Autism So­ci­ety NL seek­ing in­creased gov­ern­ment fund­ing

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial - Scott Crocker Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Autism So­ci­ety NL., St. John’s

Dear Ed­i­tor,

Autism So­ci­ety, New­found­land and Labrador (ASNL), can­not sus­tain op­er­a­tions with­out in­creased gov­ern­ment core fund­ing. There has been a 120 per cent in­crease in the in­ci­dence rate for Autism Spec­trum Dis­or­der (ASD) since 2002. N.L. has the high­est rate in Canada, at 1 to 57. One lo­cal re­search study put the rate at 1 to 46 on the Avalon Penin­sula. For ASNL, the in­creased preva­lence means in­creas­ing de­mands from fam­i­lies, pro­fes­sion­als and adults with ASD.

In­creased de­mand re­sults in a need for more staff to de­liver qual­ity sup­ports. More than 160 in­di­vid­u­als (in­clud­ing 40 new par­tic­i­pants), reg­is­tered for our Fall So­cial Group pro­gram — just one pro­gram of­fered.

In 2013, there were just 111 to­tal par­tic­i­pants in all pro­grams. In 2018, that num­ber has more than tripled, to 373.

In 2013, ASNL of­fered pro­gram­ming to just two in­di­vid­u­als un­der age five. To­day, there are 70 preschool­ers.

In 2013, ASNL of­fered pro­gram­ming to 49 adults over age 16. To­day, there are 120 adults.

In 2018, ASNL’s En­gage­ment staff reached over 19,000, in­clud­ing more than 1,200 first re­spon­ders since 2016. Staff in all re­gions as­sist fam­i­lies in school set­tings, pro­vide pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment and aware­ness ses­sions to or­ga­ni­za­tions, and host con­fer­ences/work­shops for pro­fes­sion­als work­ing with those af­fected by ASD.

ASNL has re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­vid­ing sup­ports – so­cial pro­grams for chil­dren, youth and adults; nav­i­ga­tion for fam­i­lies; com­mu­nity en­gage­ment; ad­vo­cacy; and job readi­ness/em­ploy­ment pro­grams. ASNL de­liv­ers ser­vices that gov­ern­ment and oth­ers do not pro­vide.

The Autism Ac­tion Plan, man­dated weeks af­ter the pro­vin­cial elec­tion in 2015, may be rolled out in these last months prior to the elec­tion in 2019. But with a five-year im­ple­men­ta­tion plan, it will take us be­yond the 2023 elec­tion. It does not in­clude in­creased core fund­ing for ASNL (now less than it was in fis­cal 2012, seven years ago). There are no in­creased pro­gram­ming sup­ports for head­quar­ters and the re­gional cen­tres. Just 50 per cent per cent of our $1.6 mil­lion an­nual bud­get comes from pro­vin­cial core fund­ing to help ASNL de­liver on its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

This is for the is­land only — there is no re­gional of­fice in Labrador. Re­quests for as­sis­tance to es­tab­lish an of­fice in Happy Val­ley-Goose Bay since 2013 have gone un­heeded.

The re­main­ing 50 per cent of ASNL’s an­nual bud­get is raised by vol­un­teers and staff through mul­ti­ple fundrais­ing events dur­ing the year (i.e. Walk for Autism, Har­vest of Hope) and/or gar­nered through do­na­tions and com­pet­i­tive ap­pli­ca­tions for foun­da­tion and/or fed­eral/ pro­vin­cial grants.

Un­for­tu­nately, ASNL is help­ing just a small por­tion of many af­fected by ASD.

It ap­pears gov­ern­ment now wants to fur­ther re­duce sup­port and pro­vide even less reg­u­lar an­nual fund­ing. Of­fi­cials may even ex­pect ASNL to ramp down pro­gram­ming.

Still, gov­ern­ment is do­ing noth­ing in the short/near term to re­place these sup­ports and ser­vices and help the in­creas­ing num­bers in our com­mu­ni­ties. ASNL will not aban­don those we serve.

ASNL makes a real dif­fer­ence in the lives of peo­ple af­fected by ASD. It de­liv­ers on its mis­sion through a highly-trained pro­gram staff and se­nior man­age­ment team. How­ever, an­nual bud­geted fundraised rev­enue is down by 50 per cent when com­pared to three years ago. Any staff lay­offs will mean the loss of vi­tal sup­ports for the ASD com­mu­nity.

Chal­lenges fac­ing ASNL in 2018 are huge.

The pro­jected op­er­at­ing deficit in cur­rent fis­cal 2019 is nearly $300,000 – it’s the lost fundrais­ing rev­enue. Even in fis­cal 2018, with al­most that ex­act amount of ad­di­tional fund­ing from gov­ern­ment, ASNL had a $30,000 deficit. Re­duc­ing costs means re­duc­ing sup­ports and ser­vices at a time when there is al­ready in­suf­fi­cient space and too few staff.

The Elaine Dob­bin Cen­ter for Autism has long been be­yond ca­pac­ity to ac­com­mo­date more par­tic­i­pants and/or staff. Our pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has fi­nan­cially sup­ported new con­struc­tion of other ser­vice fa­cil­i­ties in re­cent years. But on­site ren­o­va­tion and ex­pan­sion of fa­cil­i­ties at Sham­rock Farm, de­signed and costed with a Fea­si­bil­ity Study in 2016, is not sup­ported by this gov­ern­ment.

ASNL con­tin­ues to make a real dif­fer­ence in the lives of peo­ple af­fected by autism. With­out a real part­ner­ship, and ad­e­quate in­vest­ment, ac­cess to pro­grams, sup­ports and ser­vices in our ASD com­mu­nity will be­come more and more limited for fam­i­lies and chil­dren, care­givers and pro­fes­sion­als. And es­pe­cially for adults with ASD.

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