Lisa MacLeod Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, said the previous system for children with autism was unfair and cruel to the majority of children who needed treatment and were not getting it.
Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Parents are accusing the Ford government of betraying their trust after documents surfaced that appear to show the wait list for autism treatment was frozen last fall and that staff were directed not to tell parents.This newspaper has obtained copies of several documents that indicate a directive went out from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services to stop calling parents on the list to advise them of available spaces.The documents include a series of questions and answers from the ministry, directing employees on talking points.Related Among the questions: “Implementing these strategies will mean no clients will move off the wait list for the balance of the fiscal year. How do we support family concerns about a growing wait list and longer wait times?” The answer acknowledges families have been waiting a long time and offers workshops and group seminars on autism spectrum disorder instead.In one email to staff, a manager spells out that parents should not be told.“Note the ministry has asked us not to stray outside of their messaging. (i.e. we would not tell families directly that there will be no service offers through the end of the fiscal year.)”The documents have infuriated Scott Corbett, an Ottawa father of two sons on the autism spectrum, including one who has been on the waiting list for more than two years.“Frankly, I find this a complete betrayal of the public trust,” he said.The revelations come as anger over the Progressive Conservative government’s autism reforms continues to spark protests and calls for the minister, local MPP Lisa MacLeod, to resign.Earlier this month, MacLeod announced the province was eliminating the 23,000-strong wait list for autism services and would begin giving money directly to parents to buy services. She called the years-long wait list cruel and unethical.Parents say the new program was badly planned and badly rolled out and that the money offered will only cover a small fraction of the treatment children need.In light of the release of documents suggesting the list was frozen, some are questioning whether the Progressive Conservatives artificially inflated it in order to support changes to the program.On Sunday, MacLeod released a statement denying the government had artificially inflated the wait list and calling such suggestions “disturbing and disgraceful.”She repeated that the program, as it had been run by the Liberal government, was unsustainable. The Progressive Conservative government added $100 million last fall “to make sure regional providers could meet their service commitments,” she said.But that explanation of an overwhelmed program does not match up with some of the documents obtained by this newspaper and statements from a therapist at a program indicating that, far from being overwhelmed, therapists had time to offer other services, such as workshops, since they were not replacing children who had graduated from treatment.“There was capacity to work with more children, but we weren’t allowed to,” said the behavioural therapist from southern Ontario who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing a fear of professional reprisal.On Sunday, Michael Coteau, who was the minister in charge of autism services under the Liberal government, renewed calls for MacLeod to step down.“The allegations that Lisa MacLeod deliberately and callously closed the autism wait list to manufacture a crisis and justify her flawed plan are shocking and shameful. For months, children went without treatment and parents were given false hope.”Corbett said hiding the fact that the waiting list had been frozen means parents weren’t able to make decisions about the best thing to do for their children, and were dragged along for months expecting a call any day.“They may have taken out a line of credit or remortgaged their home to get into therapy. They couldn’t make that decision because the government was flat out hiding the truth.”Corbett said he doesn’t know the government’s motivation for pausing the wait list without telling parents, but he does know that they hid the truth.“I don’t know how (MacLeod) moves forward on this file when she has created such mistrust,” he firstname.lastname@example.org ALSO IN THE NEWS:Police respond to crashes, warn drivers as ice coats city streets and sidewalksArrest made in Vanier homicideRubber boots or knee-high faux fur trimmed winter boots?