Posts Tagged ABA

CUPE Blasts Help For Autistic Kids And Puts Its Members First

(CUPE Says Money Should Go To Its Members Rather Than Autistic Kids)

CUPE who is the union representing educational assistants (EA) in the province of Ontario released a press release this week in which it has lambasted the provincial government for piloting a project which will allow autistic kids to receive privately purchased therapy to be administered in public schools. CUPE says by doing this would open the door to privately funded education, and that its current members are not qualified to handle special needs students despite millions that have been negotiated in front line workers with the province over recent years.

As part of its revamp of Autism services in Ontario the provincial government is expected in the next few months to allow families a choice to purchase Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for kids with autism privately or go through publicly funded Centre’s. This move by the province to offer a private option paid for by the province is expected to reduce wait times for this needed therapy.

The move by the province to pilot a project to allow privately purchased workers to administer this therapy in school would be a necessity to the success of students receiving that therapy at the choice of the families, and lighten the load on parents who often have had to drive autistic kids to and from these appointments, often in separate cities in which the these children are being educated in and miss days at work. CUPE on the other hand thinks that the province should shell out that money to retrain EA’s across the province, rather than give parents a choice or say in their child’s therapy:

“We represent 13,000 Educational Assistants who work hard, with other Board employees and parents, to develop and deliver individualized educational programs to assist students with multiple challenges, including those with autism,” said Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “They are deeply concerned by any initiative that opens the door to the privatization of those critical services in our schools.”

Parents of children with special needs, including children with autism, have every right to expect they can walk into their local school and receive the services their children need, fully funded and publicly provided,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “They shouldn’t have to worry about securing outside funding, finding a private provider or paying out of their own pockets, to ensure their children succeed at school. That is the responsibility of the government and instead of just abdicating their role to private operators, they should be properly funding and providing all the necessary services students with special needs require.”

The ABA therapy these kids will be receiving will most likely be publicly funded as part of the new Ontario Autism Program. Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee essentially stated in this bizarre press release from CUPE that the union negotiated $52 million from the province for front line workers recently, who by admission of this press release are not qualified enough to be working with special needs kids in our public schools, and the government must pay for unqualified staff to get degrees in behavior analysis (which is a two year full time university course at Brock University):

“As education workers, we know students with special needs need more front-line staff support,” said Preston. “It’s why, in contract extension talks with the government, we negotiated $52 million over two years to increase front-line staff working with students with special needs. Even with those hard-won investments, more support is needed for students with a variety of complex needs and that’s why the government needs to finally conduct a long-overdue funding formula review.”

The press release gets a hell of a lot weirder as you read on. In its closing remarks after blasting the government for allowing parents a choice and complaining that its membership is under-qualified to support kids with special needs ended the press release with this statement:

“Many of us already have ABA training or incorporate ABA principles into our work with students,” said Laura Walton, an Educational Assistant who is also Vice-Chair of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “Educational Assistants are constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge, often at their own expense, so any funded training opportunities are always welcome. We have been asking the government to ensure Educational Assistants, and all board employees who work to address the complex needs of our students, have access to an array of professional development opportunities, including ABA training.”

Wouldn’t working with privately funded ABA therapists which I would think would be the goal of the government here, be more beneficial to both their own members and the students they serve? Wouldn’t that give EA’s workplace experience in ABA working alongside these therapists? Where’s the outrage from CUPE that university or college programs educating future EA’s are not required under law to ensure an extensive ABA training? After a $52 million investment from the province in front line EA workers to support special needs, why is the province agreeing with CUPE to hire unqualified staff in a $52 million negotiation in the first place? In our view it should not be the position of the province or tax payer to front the bill for unqualified staff. Simply hiring qualified staff would be a better more economical option, or better yet CUPE can pick up that tab.

The problem that exists right now in the education system is one where there is money in the system, but it’s not getting to the students that need it. There’s no accountability in the education system right now. From this press release, it sounds that CUPE wants to be showered again with government coffers, while the rights of special needs kids in the system are yet again pitted against the needs of education sector unions. For its part, in its press release CUPE blames successive Liberal and PC governments for the lack of supports in our school system, yet falls short on criticizing the NDP who have yet to come out with a platform recognizing the lack of accountability the public education system is currently facing right now – the lives that have already been lost across the province to due education sector unions ignoring student mental health issues  – the full time battles parents of kids of all levels have had to deal with as a result of these unions – yet we continue to shove money down the throats of this unaccountable system in hopes it gets better. $52 million CUPE negotiated went towards unqualified staff. When will the rights of all students in Ontario be put before union demands, and when will we have an accountable public education system?

