In the wake of controversy over autism care in Ontario, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services announced on Friday that the government would renew funding for a mentorship program for children with autism.

“I’ve listened, I’ve learned, and I share a great deal about the challenges that they face and that they have to overcome every single day,” Minister Lisa McLeod said.

The Legends Mentoring Program at Jake’s House for Children with Autism in Toronto matches volunteer mentors over the age of 18 with children or youth and their families. Together, they work to develop social skills and engage with the community, something Minister McLeod said is vital. “We all have the goal of including all children, regardless of what their station in life may be so that we can have a truly vibrant society.”

The Ford government will invest $325,000 in the program at Jake’s House, maintaining the level of funding provided by the previous Liberal government when the program launched in 2017.

The investment comes at a time when the progressive conservatives are trying to mend a fractured relationship between the Ford government and the autism community.

The government faced severe backlash this year over its autism funding program changes announced in February.

In a recent one-on-one interview with CTV News Toronto, Premier Doug Ford admitted that he would ‘do-over’ the autism file.

The government assembled an autism panel made up of parents, adults with autism, educators and other experts to go over results of community consultations conducted last month. “We held the largest autism consultation in the history of the province. We did this because we wanted to hear how we could better support children and youth with autism, including those who have the most complex needs,” Minister McLeod said on Friday. “We received some great input and suggestions from over 4,000 very passionate people, including family members, caregivers and those who work with children and youth with autism.”

The panel will review the results of the consultations and deliver recommendations on a needs-based program. McLeod has said the new plan could cost the government double the original $321 million budget.

- With files from CTV Toronto