Ontario’s Ombudsman is launching an investigation into services for adults with a developmental disability after several desperate families complained that their loved ones risked being sent to homeless shelters or jail due to lack of care.

“We have heard heart-wrenching stories from aging or ill parents whose adult sons and daughters  need constant care that can’t be provided at home — but they have nowhere to turn,” Marin said in a statement Thursday. “Some of these caregivers are on the brink of emotional and physical breakdown. We have investigated past cases where people with these severe disabilities have been sent to shelters and even jail. What is particularly troubling is that our complaints have only gone up, despite new legislation and changes made by the ministry in recent years.”

Legislation enacted in 2008 created a single provincial agency to process applications and determine eligibility for services. But complaints have soared since Developmental Services Ontario offices opened across the province last year, Marin said.

The ombudsman flagged the issue as a concern in his annual report last June but said the rising number of families turning to his office for help, coupled with the Toronto Star’s investigation into services for people with autism prompted him to launch a full investigation.

“The Star’s pieces have pretty much exposed the kinds of issues that were being drawn to our attention in a very articulate way,” Marin said in an interview.

Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy said he welcomed Marin’s investigation.

“As a government, we are always looking to identify areas for improvement and have already embarked on a transformation strategy for Ontario’s developmental services system,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to the Ombudsman’s recommendations on ways we can further support adults with developmental disabilities and their families.”

Marin’s six-month investigation will focus on whether the ministry is adequately responding to urgent situations involving adults with developmental disabilities, and whether it is doing enough to co-ordinate, monitor and facilitate access to services for them.

Marin said he will build on the Auditor-General’s report last year that found there is inadequate ministry oversight of $472 million in transfers to some 300 community-based agencies serving people with developmental disabilities.

“It’s about timely response to crisis situations,” he said. “It’s about making sure people who need help are not left without supports or homes.”

Marin highlighted the case of Thornhill, Ontario  mother Donna Kirsh, who approached both the Star and the Ombudsman after emergency funding for her 19-year-old autistic son’s care in a group home was about to run out.

“The problem is both simple and very complex,” he said.

The simple part is that Kirsh should not have faced the prospect of leaving her son in a homeless shelter, Marin said.

“As a society we bear the collective responsibility to take care of these people,” he said. “The more complicated issue is how do you go about doing that?”

In an interview with the Toronto Star  Kirsh said she is heartened to know that the Ombudsman is acting on what appears to be a systemic problem.

“I sincerely hope our government will make the necessary changes to the system so that families will not have to resort to extreme measures for their situation to be taken seriously,” she said. “I want to thank the Star and the Ombudsman’s office for coming to the aid of our son and averting a potentially disastrous situation.”

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