Ontario Agencies Supporting Individuals with Special Needs (OASIS) is a volunteer-run, member-driven provincial organization. Its member agencies serve over 65,000 of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens and employ 25,000 full and part-time staff. Its 190 member agencies currently provide more than 85% of all developmental services funded by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
OASIS has, and will continue to work successfully with government to help identify the challenges being faced by families and individuals with special needs, while also working with our member agencies to build capacity through transformative changes that will help us respond to the ever-growing need.
Current Challenges and Opportunities:
After years of advocating on behalf of families that have struggled, our collective voices have finally been heard, and an unprecedented review of the Developmental Service Sector has, and is, occurring. Through the Ombudsmen Report-Nowhere to Turn, The Select Committee on Developmental Services, and the Gender Wage Gap Committee, we now have extensive investigations in our sector which will lead to further understanding and well informed recommendations that can help focus our efforts, align our strategies, and insure best investment of funds.
Transfer payment agencies form the foundations for stronger, healthier inclusive communities and have proven repeatedly how they are diligent and committed to their efforts to redefine, stretch, and transform their services.
To support the financial constraints being experienced by the Province and beyond, OASIS member agencies have worked with government to review their service models so that they move away from an institutional model of 24 hour services, to those that build skills that support greater financial self- sufficiency and independence, all the while better utilizing community resources that insure full citizenship and inclusivity. We have done this despite the 7-year freeze to our base budgets.
However, it has come at a cost and at the erosion of the infrastructures that government and families have come to rely on. Our commitments to manage from within our existing budgets to address the cost of living increases and meet legislative requirements, has brought agencies to a breaking point. There is no longer capacity for us to manage these growing service costs and legislative requirements, and there is no way for us to help government implement the recommendations that could help respond to the needs of our sector.
With a community of experts in every part of Ontario, OASIS’ member agencies help to ensure that the support needed for vulnerable families is available before, during, and after a crisis. While OASIS supports and appreciates the additional funding provided for direct supports to individuals, the transformation agenda has yet to identify the mechanism to address the senior leadership and middle management who are responsible for the supports that address and provide advocacy, adaptation, and case management as well as insuring adherence to quality assurance measures and legislative requirements.
- An investment of 2.5% increase in base funding for the next three years ($50 million per year, for a total of $150 million for three years) would restore stability to agencies and enable them to continue providing quality supports and services that meet the changing and growing needs of families and individuals with developmental disabilities, while providing them the resources so that they can meet their mandated legislative requirements.
In addition, our request is that when money is given, there is a clear direction that it be used by agencies to meet legislative requirements.
OASIS-AGENCY BASED SOLUTIONS:
- The Ombudsman of Ontario recently highlighted in his report Nowhere to Turn that the waitlist for all adults with development disabilities is disproportionately high—not just those in crises.
To address this, the government must focus its efforts to diversify the system responses to crisis so that it can move beyond funding only urgent needs towards proactive, long-term solutions to address waitlists for developmental services for everyone.
- Do more to anticipate and avoid crises from happening in the first place through collection, sharing and monitoring data and statistics for the developmental services sector.
- Commit to higher quality data and analysis to identify catalysts which lead to crisis situations involving adults with developmental disabilities.
When bricks and mortar and administration costs are bundled with direct service costs, agencies are restricted in their ability to develop creative, innovative solutions to provide the service and support based on the unique needs and desires of the individual.
OASIS-AGENCY BASED SOLUTIONS:
- The government should separate funding for agencies’ infrastructure and overhead costs from the provision of direct service costs. Agencies should have the same flexibility as families to offer services to the individual based on the direct (individualized) funding they receive and not have to deduct a portion for supervision or administrative costs.
- Funding for Direct Service Costs should include salary or wage payments to all staff directly providing service to the individual including their obligations regarding overtime, sick time, vacation pay and Statutory Holidays. They should also cover the employer’s cost of employee benefits including mandatory benefits such as CPP, EI, EHT, WSIB, and other extended health benefit plan costs.
