Close to 300 staff members at an autism treatment facility in the Greater Toronto Area were handed layoff notices this week in the wake of provincial changes to autism funding.

Speaking to CTV News Toronto, employees at the Erinoakkids Centre for Treatment and Development, which has multiple locations in the GTA, said they were told that a lack of funding has forced the facility to eliminate 291 positions over the next three months.

Positions impacted by the layoffs include frontline therapists, supervisors, and applied behavior analysts at locations in Mississauga, Brampton and Oakville.

Employees were told that the company planned to re-hire 178 people on contracts but 113 full-time jobs would be cut.

In a statement released on Monday, ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development said the company has been “significantly impacted” by the Ford government’s changes to the way it funds autism services.

“Agencies like ErinoakKids are no longer funded to administer and deliver these services through the public sector, as we have done since inception of the original program in 2000, for successive governments,” the statement read.

“Instead, families of children with autism are being provided with a Childhood Budget, which they can spend with any provider of their choice.”

They added that the decision to make “significant staffing reductions” was “very difficult.”

“We would like to thank all of our dedicated staff for the excellent care that they have provided to children during our time as a transfer payment agency for the delivery of autism services,” the statement read.

The company went on to say that the facility “remains committed to helping children and youth with disabilities and special needs.”

“We would also like to assure families that we are retaining a sufficient number of highly qualified staff to continue to meet the needs of both families who are currently receiving service from us and those who would like to purchase services from us as they receive their Childhood Budgets,” the statement concluded.

The province is defending its decision to change the funding model, telling CP24 that "parents know best" when it comes to where the money should be spent.

“That’s why we are providing funding directly to parents, not agencies. We know we need a flexible system that empowers parents to make decisions specific to the needs of their child," Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod's office said in a statement.

"The ministry continues to provide funding to meet ErinoakKids requirements for services for all children currently in the Ontario Autism Plan (OAP) including those on 6-month extensions of their behavioural plans, as noted by the approximately 180 re-hires Monday morning." 

MacLeod's office reiterated that there has been "no cut in funding to the OAP."

"We are committed to needs-based supports for children and youth with autism. Recently, we appointed an expert panel to advise us how best to spend an additional $300 million in autism supports," the statement continued.

"With 23,000 children coming off of the waitlist over the next 18 months, providers will see an influx of families looking for a wide range of service and supports. We are continuing with our plan to eliminate the waitlist for 3 out of 4 children with autism who were denied support by the previous government."

- With files from CTV News Toronto's Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello