What to Do?
Where to go for Developmental Services in Ontario
Tayside Community Residential & Support Options
April 1, 2012
Submitted to OASIS ED list server February 13, 2013
As most of us are suffering under the continued budget restraints, many medium size and small agencies in rural or semi rural areas cannot justify the expense of trips to Toronto or conferences to participate in such events as the Visioning exercise. Tayside Community Options is such an agency and is a medium size, unionized agency, employing over 100 staff and providing service through a variety of programs in the towns of Perth and Smiths Falls, 100 kilometers West of Ottawa.
Nevertheless this limitation need not limit participation in the discussion of the various issues facing the sector. The Email server is thus a vehicle to at least get some ideas out there.
In terms of some ideas of a Vision for the future the DS sector should be looking at the system as a whole and not tinkering or arguing about small sections within it. Some of the systemic issues we all face are; the demographic state and the professional status of the human resources in the sector, the fact that access to service is not an entitlement but discretionary and subject to the unbelievable cruelties of the DSO waiting list and the morally ridiculous and artificial barrier for access to service between children/youth and adults.
- The current state of DS sector is not all that different from where the Education, Nursing and Child Care sectors found themselves in the past. All these sectors were undervalued, displayed female dominated workforces, displayed poverty level wages, struggled with transforming to a system with a legislated professional standard, displayed diverse organizational delivery mechanisms, underwent different degrees of unionization, and experienced numerous legal, political, and labour related events to improve equitable status and accessibility. We could and should learn from the experiences in those sectors.
- These sectors were not embarrassed by big numbers in their advocacy efforts. The Child Care, Health and Education sectors have constantly had to confront the notion that society cannot afford their ideas of a universally accessible non-profit/public system. Advocates in those sectors generally took the position that equity, justice and fairness transcended the narrow minded market approach to fiscal policy. Advocates in the other sectors do not shy away from stressing the legitimacy of their call for universally accessible public services. Justice and equity transcend the fixation of the one view fits all fiscal policy philosophy which academics fondly call the neo-liberal approach…. (The no tax increase – decrease taxes – cut spending…..reduce the size of government paradigm). There are credible and legitimate counter arguments. For example in the child care sector advocates often point to the most successful OECD countries, where in fact, most of these countries have a universally accessible, non-profit Early Childhood Education and Care system. How can they afford it and Canada with all its resources cannot?
We must remember that the percentage of the Provincial Budget spent on support services in the DS sector is 1.4% of total provincial budget. This is peanuts compared to expenditures in the Health and Education sectors. In my view affordability is not the issue; it is a question of political priorities.
I do not feel we should be timid in our demands and we should not accept the MCSS view that the cupboard is bare.
The lesson being, the DS sector should not be afraid of big numbers, establishes the cost of a universally accessible system (Ironically the DSO waiting list numbers may be quite helpful in this regard). Do not be afraid to defend it. Do not apologize for it and continue to promote a high quality service provided by well paid, highly valued, competent professional staff in the non-profit sector.
- The Child Care, Health Care and Education sectors have all benefitted greatly from a number of special legislative committee investigations, Royal Commissions, Independent investigative task forces and Ministry research over the years. I do not think we should dismiss these efforts as just another waste of government money to produce a report that will sit on the shelf. These efforts brought together the best research available into a common framework for discussion. They also created new research that was specific to the sector and enabled an understanding of the issues with a Canadian or Ontario sensibility. Public hearings are usually organized to marshal and focus opinion and grass roots research on the issue. Surveys of how other countries administer and deliver their systems are studied, evaluated and publicised. These efforts then stimulated a public consensus and a consistent and sustained media focus that then provided the basis of the political will to undertake major reforms.
It thus seems to me that it is absolutely critical the Select Committee on Developmental Services be re-established and that if be given a broad mandate and a significant research and consultation budget to allow for public hearing across the Province. The committee should be able to commission independent researchers to provide objective analysis and provide solid information upon which to make recommendations for systemic change.
- The sector should take a position on individualized funding. It is a bit like the debate over vouchers for Education or private Health Care. Our society either commits to a fully accessible professionally delivered, publicly funded and administered system or we don’t…… I can understand the sentiment that families just want the money so they can make their own decisions. However, beyond the middle and upper class families who are able to manage the employment arrangements, mange a bookkeeping system, can hold operators accountable and are fully aware of the rights and obligations, this is not the reality of most adults who have intellectual disabilities. The majority live in poverty and to subject them to the vagaries of shark invested market place is quite frankly, cruel. Beyond this, to subject the DS sector to a competitive market place where agencies will be competing against each other, will divide the sector not unite it. The Harper Federal Conservatives tried this approach with the Universal Child Care Benefit. The 15 billion dollars spent since 2006, has done little to support a universally accessible child care system, profit or non-profit. Such notions just supply parents with the very bare minimum in support and force the service to the lowest cost and lowest quality options.
It strikes me as odd that the Provincial Government would fund Early Childhood Education and Care as a publicly administered system with the introduction of full day JK/SK but would rely on the market place, through individualized funding to support the DS sector. The Provincial Government supports and requires the publically funded Health Care and Education systems be delivered through a non-profit and public system. The sector should advocate the funding of a publicly administered non-profit DS system not an individualized market based approach.
This is not to say that private or commercial enterprises should not exist in the sector. It does mean the primary focus of public funding would be directed to the non-profit sector and that private or commercial operators would have to comply with the same rules, regulations and standards as the non profit sector.
- Our agency for one displays and aging workforce far more profound than is indicated in larger urban areas or in the general population. Not only are there relatively few permanent employees under the age of 40 with a very high proportion over 50, there are few employees under 45 on our casual list, the primary recruiting pool. Although over 60% of our staff have their DSW or equivalent (which in itself can be considered low) the availability of a pool of young DSWs’ has virtually dried up.
- The Child Care sector has a legislated professional standard for certification, the ECE. The Nursing sector has a legislative professional standard of practise, the Education sector has a legislated professional standard, the Social Work sector has a legislated professional standard, the list goes on……… Even with the many difficulties present, the DS sector should make the commitment to adopt a legislated professional standard and it should be the DSW (Developmental Services Worker Diploma) or equivalent just like the other care giving sectors have a legislated professional standard. This would be an important step in recognizing the value of the work; it would give it a recognized and legislated status and value. The sector must make our workplaces attractive to young motivated professionals. Pay and benefit improvements are an ongoing struggled tied to the funding regime that governs the sector and these young professional will be more than capable to carry on the struggle if they can be attracted to the field.
- If it becomes clear that the MCSS bureaucracy is too large a barrier to establishing the rights of folks with disabilities to support services as an entitlement, the DS sector should consider advocating a move out of the MCSS to ministries that include in their mission and core values the “entitlement of the public to their service”. This was a common point used by the Child Care Sector over the years where a move out of MCSS into the Ministry of Education was advocated. The DS sector should be governed by a ministry in which service is an entitlement once eligibility has been established. Child Care has already moved to Education. The sector should consider advocating a move out of MCSS to either Health or Education or a combination of both. This does not mean the end of waiting list …as we all know there are waiting lists in other sectors ……but at least it means that there will be light at the end of the tunnel for the families we serve. As we know, folks can go on the DSO waiting list, be eligible for service, and never, I repeat never, receive the service. This is just not acceptable in a rich and developed province like Ontario.
Without a significant reform of the DS system itself, which must go far beyond the current Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act (2008) the sector will be plagued with problems and suffer from crisis to crisis for the next 30 years and probably beyond.
These are a few ideas that may stimulate some discussion.
Tayside Community Residential and Support Options