On­tario autism pro­gram to of­fer di­rect fund­ing

Windsor Star - - CITY - ALLISON JONES

Pri­vate ther­apy will be paid for should fam­i­lies opt for that method of treat­ment

On­tario fam­i­lies of chil­dren with autism will be able to choose be­tween us­ing gov­ern­ment-funded ser­vices or re­ceiv­ing fund­ing to pay for pri­vate ther­apy, as part of an over­hauled pro­gram.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced Thurs­day that the $533-mil­lion On­tario Autism Pro­gram be­gin­ning next month will soon in­clude a di­rect fund­ing op­tion, some­thing fam­i­lies have long been clam­our­ing for.

“We’ve been ad­vo­cat­ing for di­rect fund­ing for 12 years,” said On­tario Autism Coali­tion pres­i­dent Bruce McIn­tosh. “We know that it’s a bet­ter op­tion for fam­i­lies in terms of the flex­i­bil­ity .... The cost per child for the gov­ern­ment is lower. Ev­ery­body ben­e­fits from this fund­ing model.”

While some fam­i­lies pre­fer the gov­ern­ment-funded di­rect ser­vice model be­cause they don’t want to have to man­age the money and keep time sheets, many want the flex­i­bil­ity of di­rect fund­ing, McIn­tosh said.

“The ther­a­pists can come to your home,” he said. “The times of ser­vice de­liv­ery are dif­fer­ent. The di­rect ser­vice agen­cies re­strict you to sort of a nine-to-five on week­days, whereas you can do evenings and week­ends with a pri­vate provider.”

Kris­ten El­li­son, a par­ent of an autis­tic son, has also been push­ing hard for the di­rect fund­ing op­tion.

“You want to shorten your wait lists, you want to get the kids in, you want to do the right thing?” she said. “All roads lead back to hav­ing a di­rect fund­ing op­tion.

When the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment ini­tially an­nounced a new autism pro­gram early last year, it said it would do away with the dis­tinc­tions be­tween In­ten­sive Be­havioural In­ter­ven­tion and Ap­plied Be­hav­iour Anal­y­sis and blend them into a ser­vice that would tai­lor the in­ten­sity of ther­apy to a child’s in­di­vid­ual needs.

But that pro­gram was not due to roll out un­til 2018, and in the mean­time the gov­ern­ment said it would stop fund­ing IBI for kids over four, giv­ing fam­i­lies of kids re­moved from the IBI wait list $8,000 to pay for pri­vate ther­apy dur­ing the tran­si­tion.

The fam­i­lies said that would only pay for a few months of ther­apy, not two years.

Premier Kath­leen Wynne put a new min­is­ter on the file, who quickly an­nounced that those fam­i­lies would get suc­ces­sive pay­ments of $10,000 for pri­vate ther­apy un­til the new pro­gram was up and run­ning. The start date for the pro­gram was moved up to June 2017.

Now, Chil­dren and Youth Ser­vices Min­is­ter Michael Coteau said there will be a new and per­ma­nent di­rect fund­ing op­tion in the On­tario Autism Pro­gram by the end of the year.

Fam­i­lies al­ready re­ceiv­ing the $10,000 pay­ments for pri­vate ther­apy will con­tinue to get them un­til the per­ma­nent fund­ing is up and run­ning.

There was a di­rect fund­ing op­tion un­der the old pro­gram, but only for kids un­der five and it capped the fund­ing at $39 per hour for providers. It wasn’t true di­rect fund­ing be­cause that cap was “ar­ti­fi­cially low” and meant fam­i­lies still had to pay top ups out of pocket, McIn­tosh said.

“The ex­per­i­ment hasn’t been a free, open mar­ket for ser­vices and as a re­sult of that re­quire­ment, it re­ally did come down to a two-tier sys­tem,” he said.

De­tails are still be­ing worked out for the new di­rect fund­ing op­tion, but it would have no age cap, of­fi­cials say. Any new fee cap would be about en­sur­ing chil­dren get the same level of ser­vice, no mat­ter which stream they are un­der, they added.

A gov­ern­ment-com­mis­sioned anal­y­sis about 10 years ago found that the av­er­age cost per hour for di­rect ser­vice was $55, ver­sus $37 for di­rect fund­ing.

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