When KidsAbility planned for its recently-opened $1.2-million Guelph hub on Imperial Road, it was receiving about 20 per cent of its base funding from the Ontario government to provide autism services in Waterloo Region, Wellington County and Guelph.
“What a difference a year makes,” KidsAbility CEO Linda Kenny said Tuesday.
“When we conceived and built the Guelph hub we certainly planned for autism to be there and actually thought it might be one of our growing services. We still think that could be possible.”
In about one year’s time the organization’s autism services will be entirely defunded by the Ontario government. Recently it made the difficult decision to lay off nine of it’s staff members who delivered those services, including two in Guelph.
Kenny said more layoffs could be coming, depending on the next steps from the government as far as transitional funding goes.
“It’s never easy to do those kinds of things,” said Kenny. “We have very talented, skilled, dedicated professionals on staff that come to work every day wanting to make a difference for kids and families.”
The organization will receive some transitional funding beginning April 1, said Kenny, but to date it has no idea how much that will be or what conditions will be applied by the government to receive it.
Kenny said there is about 100 people on the wait list for autism services in Guelph and Wellington County. She supports the government’s efforts to deal with the wait list, but said she will wait and see if it’s method is effective.
“We are working on transition plans, we are trying to do our best to support families through this transition as seamlessly as possible and we are still going to be in the business of dealing autism services, it just might look a lot different,” said Kenny.
The organization is making a fundamental shift in the way it delivers autism service, from a government funded model to one paid for by the families that access it—all without knowing who may sign up for it or what the transitional funding will look like.
“It is very difficult to be planning under the circumstances that we are in. We are two weeks away from the end of our fiscal year and we still don’t have confirmation of funding for the new fiscal year,” said Kenny.
“Beginning in April, families will have the option of purchasing services from a provider, and KidsAbility will be on that list of providers.”
On Monday, Lisa Thompson, Ontario’s Minister of Education, announced additional funding for schools that take in students with autism. It will amount to about $12,300 per student with autism.
In a memorandum from March 2018 sent from the Ontario government to directors of education, per pupil funding for any student in the 2018-19 school year was set at the same amount, about $12,300.
That announcement and its timing adds up to more uncertainty for KidsAbility.
“We are aware that the minister of Education made an announcement yesterday, but given the fact that it is March break we are unable to communicate with our school board partners to understand what impact that might have on the transitional planning we have undertaken with them thus far,” said Kenny.
In August, KidsAbility hosted Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister of Children, Community and Social Services at it’s site in Waterloo, soon after she took on the file which sees the distribution of autism funding in Ontario.
Since the visit, KidsAbility has been providing advice to the government in regards to how autism services are offered in Ontario.
“We knew they were very interested in the autism file. We have tried to deliver our best advice based on our 15 years of experience in the business of autism and the fact we deliver evidence-based programs and services,” said Kenny. “I would say any advice we have given government would not necessarily have been consistent with the program that they rolled out.”