Doug Ford agrees to talk with mother of son with autism after a week of camping outside of his office
TORONTO -- An Oakville mother says Premier Doug Ford has agreed to sit down and talk with her after she camped outside of his constituency office for a week advocating for more financial support for her autistic son.
Stacy Kennedy has been sitting in her van in the parking lot of Ford’s Etobicoke office since last week in an effort to get the premier to discuss Ontario’s “broken” autism program with her.
Kennedy’s 10-year-old son Sam has been on the province’s autism support waitlist for the past four years to receive essential services.
“I’m devastated that I’ve had to do this. I had no other choice and I’m here until there’s action,” Stacy told CP24 from her van Wednesday night.
“The system is broken and it needs to change,” she added.
On Wednesday evening, Kenney said Ford finally called her and agreed to have a conversation with the concerned mother.
“I spoke to the Premier around 8 o’clock [Wednesday] evening. It was a conversation with many talking points. Similar to his answer at the press conference when asked about me. ‘Heartbreaking’ was used a lot,” she told CTV News Toronto.
Kennedy said that Ford’s office will schedule a time for them to meet and talk about issues with the government’s new autism program.
He also told Kennedy that Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Merrilee Fullerton will reach out to her on Thursday.
A spokesperson from Minister Fullerton’s office said the minister and ministry are in regular contact with families and advocates to ensure that the program supports the needs of families.
“We are fixing a broken system to ensure that no child is left unsupported. While it would be inappropriate to discuss individual cases, rest assured that the Minister has directed her ministry to work with all families who need support,” the spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ford was asked about Kennedy’s advocacy efforts during a press conference and said he was willing to talk with her.
“My heart breaks for Stacy and all families with autisic children. Stacy did talk, she’s from Oakville, she did talk to her MPP out there and my office talked to her but I have no problem talking to Stacy as I do talking to hundreds and hundreds of people on a weekly basis,” Ford said.
Kennedy said the government needs to act now in order to support the thousands of families that are currently on a waitlist to receive help for their autistic children.
“I’m afraid the premier is out of touch to the barriers that families still face. The waitlist has gone from 23,000 to just under 50,000 children and it’s absolutely scandalous,” she said.
Last year, the Ford government rolled out its new autism program after scrapping one in 2019 following backlash because it capped funding at amounts families said would be too small for many, and made it based on age rather than needs.
As part of the new program, this spring the government started enrolling children in core clinical services, with about 470 participating as of late July.
As of Apr. 1, 2021, the government also provided one-time childhood budgets of either $5,000 or $20,000, based on a child’s age for families to purchase eligible services and supports.
Kennedy says the new program isn’t good enough and that she won’t stop camping out at Ford’s office until she speaks with the government about next steps to support autisic children.
“I want to get a phone call and I want someone to say ‘Stacy, we made a mistake. We realize your son should be getting meaningful funding in a timely fashion.’ That’s what I want, that’s what every family in Ontario deserves,” she said.
--With files from CTV News Toronto's Scott Lightfoot and The Canadian Press