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Ontario’s Education System in Crisis: Proactive Change Needed in Youth and Education Services

As a parent with a non-verbal autistic kid, one of my worst nightmares is to have to deal with a teacher that isn’t qualified to ensure the care of my child. We’ve been pretty lucky. The teachers and staff taking care of my son in the school system are extremely caring, professional and have been a huge support for my family. The vast majority of the education system is like this, however there seems to be a growing concern in Ontario’s school system when issues with bad apples arise, and with developing meaningful policy at the provincial level to insert accountability in order to deal with these bad apples. Ontario faces quite a few bad apples.

Last month CBC’s marketplace did a special on problem teachers. CBC has found that in Ontario, teachers who have been found of misconduct continue to teach for years until the College of Teachers gets involved in dealing with stripping those teachers of their license to teach. In one case, an Ontario teacher was found to have been sending suggestive sexual messages to the kids in his class. It took 4 years for the complaints to reach the College of Teachers which allowed this teacher to continue his behavior thus increasing the amount of victims of it, and later he moved to a different country to skirt accountability, where he is still teaching. What’s worse is that teachers found of misconduct are often “recycled” to different schools until matters can be heard years later at the College of Teachers allowing for more abuse to continue and increasing the number of victims of abuse.

 

For me as a parent, let alone one with a non-verbal ASD kid, this is unacceptable. If a teacher is found abusing kids with special needs, they are continued to be allowed to teach. The strength of the education lobby is of great concern in this province. Too often than not, parents voices are drowned out by powerful unions and school boards during committee and policy processes. When complaints arise from parents in the system, this lobby more often than not, dismisses any concerns from parents, often bullying them with threatening behavior to protect their own interests rather than those of kids.

Remember that parent that vented out on facebook? The facebook post went viral about her special needs child being ordered to do over 80 crunched in one day. Mindbendingpolitics as learned the York Region District School Board did their investigation into the matter. They completely exonerated the teacher of any wrong doing, and blamed the child for lying due to issues at home. The parents called in the Children’s Aid Society to investigate which found the teacher was guilty of misconduct but no child protection issues in which they could legally intervene. With the current situation this teacher will be allowed to teach other special education students for years to come. The York board in this current case is also refusing to provide transportation to this special needs child to her new school further adding stress to this family as a result of coming forward with their concerns.

Granted that not all teachers are bad, but the few that are, are being protected by their unions and boards and recycled to different schools. Parents concerns are often set by the way-side and bullied into silence. This is creating an epidemic of child abuse in our school system in Ontario as a result, and should not be tolerated by our law makers.

Youth advocates for years have been fighting to make the system better and more accountable only to find unions and school boards hijacking policy too further protect their own interests over that of even basic human rights. Politicians for the most part gladly oblige due to political donations. An example of this I followed was through the introduction of two pieces of legislation in 2012. Bill 13, and Bill 14 which had to do with creating a safe environment for our kids. After heavy lobbying by youth advocates, the Ontario PC’s adopted a bill with a lot of recommendations to define issues such as bullying, and accountability of schools and government to ensure our kids remain safe bill 13. The Liberals supported by the NDP introduced their own legislation Bill 14. As a youth advocate it was nice to see non-partisan support for keeping our kids safe, but a close inspection of both bills revealed a lot of union influence with a lot of anger from parents. This spilled onto the committee floor with parents testifying regarding their concerns. Particularly from Owen Sound parent Joe Grieco who testified in 2012:

Having carefully looked over both bills, we have grave concerns that, although there appears to be a desire to reduce the impact of bullying in Ontario, the proposed additions and amendments to the Education Act are not comprehensive enough and will not lead to the necessary outcome: safer schools, safer students and improved learning success for all Ontario students.

What’s even worse is that after bill 14 became law and new money flowed into the system to keep our kids safe, the Ministry of Education in 2014 felt it necessary to divert $1.6 million allocated to safe schools and autism services to protect school boards across the province from a lawsuit. All the work to keep our kids safe and previous efforts by autism advocates was pretty much to help fund the Ministry of Educations slush account for school boards and unions.

Fast forward to 2016 – youth advocates are again engaged over the debate of autism and safe schools funding. I’ve approached York Region District School Board a month ago to find what programs are in place to ensure student safety, and requested a breakdown of the boards budget to show money flowing to each school and what programs that money is being spent on. I was told this would be provided to me. Now the board is stating that information isn’t available to the general public due to “confidentiality” reasons.

As recently as February, the York Region District School Board was called out by the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner for not collecting important data too target social programs in schools. I have to question even the existence of safe schools programs in York Region as a result. The board has been unable to provide any information detailing these programs, when this information and break down presumably should be publicly available via the boards website as it relates to the boards budget.

The province has recently stripped needed support to autism services in Ontario. This as prompted concerns from the province’s youth advocate Irwin Elman on what impact this will have on the school system, stating:

One also has to question how the school system will fit into this plan. How is the role of the school and the classroom integrated into plans for service to the school-aged children? Parents of children with “special needs” know that the gap between the promise of the school system and the child’s lived experience at school is a chasm. The Ministry of Education also appears absent from this important discussion.

Enter the teacher unions and school boards. The NDP has been leading the fight with autism services in Queens Park. Members of the NDP are showing a tremendous amount of passion (even members of the party being ejected from question period) to bring forth concerns to Wynne’s autism policy. The biggest financial donor of the NDP is the Ontario Secondary Schools Federation, who has donated more than $249,350 to the party over the past 3 years. I have to question whether this passion for parents concerns is legitimate, or an attempt to politically position their top financial donors at the front of the line with the applause of parents when discussions inevitably turn to the education system. I have concerns over not just current funds but any future funds allocated to autism services in the education system as a result, and whether they will actually reach kids, while parents groups applaud the efforts of these unions and boards.

The Ontario Autism Coalition has been a great support for parents in this political battle; however this organization has been actively seeking the support of teachers unions and boards. When questioning Bruce McIntoish (one of the lead advocates for the coalition) on policy, McIntosh suggested that Policy Program Memorandums (PPMs) be modified to ensure ABA services in the education system.

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PPM’s are essentially non-binding statements and as independent youth advocate and founder of the York Region Anti-bullying coalition Karen Sebben stated in an interview with mindbendingpolitics:

The language used in PPM’s are vague and open ended. It creates the illusion that the Ministry of Education is pro-active.

Sebben continued:

The language used is for the sole purpose of continuing to allow administrative discretionary measures, lack of transparency and continued autonomy.

What’s even more horrifying is the fact that these unions appear to have infiltrated a parent led movement, which now is restating support for the very cause of the issues present in the education system. That is that we have to protect union members in order to protect our kids, when it is precisely that situation that is creating an in balance and lack of accountability.

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We need accountability injected into this system as a result of the amount of protection union members and boards currently enjoy. The lack of accountability is creating an environment where money isn’t reaching our kids to ensure their education is a safe one, to ensure human rights and dignity of our most venerable are being protected, to ensure that kids with special needs get the proper education by qualified staff and thugs are fired rather than recycled.

It’s not just one political party to blame for this. It’s all of them. There may be a need now as a result to have the Ombudsman or Auditor General reappear on these files to inject that accountability, since advocates and parents voices are continually being drowned out regarding the problems our school system and youth face and a lack of concrete systemic solutions being presented due to heavy lobbying efforts by these unions and school boards.

Parents seeking meaningful change should focus their support on independent youth advocates rather than union lead parent movements. When you make a deal with the devil, you always set yourself up for failure, and I think the current problems the education system faces is representative of too many bad deals made with groups who have no intention in being held accountable for anything, and will do whatever they need too, to ensure that continues. Balance needs to be restored, and a massive injection of accountability ordered to ensure our youth have the right to proper, safe and enjoyable learning experiences, and the services they need.

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Behaviour Experts Call Wynne’s Autism Policy Destructive

Toronto, April 20, 2016 – The Ministry of Children and Youth Services has declared that as of May 1, Ontario will no longer provide Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) to children of five years and older. A group of nine Board Certified Behavior Analysts™ (BCBAs), who are practitioners and advocates for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and who look at the full scope of the science behind treatment, have significant concerns with this new provincial policy. This group of BCBAs believes it is their professional, personal, and social responsibility to bring to the government’s attention that the proposed changes will have a destructive effect on this community of children, their families, and all present and future Ontarians.

“The recent unjustifiable, ill-advised implementation of an age cutoff for funded IBI is regressive and foreshadows a dark future for those denied access to treatment” said Dr. James Porter, BCBA and Clinical Psychologist.   Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI) teaches skills that are fundamental to a child’s ability to integrate and participate in family, community, school, and with social life.  Beginning May 1, access to IBI will be limited to children ages two to four. Currently, children wait two to four years to get IBI treatment. Between the diagnosis and treatment wait times, the new policy changes capping access to IBI at five years old means 1,000s of children will miss out on this life changing treatment. This group of BCBAs questions the ethics of the decision, as the Ministry’s own expert panel did not even recommend cutting kids over five off of the waitlist. Without access to treatment, it puts the welfare of children at risk, and studies have proven that treating children with ASD, rather than denying them treatment, is more costeffective for taxpayers in the long run.

