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Autism treatment centre says 113 people are losing their jobs due to funding changes

More than 100 people are being laid off at a treatment centre for children with disabilities — a move the centre says is a direct result of Ontario’s changes to autism funding.

ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment says in order to continue providing services to children with autism it is eliminating 291 full-time positions, which include front-line staff and management, and is bringing 178 people back on nine-month contracts, timed to when the centre’s funding will cease.

“In order for our organization to be able to continue to provide much needed services to children with autism and their families in this new environment, we have had to make some significant staffing reductions,” Erinoak said in a statement.

“These were very difficult decisions and we would like to thank all of our dedicated staff for the excellent care that they have provided to children during our time as a transfer payment agency for the delivery of autism services.”

Premier Doug Ford repeatedly promised during the election last year that not a single person would lose their job under his government.

A spokesman for Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod did not directly address the job losses in a statement, except to note that about 180 people would be rehired.

“Our government believes parents know best,” Derek Rowland wrote. “That’s why we are providing funding directly to parents, not agencies. We know we need a flexible system that empowers parents to make decisions specific to the needs of their child.”

The Progressive Conservative government is moving to give money directly to families to pay for autism therapy, instead of funding the service providers.

The program as originally announced in February would have given each family on the wait list up to $20,000 a year until their child turns six, and $5,000 a year until age 18, but families protested, saying those amounts weren’t nearly enough, particularly for kids with severe needs, whose therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year.

MacLeod eventually backtracked, promising to double the program’s budget to roughly $600 million and look at how to add needs-based supports.

“With 23,000 children coming off of the waitlist over the next 18 months, providers will see an influx of families looking for a wide range of service and supports,” Rowland wrote.

NDP critic Monique Taylor slammed the reduction in front-line staff who help kids with autism.

“We support an Ontario Autism Program that’s fully-funded, needs-based and evidence-based, and we believe that taking help away from children with autism is callous, and can have devastating long-term impacts,” she said in a statement.

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