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Family rallies to bring enhanced group home to Calgary for autistic son

For more than a year, the McMartin family searched for the right specialized service to help care for their 18-year-old autistic son and brother, Jared.

After finally finding the appropriate support and accommodation for him, the Calgary family is seeking the support of their community to bring the specialized service to the city.

Pat, Edward, and Katie McMartin, the parents and sister of 18-year-old Jared McMartin, a young adult with severe autism, have been on a journey since March of 2019.

They want to find him a place to live a safe and fulfilling life.

While there are Calgary programs geared towards adults with disabilities, Jared’s mother, Pat McMartin explained that the majority aren’t well suited for her son’s needs.

“I had some things that I wanted to make sure were in place for Jared,” she said. 

“He needs to have care 24/7. You have to watch him. He’s got no sense of danger or impulse control.”

The search for autism care

From her research, many of the programs or services in Calgary are geared towards more high-functioning autism. That wouldn’t be suitable for Jared’s needs, Pat said.

According to Anmol Hajraw an Adult Support Worker with Autism Calgary, a lot of families struggle to find the right support service in Calgary.

“It’s not just with low functioning autism,” she said. “Families also struggle to find support for high-functioning adults with autism.”

Eventually, the family found Entrust, a group they believe is fit for Jared, and would give him a meaningful life.

“Entrust, the agency that we’re hoping to get into Calgary, has been established in Edmonton for 23 years,” said McMartin.

“They deal with high needs autistic adults.”

But due to certain restrictions, the family has faced difficulties in bringing Entrust to the city.

In order for Entrust to operate in Calgary, they have to lease a house using funds that have been provided to them by the family of a client, the organization told LiveWire Calgary.

That money is typically funded through the provincial Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD program).

PDD is a provincial government program that helps adults with developmental disabilities live independently in their community.

Entrust is not PDD approved in Calgary. That means they can’t operate in the city for longer than 6 months without an exemption, the organization told LiveWire Calgary.

The family contacted MLA Rajan Sawhney, the Minister of Community and Social Services, to raise their concerns. They were told by her office that they offered Entrust a six-month timeframe.

“I understand that Entrust was offered the opportunity to provide services for a six-month period,” said Ryan Hastman, Min. Sawhney’s Chief of Staff in an email to the family.

“However, Entrust advised that they are not willing to provide services in Calgary for this timeframe.”

Entrust told both the family and the Minister’s office that without a guarantee of continuous operation, they cannot set up in Calgary.  

No guarantees of ongoing operation

There is no certainty that Entrust will be allowed to continue operating in Calgary after six months. They would also have to reapply for an exemption after every 6-month period, they said.

“Entrust in Edmonton cannot come up here and set up shop where they are not guaranteed that they’re going to be able to continue to work,” said McMartin.

In Alberta, professionals are licensed to work across the entire province. With Entrust being PDD approved in both Edmonton and Red Deer, McMartin said she doesn’t understand why they can’t come to Calgary given that they are operating in the same province with the same regulations.

“That’s what floors me,” said McMartin.

“Entrust has been established in Edmonton for 23 years. I understand the exemption in place for new groups, but my God Entrust has been operating forever in Edmonton.”

The family started a petition to rally support from the community. They’re asking the province to lift the exemption preventing the agency setting up services in the city.

They will bring the petition to the government in attempt to lift the exemption.