“As BCBAs it is our responsibility to recommend treatment based on clinical need and not constrained by age,” said Nancy Marchese, BCBA and Psychological Associate. “It is completely unethical that the government is denying children over five years old, IBI, a treatment that allows them to learn critical skills that are integral to their development and quality of life.”

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services announced a new provincial policy for autism services along with its plans to invest $333 million in autism over the next five years. The new policy is said to increase access, reduce wait times, and expand Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI) for children ‘in the appropriate developmental window’ – identified as two to four year olds. BCBAs who do the work and oversee IBI treatment program were not on the expert panel to inform decisions about this new policy. Further, this group believes this new policy was built through a narrow scope of research, neglects important empirical evidence from the behaviour analytic field, and that more stakeholders need to be involved in the decision-making process, such as parents and BCBAs. This group of BCBAs has identified three main challenges to the new policy:

● it will leave children with ASD at significant risks including severe challenging behaviors, reduced adaptive and self care skills, the absence of meaningful communication skills and long term dependence on their families and society

● the scientific viability of the proposed Autism Program Model is questionable

● the methodology for the roll-out of the model is impractical

This group of BCBAs suggests a more evidence-based behaviour analytic approach to treating autism, which can lead to important differences and allow the optimal success of children living with ASD. This would require access to early and accurate diagnosis, a customized approach that matches the treatment program to the needs of the child, and the services of IBI (ie: 20-40 hours per week) without arbitrary age cut offs. This group also believes ethical and economic implications of a less intensive treatment model for children over the age of five who have never received IBI treatment must be considered, as it has no current support from scientific data and efficacy studies.

This group of BCBAs has recently presented these concerns to the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services with hopes of change before the alterations are made on May 1st.

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Child Advocates Call Autism Policy A New Low For Ontario Political Ethics

TORONTO, April 12, 2016 /CNW/ – We should all aspire to a province where a child in need receives what they need, when and where they need it. We are not there yet.

This has been clear in the government’s recent announcement to address wait-times for children with autism requiring critical service. I am aware that many young people and their parents have shared their anger, anxiety and sense of helplessness with the proposed changes. Last week, I asked for a briefing with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) to further understand their rationale behind the new “Ontario Autism Program” and to raise the questions I had.

In Ontario, some children have been languishing on waitlists for Intensive Behaviour Therapy (IBI) for well over half their lives. According to the clinical experts who informed the government’s strategy, IBI is of greatest benefit to younger children. As such, the government announced they will remove children who are five years and older from the IBI waitlists.

It is true that the ministry is offering those older children who will no longer be on the IBI waitlist an alternative – what that alternative is, however, remains unclear and undefined. What the ministry is offering is funding to parents to purchase alternate services in the meantime. This approach does little to engender trust, hope or confidence to families who watch their children inch closer to aging out of a program dependent on early intervention.

The $8,000 dollars the ministry has proposed to offer parents with children now off the IBI waitlist will purchase little, assuming there are any immediate, alternate services for parents to purchase. Many children live in under-resourced communities across our province where access to specialized services is limited. The $8,000 dollars will bring those children little solace, let alone treatment and support.

For those now in line to receive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – considered a less intensive version of IBI – the ministry will have to augment and support agencies before they will be able to provide the quality of service required by these children. According to the government’s clinical experts, ABA offers the hope of better results for children over the age of five.

More work must also be done to recruit and train clinicians tied to the assessment and program delivery process – experts that the ministry has acknowledged are in short supply across the province. The plan from the government to train and support clinicians in this process seems vague; the role of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in this work is not identified or understood, yet the new autism program hinges on these clinicians.

One also has to question how the school system will fit into this plan. How is the role of the school and the classroom integrated into plans for service to the school-aged children? Parents of children with “special needs” know that the gap between the promise of the school system and the child’s lived experience at school is a chasm. The Ministry of Education also appears absent from this important discussion.

With respect and with the best interests of children in mind, the government should grandfather children who were on the IBI waitlist and extend the May 1 date of the implementation of its plan until a time that children and their parents can be assured that they will have what they need, when they need it. This will take an enormous amount of work and will need to take place quickly, and ministries other than the Ministry of Children and Youth Services must play their part as well. Above all, children and their parents will need to be continually kept up-to-date on developments that affect their lives.

