Special Needs Strategy Update

March 2018

The Ministries of Children and Youth Services, Education and Health and Long Term Care remain committed to implementing the Special Needs Strategy. Although it feels to families like nothing has changed, there have been a few steps forward.

Early Identification of Children with Special Needs

A key step to increasing identification of children with special needs as early as possible is the Developmental Surveillance Initiative (DSI). The initiative recognizes that parents play a central role in early identification and developmental concerns. The goal is to support parents to help them raise their concerns with early childhood and health care professionals, to get the information and resources their child may require as early as possible.

There are two components to the DSI to support families:

  • A new tool named the Early Years Check-In to identify parent concerns in a a range of developmental areas including:
    • expressive and receptive language
    • gross and fine motor skills
    • learning/understanding
    • behaviour and emotional regulation
    • adaptive function and
    • overall development.
  • Web based education resources, and e-learning activities to enhance understanding of child development, and early identification of concerns by families.

The tool and resources are currently being pilot tested and evaluated by parents and professional in various settings.

Coordinated Service Planning

The Coordinated Service Planning initiative is well underway with families of children with multiple and/or complex needs starting to receive services through Lead Agencies in 23 communities. The remaining 11 service delivery areas will receive confirmation of the lead agency and start local implementation in the coming months.

Coordinated Service Planning goes beyond the regular inter-professional communication and collaboration among providers who are integrating practice and service delivery for children, youth and families. It is a support in and of itself that is intended to increase family stress by providing families with a formal voice in the service planning process and help navigating and coordinating services.

The implementation models vary in each service delivery area, but the vision and goals are consistent. Families of children and youth with multiple and/or complex needs will be at the centre of coordinated service planning and they will be provided a single plan of care, that includes all services the child and/or family is receiving.

Changing service systems is complex and takes time. Early steps include joint professional development for service providers and development of common protocols between agencies and organizations. The role of school boards in coordinated service planning is still evolving.

Integrated Rehabilitation Services

In September 2017 it was announced that the local planning efforts would cease and that there would be a phased approach to implementation. As part of the first phase:

  • A Provincial Advisory Group would be established to provide advice to the Ministries on some of the provincial issues that are critical to the integration of rehabilitation services for all children birth to the end of school.
  • Contract management for the delivery of speech-language pathology, occupational therapy and physiotherapy (school based rehabilitation services) in publicly funded schools would transfer from the Local health Integration Network (LHIN) and formerly the Community Care Access Centre) to the 21 Children’s Treatment Centres.

Since the fall, the Provincial Advisory Committee has met twice and will continue to meet through the spring. At the first two meetings the committee:

  • Identified and discussed key issues and challenges identified by community steering committee through their initial proposal development
  • Reviewed various tiered service delivery model examples and compiled implementation strengths and challenges
  • Held initial discussions about tools and mechanisms that could support implementation of integration of rehabilitation services.

Over the past few months a Transition Working Group has been established to support a smooth transition of service contracts and funding from the LHIN to the Children’s Treatment Centres. There will be no changes to the current service delivery model provided to students and the contracted service providers will remain the same. However, as the services are moved to the Children’s Treatment Centres there may be minor changes, for example the school referral process will go to the CTC rather than the LHIN. The transitions will occur between April and August ready for the new school year.

What does this mean for Families?

After 4 years of the Special Needs Strategy very little has changed. The SNS was announced in March 2014 and families, and Easter Seals Ontario, applauded the new direction. The plans for the SNS include all of the features families have long been advocating including:

  • Family focussed service planning
  • Coordination of services and service plans
  • Integration of services, including unification of speech and language services
  • Services that meet the child’s need at home, at school and in the community

Unfortunately, for most families nothing has changed. Students who need speech services for moderate to severe articulation, fluency and voice issues are still referred to services contracted by the LHINs to deliver services in school. Many students who need occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech services are on wait lists for services, and some have been on the lists for years. Efforts to identify children with special needs as early as possible are being evaluated, but there are still children arriving in Kindergarten who have not had access to early intervention services. Coordinated service planning is only being provided to a small number of families.

Easter Seals Ontario continues to advocate for a speedy implementation of the Special Needs Strategy and more funding for these valuable services.

For more detailed information, please visit the Ministry SNS website and check the “SNS Implementation Update March 2018” and other newly posted documents. http://specialneedsstrategy.children.gov.on.ca

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