“…Without community supports in place, those with complex disabilities like autism or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome often end up in psychiatric units, nursing homes, homeless shelters or jails where they get no help or the wrong help or are subject to abuse…”
“…’It is often said that societies are judged on how they treat the most vulnerable of their members,’ Dubé rightly noted…”
25 Aug 2016
Help families in need now
Ontario doesn’t house people with developmental disabilities in dedicated institutions anymore — and in 2013 the province rightly apologized for doing so in the past.
But as a disturbing new report from Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé points out, in some ways, things haven’t changed much. People with developmental disabilities still too often end up in institutions ill-equipped to meet their needs, not by design but as the result of a broken system.
As reported by the Star’s Andrea Gordon, once adolescents with developmental disabilities “age out” of children’s services at 18 and leave high school at 21, they enter an adult system with limited day programs and assisted-housing options — crucial services for which there are often years-long wait lists. Meanwhile, the province does little to buttress stressed family caregivers, prompting many to bail out.
Without community supports in place, those with complex disabilities like autism or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome often end up in psychiatric units, nursing homes, homeless shelters or jails where they get no help or the wrong help or are subject to abuse. In these institutions they are left to languish by a province that Dubé says tends to take a “hands-off” approach to such crises. And when they are eventually released they are often returned to the abusive situations from which they were previously removed.
The ombudsman’s investigation into the developmental services system began in 2012 in response to a flood of complaints. “Some were on the brink of crisis, others firmly in its midst,” Dubé said at a press conference on Wednesday. At the time, he says, the Ministry of Community and Social Services was inflexible and officious, remarkably phlegmatic in its response to even the most horrifying cases.
And of the 1,436 complaints Dubé’s office investigated, many are truly horrifying. Consider just three:
Peter, who has autism spectrum disorder, spent12 years in psychiatric hospitals, often in restraints or crawling on the floor. It took ministry officials nearly a year to find him a home after a complaint from the ombudsman’s office.
Patrick was placed in a nursing home at 24 because his mother could not handle his aggressive behaviour. There he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by his 75-year-old roommate.
Tommy was hospitalized repeatedly because of his aggressive behaviour, including a 73-day stint at $2,000 per day.
“There are many thousands more in urgent circumstances and anxious for relief,” Dubé said.
The ombudsman claims things have gotten better, but only incrementally. Though he believes the ministry is now “well intentioned and earnest,” the system remains a “fragmented, confusing, and complex assortment of hundreds of community agencies and local processes, impossible for many individuals with developmental disabilities and their families to navigate.”
The ombudsman’s damning report offers 60 recommendations for a massive overhaul to create an integrated system where none currently exists and ensure that people with developmental disabilities get the support, care and protection they need. Most critically, Dubé argues, people with developmental disabilities must no longer be housed in hospitals, nursing homes or other inappropriate places — or returned to abusive situations.
“It is often said that societies are judged on how they treat the most vulnerable of their members,” Dubé rightly noted. By that measure, Ontario has been failing for too long. Encouragingly, Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek, seemingly chastened by the report, has committed to implementing all of Dubé’s recommendations. The ombudsman has called on the ministry to report back on its progress in six months. For the government, that may seem like a tight deadline, but for those caught up in the broken system, the urgency is long overdue.