July 25, 2019 4:45 pm

KidsAbility to lay off 50 per cent off autism staff in response to Ontario funding changes

KidsAbility says it let staff know of the impending changes on Thursday morning.

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KidsAbility announced Thursday that provincial government changes will force it to lay off 50 per cent of its staff at the beginning of next year.

The layoffs will begin on January 1, 2020 and will affect 20 to 25 staff members across the organization’s autism teams.

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The Ford government announced its Ontario Autism Program in February, which limited the amount families could receive to $20,000 a year for kids under six, with funding dropping to $5,000 per year until they are 18. The maximum amounts are only available to families earning less than $55,000 a year.

READ MORE: What exactly is Ontario’s new autism program? A look at the controversy it has created

It also changed the service model to fee-for-service.

The announcement caused a firestorm of criticism and in April, the provincial government announced an advisory panel to review the changes.

WATCH: Autism program advocates look for ‘fresh start’ after cabinet shuffle

KidsAbility CEO Linda Kenny told Global News the new funding model will mean that there is no cost certainty for her organization so changes will need to be made.

“We are required now to cover all of our costs from that fee-for-service basis,” she explained. “When we looked at the financial risk associated with that, our board made the decision that we needed to cut our staffing by approximately 50 percent.”

KidsAbility made the decision to let staff know about the impending cuts now so they could begin looking at other options and so that parents would be aware of impending changes.

“We announced those changes to our staff today in order to give them lots of runway for planning purposes and to notify families that this would be the change that was coming,” Kenny explained.

READ MORE: Ford government launches consultations on Ontario’s autism program after public backlash

This will be the second round of layoffs at KidsAbility this year.

It laid off nine staff in March after government funding was reduced by 25 per cent.

WATCH: ‘Autism isn’t the largest file, but it’s the most sensitive,’ Ford says

Ontario’s Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services says that once the changes to the autism program are introduced, the KidsAbility staff will need to be rehired.

“We understand the challenges that occur during a transition period can be unsettling, but our intended result is a system that provides more choice to families and parents,” Christine Wood, press secretary for Todd Smith, told Global News through email. “However, we know these changes will also mean an increased demand for autism-related services as funding is increased and more children come into service. We expect service providers to become re-employed across the sector as a result of demand from families in the immediate future.”

READ MORE: Ontario’s autism funding overhaul — here’s how it compares to the rest of Canada

Wood says the government’s panel is currently reviewing all of the feedback it has received since February’s announcement.

“A 20-member advisory panel is in the midst of reviewing all feedback and preparing recommendations for a sustainable, needs-based approach for the Ontario Autism Program,” she said.

Kenny said that once the government announces whether any changes are in the works, KidsAbility will adjust accordingly.

“I think there are still a lot of unknowns at this point. If there is a change in government direction then we are quite happy to go back to the drawing board and make adjustments according,” she said.

*With files from CJOY’s Matt Carty

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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