Ottawa – Social service workers who provide supports to people with developmental disabilities in Ottawa are urging the McGuinty Liberals to put the needs of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens first, by providing better funding for community-based services in the provincial budget, due on March 23.
Sadly years of chronic provincial underfunding for the developmental services sector has meant that the individuals receiving support in the community and those who work to support them are largely forgotten – as wait lists for services increase and low wages and heavy workloads drive caring workers out the field, say Ottawa community living front line staff, who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
The province decreased funding for developmental services in 1995 by five per cent. Funding cuts were followed by several years of flat-line budgets and then small yearly funding increases that did not keep pace with inflation. These two factors alone have the equivalent impact of a 3.4 per cent annual decrease on operating budgets over the past eight consecutive years.
As demand for community-based services continues to grow, the current support system is under extraordinary stress. Across Ontario thousands of adults with a developmental disability are on waiting lists for services. In the Ottawa area there are 248 individuals in critical need of residential services. Overall in Ottawa, waiting lists exceed 500 for residential and day program services.
Funding shortfalls have also suppressed workers’ salaries in the sector. Province-wide community living staff earn 25 per cent less than other social service workers in comparable sectors, and agencies are struggling to attract and retain qualified staff.
In recent years, Ottawa community living staff won wage increases through an arbitration process that is no longer available. As a result Ottawa community living agencies were able to avoid the high staff turnover rate of 22 per cent (KPMP 2000) experienced by other Ontario agencies. However, workforce stability will change if wage rates for Ottawa area developmental service workers stagnate, and qualified workers leave the field. Ultimately this will impact on the quality and continuity of care for individuals receiving support and their families, say Ottawa area developmental service workers.
The closure of the Rideau Regional Centre - one of three remaining provincial institutions - is adding to the stresses caused by provincial underfunding, as individuals requiring higher levels of care, access services through Ottawa community living agencies.
People with developmental disabilities deserve access to quality programs and supports in the community, delivered by well-trained, dedicated and fairly compensated staff. “The time is now for the McGuinty government to include improved funding for community-based developmental services in this coming provincial budget,” say the presidents of CUPE 1521, CUPE 3826, and CUPE 2605 representing residential and vocational counsellors at five Ottawa community living agencies.
For more information contact:
Steve Sanderson, President CUPE 1521
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications
Russell Harris, President CUPE 3826
Bonnie Scholes, President CUPE 2605