Q: What else does the sector need?

A: To be clear, there are many other issues facing the DS sector, however, the priorities outlined in our briefing materials are the top priorities for OASIS and the DS sector in Ontario.

Addressing these key issues will be an important step in ensuring the success of overall ongoing DS sector reform. They will have a significant positive impact on the well-being of the individuals we care for in this community as well as their families.

(If this question does come up, agencies should focus on a specific local issue within the three pillars of staffing, housing and better collaboration within government)


Q: The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services recently released its long-term vision for developmental services sector reform, Journey to Belonging. What is your position on what the government has proposed?

A: OASIS has always supported sustainable reform in the DS sector.

We have been involved directly with the consultations with the sector through our membership and involvement with the Minister’s Table on Reform.

While still early days, we welcome the recognition that this is a long and complex process that will evolve over the next decade and require ongoing involvement from DS agencies.

It is crucial that the government commit to and support a sustainable future for Ontario’s DS sector through properly funded reform guided by the existing Journey to Belonging framework.

There is no need to go back and reinvent the wheel. We can’t afford to spend the next several years working on another refreshed statement of values or framework of principles.

That work has been done.

We need a commitment to real action.

Going forward, meaningful and impactful DS reform must ensure that things are better, not just different. The current state of the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic must be treated as the new status quo on which to build, and it must be appropriately funded.


Q: What is the difference between a PSW and a DSW? Are there differences in compensation? Are there any PSWs working in the DS sector?

A: While similar, there are also fundamental differences between PSWs and DSWs. These include:


  • Different education requirements, with DSWs required to complete a 2-year diploma program, while PSWs have access to a 6-8 month accelerated diploma program with an accompanying tuition subsidy.


  • PSWs are primarily located in long-term care settings, with a smaller number supporting seniors in their homes. DSWs work in a variety of location types including small group homes, individual family homes and all types of community settings from workplaces to recreational settings.


  • PSWs are concentrated in elder care, with a focus on maintaining daily living skills as well as health and safety. DSWs work with a much wider range of ages, from children to seniors, living with a broad range of developmental disabilities.


  • Differences in compensation, which has increased at a greater rate for PSWs than DSWs over the past decade (68% vs. 17% respectively).

Some PSWs are employed by DS agencies in Ontario, particularly in Northern communities, where the availability of qualified DSWs is limited and PSWs are employed to help maintain the necessary complement of staff.


Q: Are there educational requirements to become a DSW? If so, where can a person receive this education/vocational training? What makes a DS Sector worker uniquely qualified to support individuals living with developmental disabilities?


A: DSWs receive specialized education and training to prepare them to support the unique and complex needs of individuals with developmental disabilities. In Ontario, DSWs require the completion of a 2-year diploma program to be fully qualified.

Several colleges in Ontario provide these diploma programs, including Algonquin, Centennial, Conestoga, Durham, Fanshawe, George Brown, Humber, Loyalist, Mohawk, and Sheridan, among others.

Specific program curriculum varies by institution, but all graduates receive training in:

  • Educational support processes;
  • Crisis intervention;
  • Pharmacology; and
  • Counselling and interview skills

Students also receive hands-on training through placements, giving them first-hand experience on how to professionally and successfully react and manage individual and family needs.


Q: There have been recent government investments in PSW’s and Nurses (i.e., enhanced PSW training and retention incentive of up to $5,000 per person for nurses) how have these investments impacted the DS Sector?

A: We are happy to see any new investments in the Health and Social Services sectors that help to improve supports for individuals with developmental disabilities and that sees staff respected with fair compensation for the essential work they do.

However, these types of investments must be done across ministries and in collaboration and in consideration of the wider Health and Social Services sector as a whole. They cannot continue to be done in silos.

We are very grateful for the Ontario Government’s actions to make the $3/hour wage enhancement for DSWs permanent. This is a critical foundational step to support workforce stability in the DS sector to help ensure that that individuals with developmental disabilities continue to benefit from excellent supports and services.

Nevertheless, the DS sector continues to face a significant skills and labour shortage. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.  Our agencies are facing intense competition for skilled workers, particularly from the Personal Support Workers (PSW) sector.

