From our report and recommendations to the Ontario government: Housing safety, security and autonomy

We are blogging each section of our Report and Recommendations to the Ontario Government’s Autism Advisory Committee. Read the full report here: Ontario Recommendations- Inclusion is the New Gold Standard

Housing –The impact of poverty
While Sections 6 and 15 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities to freedom to choose their residence on an equal basis with others, the impact of poverty prohibits many autistic, IDD and disabled Ontarians from achieving the dream of independent/autonomous living. Poverty is a health and human rights issue impacting every aspect of life. As psychologist Ajit K. Dalal states: “Disability and poverty tend to go hand in hand, forming a cycle of cumulative causation.”

We do not have statistics on how many autistic Canadians live in poverty because no one is keeping track. As well, autistic adults are not mentioned in Ontario government benefits legislation. Some benefits require an IQ test, which some autistics can “pass” while still needing assistance and thus end up without needed benefits, left in bureaucratic limbo.

The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) monthly amounts for food, shelter and other basic needs for recipients of ODSP were frozen from 1993 until 2003, and the subsequent increases do not correspond with inflation and the cost of living, especially in cities, so current ODSP rates do not cover average basic needs. Some disabled recipients who work part time or are starting back in the job market also feel they are penalized for working while on ODSP. We are hopeful the new government will revise the ODSP system for more fairness in this and other areas.

Housing: Abuse in group (“residential”) homes
Group or residential homes in Ontario are a vestige of institutional life. The ideal of independent living for IDD and autistic individuals, beyond residential homes, has not been fully realized in our province. And the situation in some Ontario group homes is desperate and terrifying. Between 90 and 120 children and youth connected to Children’s Aid die every year in Ontario, many living in group home (“residential”) settings. An investigation by the Toronto Star showed that physical restraint is common in Toronto group homes and youth residences. Sexual and other physical abuse by staff is not prevented nor dealt with uniformly, as there is almost no regulation.

As an Ontario government panel on residential services concluded in 2016: “At this time, the Panel notes that there are no universal, or even common, set of indicators, standards or concepts that might lend themselves to the measurements of quality of care in residential services across sectors.

Because there is no adequately tracking of abuse within or across systems, perpetrators are able to re-offend. One recent example from Barrie, Ontario: a teaching assistant was convicted of attacking an autistic student and breaking his leg. He served time in prison and was out on parole when he was hired by a home care company to care for autistic youth in a group home. Months later, he was arrested for hitting a client across the head and face with a metal water bottle.

Our Province currently has no reliable record-keeping or communication system in place to prevent violent offenders from being hired into home care or other settings –nor adequate enforcement policy for agencies who make these placements.

To live in Ontario residential care is to feel helpless, much of the time. For autistic residents, this can be amplified by a lack of access to appropriate means of communication and sensory accommodation. The needs of autistics in residential care has not been studied in any depth, nor have Ontario’s autistic group home residents ever been surveyed as a demographic to understand their communication and sensory needs in the group home setting.

Service providers and social services policymakers must move towards an understanding of autistic realities in residential care, in order to develop trauma-informed care that works for all residents. In addition, we need regulation and enforcement to prevent abuse and recidivist violence.

Recommendations: Housing, Safety and Autonomy

Safety in Group Homes

  • Government standardized regulation for vetting and hiring of privately-run group home staff, to prevent abuse and recidivist violence.
  • A Bill of Rights for all group home residents in public or privately-run group homes.
  • Standardized training for all group home workers on de-escalations and safety.
    • Restraint is currently the “first resort” for too many group homes.
  • Universal record-keeping on incidents of restraint in group homes, modeled on the United Kingdom’s tracking tools for this.
  • Audits of private group home corporations to ensure fairness and transparency in their rules and policies, with oversight by community members and independent living experts.

Towards Maximum Autonomy

  • Consult with experts on independent/autonomous living to create a Framework for Autonomous Living, to empower more autistic and IDD individuals to achieve supported autonomy.
  • Look at best practices as well as pilot projects in other jurisdictions and communicate with our federal government about new ideas and potential partnerships in working towards more autonomous living.
  • Look to the best practices of Ontario service organizations (beyond “autism services”). Study the work of agencies such as LiveWorkPlay for models of fostering housing autonomy.
    • LiveWorkPlay offers support in areas requested by individuals such as financial management; meal planning; social gatherings; and co-ordinating supports.