Brock Township council has thrown its support behind a Sunderland parent’s fight against changes to the Ontario Autism Program.
Local politicians passed a motion at Monday (April 1) night’s meeting asking the provincial government to pause revisions to the program following a passionate presentation from Jill Breugem, who serves as the regional co-ordinator for the Ontario Autism Coalition.
The Township’s letter of support will be distributed to Premier Doug Ford, opposition leaders, area MPP Laurie Scott, neighbouring municipalities, Durham Region and the public and Catholic school boards.
Breugem’s 10-year-old son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of two and spent more than six years of his life on a waitlist for treatment.
She teared up recounting many of her personal experiences, as well as those from other parents, and urged members of council to take action.
“Parents of children are sick over these changes. They are in crisis and need your support,” she said.
The motion was unanimously approved, with many members of council offering their sympathies for the plight currently facing parents.
“My heart goes out to you and the children,” said Ward 5 Councillor Lynn Campbell.
They also credited Breugem for taking a stand.
“Your courage is exemplary,” added Ward 1 Councillor Mike Jubb.
“Anything we can do to help, we will,” said Regional Councillor Ted Smith.
Mayor Debbie Bath-Hadden and Ward 3 Councillor Walter Schummer were the harshest critics of the government’s decision to overhaul the program.
“We’re here for you. Unlike our MPP (Laurie Scott) – we care,” Mayor Bath-Hadden said.
“It’s appalling what the government is doing. And we all know why they’re doing it,” Coun. Schummer added, noting that many view it as an effort to cut costs rather than to improve the lives of children and their families.
Under the reforms, which were announced in early February and went into effect on Monday, families may receive a budget for treatment until their child turns 18. The amount of the budget will depend on the length of time a child will be in the program, with supports targeted to lower and middle-income families.
But the funding is dependent on age, rather than individual needs.
“Basing therapy requirements on age instead of diagnosis isn’t morally, ethically or fiscally responsible,” Breugem said.
Advocates say that while the new model may cut down the wait time for treatment, it will result in some parents seeing only a fraction of previous funding.
Breugem’s son would only be eligible for $5,000 worth of funding per year. His treatment costs closer to $70,000.
“Parents will have to go through their life savings or refinance their homes. In our case, we’re going to have to sell our home,” Breugem said, her voice cracking.
“That’s no way to treat youth, families and parents,” Schummer replied.
While Breugem acknowleged that the government has made some minor improvements to the program in the weeks since it was announced, she was adament that more public consultation was required.
The changes announced by the government will also have an impact on schools across the province, Breugem said, primarily due to a shortage of educational assistants.
While needs vary, some children – including her son – can require one-on-one care in the classroom.
Breugem noted that teachers will only receive one day of online training to support students with special needs.
“I feel for the teachers. They’re going to have their hands full,” she said.
Trustees with the Durham District School penned an open letter to the provincial government last month raising a litany of concerns with the new funding model.
“We care deeply about the success of our students identified with autism, and all students with special needs and the impact on their families,” it opens.
“We are very appreciative of the hard work of our DDSB staff to try to support our students identified with autism but are extremely concerned about staff’s ability to support students with this lack of funding and new Ministry model.”
To read the letter in full, click the link below.