02/25/2019 15:42 EST | Updated 02/25/2019 15:45 EST

Lisa MacLeod Denies Freezing Autism Treatment Waiting List

Ontario directed service providers not to take new clients in the fall.

Ontario Minister Lisa Macleod talks with the media at the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Aug. 2, 2018.

TORONTO — Ontario's social services ministry directed autism therapy providers in the fall to only take on new clients with previous service commitments, but the minister denied Monday that the move amounted to freezing the wait list for treatment.

The revelation of the directive comes amid anger from parents and advocates over the government's new autism program, which they say will leave many kids without the level of treatment they need.

Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod has said the changes are intended to clear the wait list of 23,000 children, as many have been waiting years for services.

The ministry said in a statement Monday that in October agencies were told to only bring new clients into treatment if service commitments had already been made — confirmation the government provided after reports of the situation started circulating over the weekend.

"You are only bringing new clients into evidence-based behavioural service from those families to whom previous service commitments have been made," the government told service providers in the fall.

Government documents suggest that service providers were instructed not to tell families about the directive.

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MacLeod denied that making no new offers of service beyond existing commitments amounted to a freeze.

"We never at one point in time said we were freezing, but there was only so much money that we were able to offer," MacLeod said.

She has said that the program was bankrupt when her government came to power last year and that it need a one-time cash infusion of $100 million just to keep it afloat.

Heather Jensen's nearly four-year-old daughter has been on the wait list for two years and was told in December that she had been approved for the autism program, but after filling out paperwork in January, she never heard back.

"You have this hope inside you that some of these things you can't deal with alone as a parent she's going to have once she starts therapy, and that just was shattered," Jensen said. "We sat there for the last two months waiting for that phone call for her to start therapy and it was never going to come."

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