are waiting for public support.

“The funding isn’t going to cover all of the costs of care,” said Potvin, who is from Whitby, Ont.

Ontario’s minister of children, community and social services, Lisa MacLeod, said the province wants to give funding directly to families instead of regional service providers to try to clear its 23,000-child wait list.

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Click to play video: 'Ford government defends changes to funding autism services as equitable, fair'
Ford government defends changes to funding autism services as equitable, fair

The amount of money the government gives to a family depends on age and household income. Families who make less than $250,000 per year will be eligible to receive the funding, and the province will do an annual review of household income and eligibility.

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Potvin says he and his wife’s benefits cover the costs of the private care his son, James, receives, so the plan overhaul will have minimal impacts on his family.

“Our concern is for those families who don’t have work benefits,” Potvin said. “We’ve talked to people who are spending thousands of dollars a week in care for kids who are severely autistic.”

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Thousands of families in the region rely on the Grandview Children’s Centre in Oshawa, Ont., for its autism services, and the organization’s CEO says it receives annual funding from the province, but that will be cut off as of next year because of the overhaul, she said.

“We have to, very quickly, do some business planning,” said Lorraine Sumstrum-Mann. “Make sure that we’re prepared.

“We will be needing to attract business if $3.4 million of our operating budget is going away,” she continued.

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Potvin and his son rode across North America on their bikes last year, raising thousands of dollars for the centre to try to reduce its wait list of thousands of children — 1,500 of them, including James, have been waiting to get autism-specific treatment.

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He says he hopes the province’s plan will “reduce the barriers” for many families waiting on public care.

“We’re glad to see that someone’s paying attention and that the profile of autism has been raised to the point that it’s in the forefront of the government’s mind,” he said.

“We’re happy that the government is trying to do something to make a difference.”


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