By Charlotte Prong Parkhill
Kitchener Post staff
Brandon Morton is 17 years old but he won’t graduate from school for another four years. He has Asperger Syndrome, and attends a special program at Kitchener Collegiate Institute.
He also receives Special Services at Home (SSAH) funding from the province, about $5,000 a year that helps to pay for his speech therapy and summer camp. Once he turns 18, that funding comes to an end.
“The fact that someone turns 18 doesn’t mean that their disability goes away or diminishes. There’s still a need for support. It seems very arbitrary,” said Brandon’s father, Mark Morton.
It could become a financial strain for this family, who adopted Brandon when he was 10 and have three other adopted children as well.
Kitchener Centre MPP John Milloy says changes in the way funding is provided for adults and children with developmental disablities were made in order to streamline a process that had become like a “patchwork quilt.”
Over a five-year period, the funding system has been overhauled, and the changes have left many families frustrated and confused.
Children used to receive SSAH funding, which carried on through to their adult years. The funds help provide supports and programs, such as support workers or day camps. As of this year, once people turn 18, their SSAH funding ends, and they have to be reassessed and then apply for Passport funds, meant for people over age 18.
“Individuals were allowed to stay on the (SSAH) program through their adult years, and, as we see people with developmental issues live longer, we were getting to the point where there was no space — there were huge waiting lists for children,” Milloy said.
For people with low or minimal requirements, Passport can provide up to $6,250 a year. For those with exceptional disabilities, that amount can increase to up to $25,000 a year.
But the Passport system has a long waiting list — according to the Toronto Star, 3,700 people were waiting as of last fall. And there is some confusion as to whether it is available for people who are in school.
Morton said he thinks Brandon can’t apply until he graduates, at age 21.
“So there’s going to be a gap, and then of course there’s the huge waiting list of thousands of people . . . It will be at least a three-year gap, that’s best-case scenario.”
Milloy, who served as minister of community and social services for more than a year, said he’s not sure that’s accurate and he’s never heard that before.
The ministry’s website states the Passport program is for students transitioning to adult programs and services, or for adults who are no longer in school.
Kitchener residents Cameron Dearlove and Subeer Bhandari have started an online petition calling for full, uninterrupted funding for both SSAH and Passport. So far, the petition has almost 3,400 signatures, and has become a place for families to share the struggles they face.
Milloy said the Ontario government is working on reducing wait lists, and their proposed budget includes an additional $42.5 million for developmental services.
“Not all of it is going to these programs, but a big chunk of it is going there,” he said.
The Liberal government has increased support to the sector by $620 million since 2003, bringing it to $1.7 billion in spending per year, he said.
Supports are also provided through the ministry of education while they are in school, and at age 18 they may be eligible for the Ontario Disabilty Support Program, at about $800 a month, Milloy said.
“We continue to invest in the system both for children and for adults,” he said. “The fact of waiting lists is something every minister is struggling with.”