KidsAbility to layoff half its autism staff; officials blame government changes

WATERLOO –  Officials say KidsAbility will be forced to layoff half its autism staff as a direct result of the provincial government’s changes to the Ontario Autism Program.

The move will affect 20 to 25 staff members, effective in January, at KidsAbility locations in Fergus, Guelph, Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo.

The layoffs are in addition nine staff reductions announced in March.

“News like this is not good for anyone – for our community and for the staff, families and children directly impacted,” chief executive officer Linda Kenny stated in a press release.

“However, given our current fiscal reality, our board determined that we have no choice but to layoff professional, highly-trained, regarded and passionate individuals.”

KidsAbility officials note they hope to build a “sustainable” program that will allow the foundation to bring back laid-off staff members.

Reacting to the KidsAbility layoffs, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas called the provincial government’s new autism policy “disgraceful.”

“Doug Ford and his government are picking on children in this province,” said Thomas in a press release.

“The man who claims to be ‘for the little guy’ has targeted the most vulnerable members of our society through cuts to child care, education, foster care and, in this case, autism services.”

Kenny explained KidsAbility officials have been grappling with how “to deliver high quality services … in a new fee-for-service model,” since the government announced Ontario Autism Program reforms in February.

Government funding for KidsAbility’s autism services was cut by 25% in March, resulting in nine staff reductions.

By April 1, 2020, direct government funding to KidsAbility for autism services will cease.

The government has introduced “childhood budgets” for families to purchase services. Children under age six are eligible to receive $20,000 annually in direct funding while those six and over are eligible to receive $5,000 annually up to a lifetime maximum of $140,000.

In response to the changes, KidsAbility launched a new fee-for-service model in April.

“The government believes that by issuing childhood budgets that it gives families choices … However, we believe these changes have had the effect of limiting options for families,” said. Kenny.

“The changes to the Ontario Autism Program have destabilized a system that was built with the unique needs of children and families at the centre. Nevertheless, we are committed to providing high quality services to families and that commitment has not changed.”

Thomas said the province should scrap its “wild-west approach” to children’s treatment.

“Making parents go on fishing expeditions for help is grossly unfair to them and their children,” he stated.

KidsAbility assists over 11,000 children and youths – and their families – with almost 1,500 on a waiting list for services.