Making the current wage enhancement permanent is a necessary first step to help attract and retain creative, compassionate, and highly capable frontline staff and is vital to ensuring that individuals with developmental disabilities continue to receive the excellent services they need.

Looking ahead, a comprehensive sector staffing strategy – with the funding support required to fulfil it – is necessary to attract frontline staff that will be crucial to realizing the vision set out in Journey to Belonging.

A standardisation of salaries and wages across the province, with a minimum standard of pay that would have regular cost of living increases would be a strong way moving forward to help attract more staff to work in the sector.

Q: What, if any, other steps did the Ontario Government take to support the DS sector during the pandemic?

A: In addition to implementing the $3/hour wage enhancement and making it permanent, the Ontario Government took many steps during the pandemic to recognize the important care and services that DS sector staff and agencies provide.

This included giving us the necessary supports to keep both the individuals we support and our front-line staff safe, such as:

  • $40 million in emergency funding within the first month of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to address immediate financial and service delivery pressures confronted by DS agencies;
  • An Emergency Order for the DS sector to provide immediate flexibility for staffing and work assignments to ensure that agencies were able to provide the vulnerable people they serve with the services and supports they needed; and
  • $361 million in new DS sector support funding announced as part of the 2021/22 Ontario Budget.


Q: Do most DS sector agencies provide both day and residential support programs?

A: While some DS agencies may specialize in one or the other, most agencies offer a variety of services, including residential and day programs. Other supports provided can include:

      • Community Participation supports such as daily living skills, employment supports and recreational activities;
      • Caregiver respite to provide relief for parents or caregiver of an individual; and
      • Specialized services such as speech and language therapy.

Agencies can also offer a wide variety of different residential supports that can include:

  • Supported Group Living environments such as group homes;
  • Supported independent living, which has individuals living at home with support as needed; and
  • Specialised Accommodation that is unique to an individual’s needs and circumstances.

All of this depends on the agency, their size, staff count etc.

Q: How many housing units will be created by this proposed targeted investment in DS housing?

A: 10% investment of remaining National Housing Strategy funds, which is proportional to the percentage of individuals living with developmental disabilities on Ontario’s affordable housing waitlists, will achieve, at least:

  • Build more than 2,400 new units of housing – at least 1,200 new units province-wide in each of Phase 2 & 3, demonstrating Ontario’s national leadership and exceeding the province’s benchmark target under the National Housing Strategy;
  • Help maintain the 12,691 units currently housing adults with developmental disabilities; and
  • Repair more than 2,500 – 20% – of these existing units to bring them up to a good state of repair.

Q: What is the “housing gap” that individuals living with developmental disabilities are facing in Ontario?

A: According to Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé’s 2016 report, Nowhere to Turn:

  • In 2014, nearly as many people living with developmental disabilities were on the wait list for suitable supportive housing (13,000) as were currently living in appropriate housing in Ontario (15,246);
  • Between 2014 and 2016, only 800 adults received the needed housing support – a mere 6% of the 2014 wait list;
  • Each year, the housing wait list for people living with developmental disabilities increases by about 1,200 people;
  • Wait times for housing are 10 times longer for those with a developmental disability compared to the average person waiting for affordable housing.

Q: Where do individuals living with developmental disabilities live when they can’t find appropriate housing and are no longer able to live with their parents or caregivers?

A: Without enough appropriate housing options to support the growing population of adults living with a developmental disability, unsuitable and expensive alternatives are used.

  • Individuals with developmental disabilities spend more time than any other population in hospital emergency, acute and especially alternate level of care (ALC) beds;
  • Long-term care (LTC) facilities and nursing homes are increasingly being used as housing for adults with developmental disabilities under the age of 65;
  • In 2017, research found that adults with developmental disabilities are admitted to long-term care approximately 25 years earlier than the rest of the population, and that annual rates of admission to long-term care are on average 4.5 times higher.
  • Many of the less fortunate also wind up in the shelter system, where 18-30% of chronic shelter users have a developmental disability.




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