Premier Dennis Fentie has apologized to parents of children with autism.
“If parents have been offended or feel that they were not treated respectfully in dealings with our government, we apologize for that,” he said in a letter addressed to Autism Yukon.
However, he has not yet agreed to increase funding to families with disabled children.
That’s a concern, because the fund’s growth in recent years has been outpaced by surging demand. As a result, individual families receive less money now than five years ago.
In 2005/06, 10 families shared $257,000 in direct funding.
Since then, direct funding has made a modest growth to $316,000. However, this money is now spread between 55 families.
“We were told that we were just going to have to share what we have, the pie is just going to have to be sliced thinner,” said Julie Robinson, the executive director of Autism Yukon.
“That’s a large concern because they underserve anyway.”
Autism Yukon met with the premier and Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart last week to discuss recent changes to the support program.
The hour-and-a-half-long meeting last Thursday morning was largely a fact-finding meeting, said Robinson.
“He asked for a number of things, which we thought would rectify the program and put the process back on track.”
One of the major suggestions was to return to a work plan for autism services that the territory started with Autism Yukon in 2006.
The cornerstone of the work plan was a focus on family directed programming.
It was launched in 2008 and broadened to include other disabilities.
“It was a state-of-the-art policy and we were more than satisfied,” said Robinson.
“In subsequent years it derailed somewhere, the self-directed thing has fallen off the table.”
This may be because of staff and ministerial changes.
“A lot of people that are making the decisions right now weren’t part of that process,” said Robinson.
“So we want to work on this together and get this back on track.”
In the letter, Fentie committed to revisit the plan.
He also promised to stop the proposed hiring process of three staff within the department of Health and Social Services and return to a more family oriented model.
However, Fentie has not committed to increasing funding for the program.
“And that’s really concerning to us,” said Robinson, “because the numbers are growing.”
The Yukon should soon have 200 diagnosed cases of autism if numbers are similar to those seen worldwide, said Robinson.
Currently, only 22 kids with autism are receiving help from the family supports for children with disabilities program.
And then there are the families dealing with children with a whole range of physical and mental disabilities.
“The children with autism only represent a piece of this picture,” said Robinson.
“We want to include those other families in this process too.”
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