Ensuring Ontario is a safe and accepting place for youth - Outcomes #13, #14, #15

Ensuring Ontario is a safe and accepting place for youth

Ensuring Ontario is a safe and accepting place for youth

Ontario is a vibrant mix of young people with diverse strengths, needs, abilities, perspectives and experiences. To realize the promise of this diversity, we must ensure that Ontario is a safe, inclusive and accepting place for all young people.

Diversity, Social Inclusion and Safety matter to young Ontarians:

When young Ontarians are safe and supported at home, school, work, online and in their communities, they are able to develop successfully into adulthood. When they feel like they belong, young people are more likely to engage in their communities, social activities, teams and clubs.

And they're important for Ontario:

Supporting Ontario's young people to feel safe, included and accepted contributes to overall community safety. Social inclusion and safety are central to creating a cohesive society and a strong economy that will secure our future prosperity and growth.

Snapshot of diversity, social inclusion and safety in Ontario

Ontario is a world leader in multiculturalism: Ontario is home to one of the most diverse populations in the world – most Ontarians can trace their roots outside of Canadafootnote 172. Ontarians represent a diverse collection of ethnicities, ages, genders, sexual orientations, religions, languages, abilities, socio-economic status, and lifestyles.

Many youth face barriers to being accepted and included: Despite our strength in diversity, some youth still experience discrimination, including homophobia, racism, stereotyping, victimization and bullying. Some youth are more vulnerable than others. For example, newcomer youth face unique challenges with social inclusion and acceptance as they adjust to a new culture and often a new language. Youth with disabilities also face challenges obtaining accommodation of their accessibility needs.

Aboriginal youth face challenges with social inclusion and safety: We have heard that many Aboriginal young people - including those living both on and off-reserve – experience tension between their Aboriginal identity and their participation in broader culture. Culture-based services and supports play an important role in helping these youth to navigate between cultures and, in turn, feel included and safe.

Youth-related crime is declining: Ontario's rates of youth-related crime and violent crime have been declining for the past four years and are well below the Canadian averagefootnote 173. At the same time, rates of youth violence and crime remain a challenge for some communities and neighbourhoods. More young people are now provided opportunities for rehabilitation outside the justice system, through diversion programming.

Bullying affects many of Ontario's youth: One in three students in grades 7 to 12 report they have been bullied at schoolfootnote 174. Bullying outside of school is also common and can include online bullying or harassment. Ontario schools have stepped up efforts through early and ongoing intervention and supports aimed at addressing and preventing instances of bullying in Ontario. Bullying can have long-term impacts on both the person who is being bullied and also those that are bullies.

#13 Promote diversity, equity and inclusion of young people

The goal of social inclusion is to give all young people an equal chance for participation in our society, no matter their ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, language, gender identity, economic status, age or disability status. It is important that all young people in Ontario feel included and accepted, especially by those who support their development.

Supporting social inclusion for Ontario youth includes:

Instilling respect for diversity and equity: We know that social relationships and comparisons are important for young people as they developfootnote 175. Young people place importance on how their peers value and respect their differences. An experience with discrimination, harassment or stigma based on a young person's race, gender, sexual orientation and religious belief can cause them to feel rejected and disconnected from their communities. Systematic oppression and racism can impact a young person's self-identity and life choices. We can promote diversity and equity by providing opportunities for Ontario's young people to develop an appreciation of and respect for the differences of others.

Providing culturally-appropriate supports: Research indicates that creating an environment that is safe and accepting and that allows youth to recognize their cultural strengths and differences supports positive outcomesfootnote 176. Ontario's programs, services, communities and institutions have an opportunity to support a sense of belonging by developing specific social inclusion and diversity policies for youth who are most at-risk. For example, youth who are new to Ontario may need support with identity development and language skills to ease their transition into society. Programs and services for Aboriginal youth that are culturally based are important to help youth build strong self-identities. Having decision makers and front-line workers who reflect diverse populations can provide better opportunities to design and deliver programs that are relevant to young people.

Removing accessibility barriers: Youth with disabilities, or special needs or mental health barriers have the same needs for participation as their peers. We know that some youth with disabilities face stigma and other barriers to education, work, services and opportunities that support positive development. While their disability may not impact their development, research indicates that the way in which peers and adults interact with youth who have a disability may affect the number and quality of their social experiencesfootnote 177.

Outcome we want:

#13 Ontario youth experience social inclusion and value diversity.

How we can tell:

  • ▲Proportion of youth who feel a sense of belonging in their community
  • ▲Proportion of students who have a positive attitude toward diversity at school

#14 Help young people to be safe to grow and develop

Wherever young people spend their time – including home, school, workplaces, teams, clubs, and online – they need to be safe. Having access to safe places to socialize impacts youth confidence, health and positive developmentfootnote 179. A young person who feels excluded may begin to disconnect from society, which in turn can lead to higher-risk behaviour such as violence, alcohol and drug use. Some at-risk young people in Ontario may not have sufficient access to safe and nurturing environments.

Helping Ontario's youth feel safe in their environments involves the following:

Promoting safety at home: Being safe at home involves having a home environment that is physically healthy and clean. Ontario youth who are in need of safe housing may experience exposure to hazardous materials, lack access to safe water and food, or be homeless. Being safe at home also involves being free from fear of abuse or violence. Exposure to domestic violence at an early age can have long-term effects on youth as they grow.

Promoting safety at school: Feeling unsafe at school can involve exposure to violence – including gun violence, physical fights, abuse or bullying. Ensuring Ontario's schools are safe is important to so students can learn and be healthy. We know that feeling unsafe, such as when being bullied, can impact academic achievement and lead to emotional challenges including risk of self-harm. Research suggests the most effective way to address bullying is through a whole school approach, where all members of the school community work together to create a safe, accepting and respectful learning environmentfootnote 183.

Promoting safety online: Evidence indicates that young people are facing an increased risk of victimization through online activitiesfootnote 186. As technology changes, young people can no longer rely on their home to be a safe place where bullies cannot reach them. In addition, young people often share their personal information online through social networks, making them more vulnerable online.

Promoting safety in communities: Having access to safe places to socialize impacts youth confidence, health and positive developmentfootnote 188. Research shows that young people who witness crimes are more likely to commit crimes themselves, and less likely to achieve educational and employment success.footnote 189. More Ontario youth can achieve positive outcomes when schools, communities and governments work together to ensure young people have safe places to go.

Outcome we want:

#14 Ontario youth feel safe at home, at school, online and in their communities.

How we can tell:

  • ▲Proportion of youth who have a happy home life
  • ▼Proportion of students who have been bullied online
  • ▲Proportion of Ontarians who feel safe in their community

#15 Support youth who are at risk of conflict with the law

Some of Ontario's young people – particularly Aboriginal, minority and racialized youth – face challenges and barriers that may increase their risk of coming into conflict with the law.

Supporting young people to avoid involvement with the justice system, make positive contributions to their communities, and get back on track if they face setbacks involves:

Intervening early to support youth at risk: Early intervention and crime prevention involves identifying and addressing young people's risk factors for participating in crime, as well as protective factors. Local communities can focus on minimizing risk factors, while building protective factors for a safer, stronger place for youth to thrivefootnote 190.

Using effective approaches to prevent crime: We know that place-based approaches are effective in addressing the causes of youth violence, especially in neighbourhoods of concentrated disadvantagefootnote 192. Youth in disadvantaged communities may experience multiple barriers to success (such as poverty and racism) and benefit from programs targeted to where they live, including those that provide safe spaces for youth to go. Programs are more effective when they are delivered during important transition times in a young person's day (such as after school and in the evening). Research also shows that a multi-disciplinary collaborative approach that includes schools, public health bodies, police and community organizations works best in preventing youth crime in the communityfootnote 193.

Improving relationships between communities and police: We know that many youth and families, especially those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, do not feel they have positive relationships with police and law enforcement. Improving the important relationships between communities and police has been cited as a key step in reducing youth violence and addressing racism and discrimination in several key reports, including the 2008 Review of the Roots of Youth Violencefootnote 195. Research shows that increasing efforts in community policing involves police officers attending and participating in community and school events, meeting with community members, parents and youth to develop new approaches and solve problems in a collaborative way, and conducting positive-oriented outreach to racialized youthfootnote 196.

Supporting youth to get back on track: When young people come into conflict with the law, they need to be held accountable for their actions. They also need to be provided effective programs and reintegration support so they can get back on track with their lives and reduce their chances of re-offending. A key component of reintegration is to encourage young people to make positive life choicesfootnote 197.

Outcome we want:

#15 Ontario youth respect, and are respected by, the law and the justice system.

How we can tell:

  • ▼Proportion of youth who participate in "antisocial behaviour"
  • ▼Proportion of youth who police reported as committing a non-traffic related crime
  • ▲Proportion of youth who believe officers in their local police force do a good job at treating people fairly

What is Ontario doing to support these outcomes?

The Government of Ontario has a number of initiatives that support diversity, social inclusion and safety of youth:

Stepping Up: Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres

Case Study

The Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC) represents 29 Friendship Centres across Ontario. OFIFC supports Aboriginal youth-led activities that encourage equal access and participation in Canadian society and celebrates the Aboriginal culture.

OFIFC helps foster self-determination through youth leadership development in an environment that is accountable to youth. OFIFC promotes youth involvement in board governance, creates opportunities for participation in civic action and community development, and provides programs that promote education, economic development, children's and youth initiatives, and cultural awareness.

The Friendship Centre is where I grew up. It's where I learned about ceremonies, language, and our elders. It also opened my eyes to the many challenges that exist within my Aboriginal community.

In my mid-teens, I co-founded my centre's Youth Council and attended many OFIFC youth forums. The OFIFC Youth Forums give young Aboriginal people like me a chance to use our voice in positive ways. We discuss our issues and concerns, like suicide, program funding and addictions. And we also share our successes, like graduation rates, engagement practices and our fundraising efforts.

At the age of 19, I ran for the position of Regional Representative on the Ontario Aboriginal Youth Council (OAYC). I held that position for two years. That leadership role gave me the confidence to run for an executive position and sit on the OFIFC Board of Directors. Today, I work at OFIFC and with Aboriginal youth at local Friendship Centres.

The OAYC, the board, and the staff of the OAYC are my family away from home. They support me and encourage me to go after my dreams - and that I can do whatever I put my mind to. I hope I am able to make a difference in a young person's life, just like the Friendship Centre did for me when I was growing up.

My advice to young people is: Show up! When you show up, you get to speak. You get to plan. People begin to trust you. Others will show up, too. Yes, there will be days when it's hard to love the world. But just find the things you love and keep going. Keep your friends and family close. They keep you humble, remind you where you came from - and what you are working towards.

Lorena Garvey