With the new “Ontario Autism Program,” the government has already walked through its own door – there is no turning back from it. However, if we do not pause and implement a reboot strategy here, we will have nothing more than a waitlist strategy – where some children continue to languish and where the youngest of children will “only” have to wait six months for service – that will continue to perpetuate.

This low bar cannot be the Ontario we aspire to.

The debate is not about waitlists. It is about children. It is about people, and it is about their possibility and futures.

Irwin Elman
Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth

 

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Annoyed Ontario Liberals and Wynne’s Autism Echo Chamber:

This blog will be dedicated moving forward to following the conversations and policy discussions about Ontario’s new autism policy.  The discussions going on right now are a national ethical and moral issue and those across Canada should be kept up to date as much as possible.  On Tuesday there was a very emotional rally at our provincial legislature Ontario Queens Park by parents of autistic kids:

http://globalnews.ca/video/embed/2634473/
Two really good shows Wednesday on CFRB 1010 in Toronto discussing the protest and policy.  The first commentary on the autism story gripping Ontario comes from the Beyond The Mic show hosted by Mike Bullard.  Comments start at 4:45:

The second one was is from CFRB’s Live Drive show.  Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was on the show for a one on one follow up interview and she is digging in her heals on the new Autism policy.  My comments were aired at 18:41 with an excellent discussion on them after by the hosts:

 

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Ontario Set To Terminate Needed Therapy for a Vast Swath of Autistic Kids

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(Parents Upset At Recent Changes To Autism Services In Ontario)

The Ontario government recently announced changes it is going to make to the services autistic kids receive in the province.  The Ontario government is looking at terminating intensive behavioral intervention therapy (IBI) for kids 5 and over, and pump more money into the controversial applied behavior analysis (ABA) program in its place.  Those currently on the wait list for IBI will receive a total of $8,000 to cover a few months of IBI therapy as compensation.

IBI therapy is one on one therapy with specialists for the kids, meanwhile ABA sets to train the parents to become their child’s specialist and the parent is then responsible for applied therapy.  The Ontario Government is committing $333 million to transition IBI to ABA.  This transition could end up having a profound impact on parents who are working full-time on top of many other stresses they have to deal with. This change in policy puts applied therapy directly on the parents’ backs, which could create another crisis as a result of the time off of work to commit to ABA in which most parents in the know feel hasn’t produced satisfactory results compared to IBI.

Autism Ontario in its press release seemed very supportive of the new changes. Marg Spoelstra, Executive Director, Autism Ontario stated:

Families today can give credit to the parents who have been continually advocating on behalf of the thousands of people with autism and their families for many years about the importance of investment into timely, early, evidence based intervention, even at a time when they and their children were or would not be eligible for the intervention services announced today.

One quick look at the comments section on the Autism Ontario facebook page suggests something completely different with respect to parents concerns on this policy.  One parent stated:

The transition period might feel devastating. How about every phone call. Every meltdown. Every injury to not only our children by themselves, but to other family members. Every therapy strategy implemented, while waiting. Every tear. Every day, from wake, to sleep … If we’re lucky, while waiting for the already promised hope of IBI. The faith that one day … It’s all been a devastating disappointment.

Other comments include criticizing Autism Ontario for their support of this policy:

Beyond disappointed in Autism Ontario in being part of a process that offers up to 2,000 sacrificial lambs in order to support this ‘new’ program. Why is it ok to abandon these kids before they were given a chance? Why wasn’t a plan made for these kids & why couldn’t the plan have given them the same chance that kids before them got & kids after them will get (at an earlier age) ABA services are NOT as effective & in fact are very hard to access for single parents or 2 working parents.

One comment that has stuck with me being a parent with an autistic son, and political blogger:

Two words. Human Rights. This a step backwards, now we have an age five cut off, once upon a time Ontario agreed and removed the age six cut off for IBI. Huge gains can be made by children over five, especially children who are non-speaking. Developmental gains are slower for children with a developmental disability, too bad they are being written off for a chance at appropriate early intervention. Being dumped into a waitlist for ABA services that are inadequate and do little to provide the extent of intervention that children need. All of this to be delivered by bloated transfer payment agencies, instead of direct funding to families to purchase services at a much lower cost.(it’s been proven in multiple reports) I hope that parents will find the strength to come forward to speak out about what is really going on here.

Upset parents have already stated a petition to get the Ontario government to reconsider this policy approach.  I’ve reached out to Autism Ontario to get them to clarify their support for this new policy the government has put forth.

More to come soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog for more details as they become available.  You can subscribe by e-mail through the subscribe section on the upper right hand section of this blog.  You can also add me to twitter.  I’m @jkobopoli.

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