Forum: Operators of day centres for autistic adults face serious funding issues

I refer to the report, "Long wait list at day activity centres for autistic adults" (May 17).

I am writing as a former chief executive of St Andrew's Autism Centre.

The current state of affairs described in the report highlights the grossly inadequate funding from the Ministry of Social and Family Development to social service agencies (SSAs) that operate day activity centres for adults with autism.

The ministry increased funding for day activity centres by 20 per cent in October last year to enable them to hire more care staff and increase the quality of services.

But the ministry's funding covers only a small fraction of total operating costs incurred by SSAs that run day activity centres, resulting in large operating deficits that force SSAs to spend significant effort and energy to raise their own funds.

Even after funds are raised, SSAs end up with deficits which must be covered by their parent organisations.

It should therefore not be a surprise that there are insufficient places in day activity centres, as SSAs have enormous difficulties expanding their enrolments given the many thousands of dollars per client per year that must be raised by the SSA.

This is a growing and unsustainable problem as more and more children with moderate to severe autism graduate each year from special education schools and must look to adult day activity centres to provide services.

The Straits Times report also points to a shortage of trained staff as one reason for the enrolment backlog.

It takes years to properly train day activity centre coaches to become competent in caring for persons with autism.

Trained staff are hard to keep because of a lack of career progression and because more attractive salaries are offered outside the adult special needs sector whose ability to pay competitive salaries is limited by its tough funding environment.

Dennis Ang

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