TORONTO -- More than 100 people are being laid off at a treatment centre for children with disabilities -- a move the centre says is a direct result of Ontario's changes to autism funding.
The minister responsible said more "staffing changes" across the sector are likely.
ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment says it is eliminating 291 full-time positions, which include front-line staff and management, and is bringing 178 people back onto nine-month contracts, timed to when the centre's funding will cease.
"For our organization to be able to continue to provide much needed services to children with autism and their families in this new environment, we have had to make some significant staffing reductions," Erinoak said in a statement.
"These were very difficult decisions and we would like to thank all of our dedicated staff for the excellent care that they have provided to children during our time as a transfer payment agency for the delivery of autism services."
Premier Doug Ford repeatedly promised during the election last year that not a single person would lose their job under his government.
Instead of funding service providers, the Progressive Conservative government is moving to give money directly to families to pay for autism therapy. Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said in a statement Tuesday that the change will give families more options in accessing services.
"We understand the challenges that occur during a transition period can be unsettling, but our intended result is a system that provides more choice to families and parents," she wrote.
"As these changes are implemented we anticipate further staffing changes. However, we know these changes will also mean an increased demand for autism-related services as funding is increased and more children come off the wait list."
The higher demand, MacLeod said, should lead to more service-provider jobs.
The program as originally announced in February would have given each family on the wait list up to $20,000 a year until their child turns six, and $5,000 a year until age 18, but families protested, saying those amounts weren't nearly enough, particularly for kids with severe needs whose therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year.
MacLeod eventually backtracked, promising to double the program's budget to roughly $600 million and to look at how to add needs-based supports.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government is consulting on its plan a year too late.
"The rushed overhaul of the funding model without proper consultation is crippling autism service providers, who cannot budget with so much uncertainty," he said in a statement. "And it's made worse by the fact that families are still awaiting the funding they need to access these services directly."
The government says the first round of cheques are going out to some families this week.
NDP critic Monique Taylor slammed the reduction in front-line staff.
"We support an Ontario Autism Program that's fully-funded, needs-based and evidence-based, and we believe that taking help away from children with autism is callous, and can have devastating long-term impacts," she said in a statement.