- Program administration, infrastructure and overhead, risk and contingency funds must be funded separately for agencies. The government should determine what the appropriate percentage or benchmark should be for the following areas and fund all agencies in a fair and equitable manner.
Sustainable Services Matter
The developmental services sector is a leader in equity – more than 50% of our CEOs are female.
Almost 50% of agencies that have made pay equity adjustments without government funding (2009/10) have reduced staffing levels and services to meet this legal obligation. Some organizations have deferred pay equity commitments when funding was frozen to maintain front line levels of service.
Today, agencies across Ontario are seeing a decline in the number of volunteers agreeing to sit on their boards, due to personal and agency liability, hastening the negative impact further.
The $810M investment made by the government is a welcome step. However, dollars do not flow until March each year. If the government cannot embed funding on an annualized basis during the transformation, then this type of cash flow can compound the historic problems of underfunding that it was meant to correct.
- To mitigate the growing pressures of pay equity, government must work with Transfer Payment Agencies to better understand its impact and implement the recommendations contained within the Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee Final Report.
- Once these changes are in place, the government must also commit to funding pay equity adjustments to completion. This will prevent the loss of 3,600 full-time positions and mitigate risk of impact to services for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
An unintended outcome of agencies implementing the legislative requirements of Pay Equity has been an alarming rate of the erosion of our infrastructures and of opportunities for our workforce, especially with employee retention in frontline services. The 2014 OASIS Operating Pressures Survey saw agencies reporting that they had 42% fewer full-time positions and 37% less management positions.
OASIS-AGENCY BASED SOLUTIONS:
- Ontario must address middle and senior management at agencies and invest in the infrastructure of expertise provided through agencies, so that they can sustain the senior and middle-management professionals that will help achieve the directives of the Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
- Ontario must work with Transfer Payment Agencies and families to determine a competitive wage range for workers in the sector. Utilizing a job bank similar to the web-based application Respiteservices.com, agencies can assist families in screening applicants and providing the training required under Quality Assurance Measures particularly in regards to recognizing and reporting abuse. Families can then search for and recruit workers in their area of their province in the same manner that is available to them when utilizing children’s respite services.
OASIS and the OASIS Business Resource Committee have been working with the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Provincial Network on recommendations for a funding model for individualized or direct funding since 2007/8. Since the introduction of the Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act (SIPDDA), the only concrete steps taken to a more individualized approach to funding has been through the use of Passport funding. The Ministry of Community and Social Services has indicated that 19,000 individuals were receiving Passport funding as of March 2015, with an increase to 25,000 expected by 2017/18.
OASIS-AGENCY BASED SOLUTIONS:
- While OASIS appreciates the increased funding from the Government, a long term sustainable funding mechanism is needed to meet the overwhelming needs of individuals on the waitlist for services and to provide choice and stability in the sector.
- Direct funding allocations must be utilized in a manner that adheres to the regulatory requirements of the Ministry of Community and Social Services under the Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act. Where individuals have support dollars allocated to them to meet their needs, individuals and their families must have the right to choose between managing their own funds or having an agency assist them with their support needs. The Government of Ontario must develop a mechanism to monitor and adjust the funding levels as needed.
- An annual review of the established funding levels needs to occur and be monitored.
Statistical information such as the annual cost of living allowance (COLA) and any wage adjustments provided or legislated by the Government of Ontario should be used to assist in determining if funding levels are up to date.
- There is an urgent need for affordable, accessible, and supportive housing that redirects some of the most vulnerable in our community out of basements, hospitals, prisons, shelters, and long-term care facilities back into homes of their own. This can be achieved by dedicating 5% of any funds flowing through the local and National Housing strategies.
To ensure the sustainability of quality supports and services, and achieve the vision of transformation for the sector, it is critical that these immediate needs be addressed, while a long-term plan be developed to increase the opportunities for inclusion and participation of people with a developmental disability in our communities across Ontario.
N. Ann Kenney