Our Report to the Federal Government: Part 6, Housing Policy

We are blogging our report and recommendations to the Government of Canada, by section. Below is our discussion and recommendations about housing policy.

Full report: A4A National Policy Report & Recommendations, 2019

Housing: Empower independent living
Our federal government continues to mainly support segregated housing for autistic and intellectually disabled adults, rather than funding independent supported living. In fact, more than 90 per cent of the federal budget in this sector is for segregated housing. This is completely unacceptable.

Funding for segregated housing should be re-routed towards projects that promote autonomy and community integration (e.g., through groups like LiveWorkPlay and the Centre for Independent Living, Toronto). Right now, just 9% of federal funding is for independent living housing projects and that needs to change.

Canada also needs to support a useful systems to help autistic youth transition to adulthood. Too often, youth are tracked by well-meaning school programs into “school-to-guardianship” plans that underestimate their capacity for autonomy. We agree with the National Coalition on Disability (US) on the need for “ensuring that guardianship be a last resort imposed only after less-restrictive alternatives have been determined to be inappropriate or ineffective; and …recognize the serious implications of guardianship and encourages schools to recognize less restrictive decision making supports,” during the transition from school to adulthood (Read the full Report).

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.”

Group or residential homes in Canada are a vestige of institutional life. The ideal of independent supported living for IDD and autistic individuals, beyond residential homes, is not being pursued federally. And the situation in some 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.

Most Canadian jurisdictions currently have 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 residential care here 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.

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 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.

Housing 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 to the best practices of Ontario organizations such as LiveWorkPlay for models of fostering housing autonomy by offering support in areas requested by individuals such as financial management; meal planning; social gatherings; and co-ordinating supports.
  • 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.