The April 24th edition of the Fort Frances times included an article about OPSEU's “Families Know Best Voyage,” a tour through the region to discuss autism services. I echo the concerns that OPSEU has expressed, specifically funding cuts, and would like to share my concerns about this issue.
I'm more than a little concerned that our MPP is choosing to deflect blame for the current problems with funding, given that previous governments have increased funding. I agree with Mr. Rickford that services in the northwest are limited; this is a complex problem that involves many factors including the lack of child psychiatrists who diagnose autism.
However, regarding treatment and support we have been fortunate to have had some local services, including intensive behavioural therapy, for quite a number of years. I fear that these services will now be severely restricted due to funding cuts; it's hard to say for sure as the government has not been forthcoming with this information.
And to look at the provincial situation, Mr. Rickford and the PC government are being fickle in blaming the problem on geography; I'm hearing reports about massive cuts where services are much more readily available. For example, an article published in the Ottawa Citizen (E. Payne, ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/cheo-issues-list-of-fees-for-autism-services-we-are-used-to-people-handing-us-an-ohip-card-not-a-bank-card' April 24, 2019,) notes that the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, which provides comprehensive diagnosis and treatment, has published a list of fees for autism treatment because the new program rules require them to list fees and act as a “fee-for-service” provider.
What? This sounds like privatization! This wasn't the mandate given to the Ford government.
Even where services are available, as it stands right now families are required to pay for these services because funding has been cut. Parents report that the level of funding currently being offered is enough to offer just a few weeks of therapy; this is not acceptable and leaves these children without supports.
Information available suggests that early, intensive therapy offers the best chance for a child on the autism spectrum to develop the skills they need to maximize their potential. These kids are being sent to Ontario classrooms without the therapy they need, and the government isn't giving any additional money for supports to help them succeed.
The funding the government announced is simply the per-student amount that schools get for all children. I don't think it's a stretch to say that these cuts will have devastating impacts on all of our students.
I did not vote for financial cuts that will hurt the most vulnerable in our province so that the richest can benefit. However, this is what the Doug Ford PC government is doing.
Cuts include: education (increase to class sizes, lack of funding for student supports, real dollar cuts to education by failing to adjust for inflation, addition of e-learning courses); huge cuts to library services (where kids without computers/internet are expected to go to do their e-learning), cuts to Legal Aid (affects low-income people); cuts to OHIP+ (affects families whose children have profound medication costs); and huge cuts to public health (keeping us well saves money!)
These are just a few of the ways that the Ford government claims to be “finding efficiencies” while our money is being wastefully spent on misleading stickers for gas pumps, frivolous road signs, a revamp of our provincial logo, a new license plate, horse-racing, and jobs for the PC party's buddies.
The list of cuts and spending is much longer but I'll stop there for now.
I am deeply troubled about how this government is slashing services for the most vulnerable in our province. This is not the vision I have for my home; I want a place where we value children, we seek equity and fair treatment for all, and we don't allow greed to set the tone.
I urge my community to support people who are advocating for their rights, the rights of our most vulnerable children, and for our community members who are suffering as a result of these cuts.
Use your voice to insist that our provincial government treat people with respect and dignity, and that they make decisions with the best interests of our most vulnerable people in mind.
Fort Frances, Ont.