“Your government seems to have no sympathy or understanding for the incredible strain that it (autism) puts these families under, both emotionally and financially.” – Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch, in an Open Letter to Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith
An Open Letter from Niagara Centre’s NDP MPP Jeff Burch, with Foreword and Afterword Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter Doug Draper
Posted January 9th, 2020 on Niagara At Large
Foreword by Doug Draper
Since taking the oath of office in June 2018, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly boasted that he was going to run a “government for the people.”
Indeed, Ford has used the mantra “for the people” so often in front of the word “party” or “government,” that you almost have to be reminded that it is the old “Progressive Conservative Party” and it is a “Progressive Conservative Government” that is very light on the “Progressive,” that he is actually talking about.
And exactly what “people” Ford is talking about when he brags about running a “government for the people” continues to be a subject of debate.
It certainly doesn’t seem to include adults and children struggling to get the assistance they need to deal with a diagnosis of autism in their families, and make sure there is adequate and reliable coverage for the therapy a diagnosed child requires to live a happy and productive life.
For most of the past 12 months Ford’s Conservatives – his so-called “government for the people” – have been in power in Ontario, all families living with autism in their family have been getting is stories about cuts and changes to programs to help people with autism, as if with this issue, like so many others, Ford’s Tories never really had a coherent plan to begin with.
One of the many thousands of families across Ontario facing this government-manufactured mess is the Serianni family in Welland who have a four-year-old son Ashton, who was diagnosed with autism close to a year ago when he was still three, and has been receiving therapy at Bethesda Services, an agency in neighbouring Thorold that provides therapeutic services to children and adults with developmental challenges.
According to Ashton’s dad, Joe, the services Bethesda is providing have been very helpful, but the problem for the Serianni family, like so many others across the province, is this.
The Seriannis have so far been paying out of their own pockets – as much as they say they now can – for Ashton’s therapy, and almost a year after he was diagnosed and began his therapy sessions, they still haven’t received a single penny of assistance from Ford’s ‘government for the people’.
In an interview with Niagara At Large, Joe Serianni said the family is paying $2,000 a month – more than the monthly mortgage payments they make on their home – for what he says amounts to about the bare minimum of therapy his son should be getting.
And up to late this past December, the family still had not received any word on when they would receive some financial assistance.
That word came right from the top, from Ford’s Minister of Child, Community and Social Services Minister Todd Smith, but only after Niagara Centre NDP MPP Jeff Burch sent a very stinging “urgent letter” to Scott that, among other things, got the family’s plight some local newspaper and radio coverage.
Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch’s letter, send as an open letter to Smith on December 18th, and also referring to a “decision” on assistance to families last year that offered no assurance of adequate coverage for therapy services and when it would begin, read as follows –
Dear Minister Smith:
The latest decision on funding for Autism has to be one of the most callous and heartless decisions I have ever seen.
Families like Joe Serianni of Welland and his son Ashton have been strung along with promises of funding.
Minister, it is a known scientific fact that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome will be for autistic children.
When you assumed this portfolio from Minister Lisa McLeod, you acknowledged the government did not get things right the first time around.
Some families have exhausted their savings and gone into debt to continue paying for therapy. Mr. Serianni, who I have met with, was so pleased to tell me how his son had responded so well to the limited therapy that he’s been paying for out of his own pocket.
Your government seems to have no sympathy or understanding for the incredible strain that it puts these families under, both emotionally and financially. You must realize the longer you take to help children with autism the more it is going to cost down the road.
Minister, I am pleading with you to help these children now and end these delays. Each day these children with Autism languish in this government imposed limbo and are denied treatment, is another day their potential for success and growth is impacted.
Sincerely, Jeff Burch
An Afterword by Doug Draper
In response to the MPP’s letter, Joe Serianni said his family, along with Burch, received a response from Minister Smith, finally indicating (after all the months spent trying to get any word at all) that the family would receive a checque from the province for $20,000 for one year.
Once again, the dilemma the Seriannis face, is that the amount of funding the Minister has promised falls $4,000 short of what the Serianni family is now paying for a bare minimum of therapy for Ashton, and there is no promise that even this amount funding will continue for future years.
On top of that, all of this far short and away from the fact that the amount it would cost per year to give Ashton the treatment he should be getting. That amount comes closer to $60,000, and said Joe Serianni during the interview with NAL, it is looking like Ford’s ‘government for the people’ simply isn’t about to pay that amount of money for Ashton and thousands of other children across the province diagnosed with autism.
There are now reportedly about 24,000 individuals up to the age of 18 diagnosed with autism, and the province is apparently now looking at funding assistance for about 3,000 of them.
Research has shown that a good deal can be done to help people with autism live a happy and productive life if they receive the help they need early enough in their lives.
All of the back and forth jostling with the Ford government to receive the needed assistance “is causing a great deal of stress for families,” said Joe Serianni. “They are making children with autism wait (and) and I am getting quite angry about the time it is taking.”
“All I want for my son and for all of the other children (diagnosed with autism) is to get the basic building blocks so that they can contribute to society rather than cost society later.”
The problem is that the possible cost to society later, when it comes to this or to any one of a number of other issues – protecting the environment, shifting to greener, more renewable sources of energy and providing children with a quality public education, just to name a few – does not appear to be in the sight range of a Ford government that came to power without a long-range plan, and that only seems to be interested in cutting taxes and services, and saying and doing whatever it can to please its hard-core base.
And if – however “callous and heartless” it may seem – children with autism are among an ever growing number of others across Ontario who fall through the cracks, so be it.
So much for Ford’s “government for the people.”
Are you going to give us another thumbs up, Mr. Premier?
Niagara At Large will continue following this issue and keeping our readers posted on any further developments in the days, weeks and months ahead.
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