Ontario Autism Program waitlist update: Transparency is getting worse

The extent of the numbers provided by MCCSS in the March 15th, 2020 update

When Minister Todd Smith took over the autism file in the summer of 2019, he pledged to provide monthly updates of the waitlist numbers.

He promised to be “open and transparent.”

The format of the released numbers has changed several times along the way. Luckily we have screenshots to track the progression.

With a new autism program that was apparently live on April 1st, 2019, the first Childhood Budget cheques were only received towards the end of June.

The very first Ministry update, dated July 3rd, 2019, looked like this:

In the first round of cheques, 260 new kids received funding under Lisa MacLeod’s version of the program, in the form of a Childhood Budget, and we had a dollar amount attached to it.

The next monthly update looked very different, with the first version of a Ministry chart:

Just over one month in, and they no longer provided spending information, which was our first major reduction in useful information. They also decided to keep the children registered after April 1st 2019 in a separate box, despite them being in the exact same situation as the “Children waiting for services.” This allowed the Ministry to try and show a shrinking waitlist, despite that suggested movement being far from accurate. More on this later.

The September 15th update looked much the same as the August one, but on October 15th we had a new chart format and wording:

(My saved screenshot from that update was unfortunately missing the additional preamble, but you’ll see that part in a chart later on).

A new feature of the Ministry chart was a wording change: the first column was no longer “Children in service” but rather “Children currently in services.”

A key difference between the kids in the old behavioural program plans (“legacy kids”) and kids receiving a Childhood Budget is that the latter comes with no guarantees they’re getting any therapy at all. Between private sector waitlists, capacity problems, lack of guidance, and fear of spending incorrectly, etc, it’s unclear how many kids with a budget cheque are actually getting therapy. What’s also unknown is how many kids who received a letter to apply for a Childhood Budget even received a cheque at all. Uptake was very low, especially in the early months.

Due to the misleading Ministry updates being posted, I created my own version of the monthly numbers chart, and updated it regularly:

The Ministry updates between November 15th 2019 - Feb 15th 2020 all followed the same format and wording as their October posting. Here’s the most recent chart from February 15th, 2020:

The footnote was new last month, and promised numbers on one-time funding in the March update.

To compare, here’s my latest version, based on the same numbers:

Two important trends:

  • The number of “legacy kids” went down every month
  • The waitlist hardly changed, and in fact went up for the first several months

I’m not sure what I expected today’s Ministry update to look like, but it was not this. Around 11 am this morning, a strange new update was made:

That’s it. That was all they gave us. The previous Ministry chart was taken down.

If I tried to update my own chart, it might look something like this:

Okay, lets break down the three numbers the Ministry saw-fit to give us.

39,123 Children registered in the OAP

Adding up the numbers from the previous month:

8,050 in the old program + 24,518 waiting + 5,069 Childhood Budgets = 37,637

That means to get up to 39,123 there are a total of 1,486 new kids since last month, presumably all new applicants. They are now added to the waitlist, are eligible for one-time funding, but then face a long wait for anything more, with over 37,000 kids that will enter the new program before them.

10,434 Invitations issued for Childhood Budgets

This one is the biggest mystery. Previously we had “Families receiving childhood budgets.” Now it’s “invitations issued for childhood budgets.”

NOT the same thing.

How many of those invitations turned into actual money spent by the government?

Impossible to know in this format.

For this group of kids it’s as if they’re saying “well, we tried … but then we didn’t bother to follow-up to ensure these children actually got the funding they were offered.”

Lots of uncertainty in these numbers, but it gives the Ministry a way of keeping those kids in the tally and out of the way, since they won’t be eligible for one-time funding.

From the ministry website on eligibility for one time funding:

12,674 Invitations issued for interim one-time funding

The children not currently in-service with an old behavioural plan, or not in receipt of an invitation for a childhood budget, are eligible for an invitation for one-time funding. The Minsitry promised to issue all the invitations to eligible children before March 31st, 2020. The posted numbers reflect what’s been done up until the end of February. Putting that together with what we knew from last month, and a total number of kids registered as 39,123:

  • take away the 10,434 that received a Childhood Budget application
  • take away the 12,674 that already received a one-time funding invitation
  • take away the 8,050 (or less) that are still in service under the old program

This leaves almost 8,000 more invitation letters to go out during this month of March.

So why did they change the monthly number format?

The obvious answer involves the idea that the function of the old chart was to show the progress on Childhood Budget distribution, and show a shrinking waitlist. Since Childhood Budgets are no longer going out, replaced with one-time funding cheques, there’s nothing for them to track anymore until they can track the number of kids entering into the new program … which isn’t ready yet.

Next month’s numbers will presumably look something like this:

(numbers based on estimations)

More kids are likely to register. No more childhood budgets invitations should go out. In theory, they’ll get all the remaining one-time funding invitations out, though likely not to the newly registered kids who’s applications aren’t yet processed.

But then what?

There’s really nothing for them to update anymore after that. They’ve backed themselves into a corner now until the new program is ready, and their updates no longer serve their intended purpose.

Remember this?:

Given the proof of the Ministry’s intentionally slow rollout of Childhood Budgets, they have nothing to be proud of with their numbers. Todd Smith certainly hasn’t been sharing the monthly numbers on social media, nor has the Ministry. If I didn’t go on and look every month I’d have no idea about their progress.

With a claim made to be more open and transparent with families, this latest update shows a completely different story.

Dad to 2 kids on the spectrum. Autism Advocate.