Ontario Connecting More Families with Supports for Children with Special Needs

Ontario Connecting More Families with Supports for Children with Special Needs

New innovative service linking families with child development services in their community sooner

March 29, 2022

Children, Community and Social Services

NIAGARA — The Ontario government is creating 22 new SmartStart Hubs across the province to better connect parents and caregivers with child development services in their communities as early as possible. The new Hubs will be a clear point of entry to services for children and families and bring together local professionals in early intervention and child development services to provide seamless connections to assessments and services such as speech and language services.

“We are delivering on our commitment to make it easier for families across Ontario to find services that their child may need to support their development,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. “SmartStart Hubs will provide a single point of entry to child development services and will streamline access for families to needs-based supports. When children and families can access services, we know that children’s short and long-term outcomes improve, as do their parents’ well-being.”

Children’s Treatment Centres across the province, and Surrey Place in Toronto, will begin implementing the new SmartStart Hubs in April. SmartStart Hubs will serve children and youth from birth until the age of 19, or up to age 21 if they are in school and living in Ontario. By bringing together local professionals in early intervention and child development services, SmartStart Hubs will provide seamless connections to local services including:

  • A clear point of entry to services.
  • A consistent way of delivering services – for example, staff from a SmartStart Hub will talk with each family about their concerns and their child’s and family’s strengths, goals and needs.
  • Streamlined connections to assessments and services, including speech and language pathology services, occupational therapy, and physical therapy so that families feel supported without having to re-tell their story to each new provider.
  • Early access to family-based supports including respite services and parent coaching.

“The evidence for early intervention to support childhood development is overwhelming, and SmartStart Hubs are an important resource to enhance positive childhood outcomes,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “These Hubs go hand-in-hand with our investments to streamline school-based rehabilitation services by ensuring that there is a continuum of access to resources throughout childhood.”

All 22 Hubs across Ontario are expected to be delivering services to families by the end of this year. Many of the Hubs’ services, including exploratory conversations, may be accessible by phone or video chat for families who cannot easily access their nearest SmartStart Hub.

Families will not need a referral or diagnosis to access SmartStart Hub services and can approach a SmartStart Hub directly or through another service provider in the community, including another children’s service provider, primary health care provider, childcare provider, or school.

SmartStart Hubs will provide services that are inclusive, safe, and welcoming for families of all races and cultures. The Hubs will work with Indigenous partners to deliver culturally appropriate and responsive services to First Nations, Métis and Inuit children and youth.

“Families in Niagara will have a clear place to go when they have concerns about their child’s development. The SmartStart Hubs will provide an enhanced, strengths-based intake experience for families entering the children’s services system,” said Oksana Fisher, Chief Executive Officer of Niagara Children’s Centre. “In addition to accessing the various services that are available through Niagara Children’s Centre, families may also be connected with other child-serving organizations. We look forward to working with our community partners to create a seamless family experience.”

“We are excited to be offering these flexible, individualized and coordinated supports for children and youth with special needs and their families in Toronto,” said Terri Hewitt, Chief Executive Officer of Surrey Place. “Through the development of these holistic services, we hope to create a system that not only provides timely support but also makes the journey for families easier.”

“We welcome this important first step toward the integration of child development services where information is accessible and connections between service providers is seamless,” said Jennifer Churchill, CEO, Empowered Kids Ontario-Enfants Avenir Ontario. “Kids with disabilities and their families deserve welcoming and supported access to a consistent range of services no matter where they live, in a system that is equitable, inclusive and timely.”

The SmartStart Hubs initiative is part of the $240 million investment to increase access to more front-line critical rehabilitation services.

Quick Facts

  • When children in Ontario begin school, almost 30 per cent have at least one developmental vulnerability that could pose a risk to their lifelong health, learning, and behaviour.
  • Special needs can include, but are not limited to, communication disorders, physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, acquired brain injuries, chronic and/or long-term medical conditions. They can include specific diagnoses such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
  • Research shows that early intervention during the critical window of children’s development, birth to six years of age, supports improved outcomes for children with special needs.

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