Layoffs starting at autism clinics in Ontario as new autism funding changes loom

Therapists are losing their jobs at autism clinics throughout Ontario as changes to the province's autism policy take effect April 1st.

That's contrary to what Ontario's Premier promised; that no front-line jobs would be impacted.  Clinics in Waterloo and Barrie have already announced staff cuts.  In Ottawa, centres are scrambling to re-organize to avoid that in an environment filled with uncertainty, both for the therapists and the clients.

Miranda is one of 17 therapists on staff at ABA Connections on Colonnade Road in Ottawa’s south end, working one on one with 4-year-old Amara, who, up until a few months ago, couldn't talk.

But Miranda's job and the job of other therapists here is up in the air.

“No one wants to see layoffs,” says Leigh Giles, the clinical director with ABA Connections, “I'm sure every organization will do everything to try to avoid that, but it could be the reality and it's scary.”

That is the reality at the IBI Behavioural Services clinic in Barrie;

“We are looking at 25 to 30 layoffs come April and May,” says Amanda Baysarowich , the owner of the clinic.

The layoffs fly in the face of what Premier Doug Ford said yesterday.

“So far, we made these efficiencies and not one person lost their job,” the Premier said, adding that his government’s policies will result in layoffs but that they would be limited to high level management positions.  At the IBI Behavioural Services clinic, though, these workers are on the front line.

“We are losing front line workers,” says Baysarowich, “they are being laid off and I don't know where his information is coming from. It is frustrating as an Ontarian to sit back and watch that and see what he is saying because it is not accurate.”

According to statistics from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), there are 453 children in the Ottawa area who currently get funding through the Ontario Autism Program as of the end of January.  182 get therapy through private providers like ABA Connections as a direct funding option.  271 are on the direct service option through therapists at CHEO.

CHEO employs about 100 therapists and at this point doesn't know how things will play out.

On its website it says “by April 1, we expect to be in a position to announce our Autism Program's service offerings for spring and summer. We recognize that this transition period is very difficult for families and will do everything we can to support you.”

Back at ABA Connections, they are trying to bring in more clients and offer different services, in order to help both the therapists and the families.

“We're protecting our clients and the families we work with just as much as we are with the staff,” says Anna Satler, the Director of Client Services with ABA Connections, “but there is lots of uncertainty in the air now.”

The Ford government has said it's not backing down from the path it's chosen on this issue.  Families have vowed not to ease up THEIR pressure either -- now they've got the support of unions who will rally beside them next Friday.