Stepping Up establishes a strategic framework to help guide, focus and maximize our collaborative actions to support young people. At its core is a set of 20 outcomes that can help us – service providers, foundations, community groups, governments, young leaders and families – better align our work with what research and youth themselves say is important for their success. It is a basis for our sustained, collective action in support of Ontario's young people.

This strategic framework defines what we believe matters most to our young people. It describes what we are already doing to support them and what we can accomplish by working better together. It does this by marshalling Ontario's research, data and programs from across 18 ministries and lessons learned from youth and community engagement to establish an overall framework to help youth succeed.

Stepping Up will help us to better align Ontario's efforts towards the needs of youth, inspire others to action and support us all to work better together under a common vision:

Why a strategic framework?

There are many individuals, organizations and communities involved in supporting youth in Ontario and it is easy for their work to become disconnected from each other.

Using this framework as a foundation, the Government of Ontario and its partners will broaden our collective understanding of youth. Our aim is to bolster the efforts of the many existing strategies, systems, agencies, communities, businesses and individuals who are already doing so much to make Ontario a great place to be a young person.

We want to use this strategic framework to establish a common lens for future discussion and cooperation, working together to accomplish things that are bigger than any one of us can do alone. Stepping Up provides a guide for decision-making, program planning and partnerships going forward. It will help us to better understand and monitor how Ontario's youth are doing over time. We are committed to supporting young people to thrive.

When young Ontarians succeed, Ontario succeeds: Young Ontarians between 12 and 25 years of age make up nearly a fifth of our populationfootnote 2. Educated, healthy, creative and resilient young people are critical to support the economic and social future of our province. We already know how important it is to invest in youth. Wiser, more informed investment choices in youth services will lead to a stronger overall economy and thriving society. By supporting positive youth development today, we are minimizing costs to our health care, justice, child protection and social assistance systems in the future.

All young people have assets to be nurtured: We know that some youth may be more vulnerable to experiencing multiple barriers and challenges in their lives. These include racialized youth, newcomer youth, Aboriginal youth, youth with disabilities or special needs, youth in and leaving care, francophone youth, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer (LGBTTQ) youth, youth living in rural and remote communities, youth from low-income families and youth in conflict with the law. It is in our collective best interest - and our responsibility - to provide these young people with every opportunity to succeed and fulfil their potential to contribute to their communities.

Ontario youth need all hands on deck: As young people transition through the stages of adolescence and early adulthood, they will connect with many different people, programs, organizations and systems – from teachers to mall security guards to health clinics. All of these interactions matter. Supporting young people to reach their full potential requires positive contributions across sectors and communities.

We have a strong foundation to build on: Across Ontario, there are many strong and dedicated individuals, programs, collaboratives and organizations that contribute positively to the lives of youth. Working together, we can further maximize these efforts. In addition, research on youth development has expanded in the last decade. New scientific evidence on adolescent brain development, for example, has changed our understanding of how youth process information and why they take risksfootnote 3. These insights help us make better decisions on how, where and when to support youth to be their best.

How did we get here?

Stepping Up is part of Ontario's ongoing work to support collaboration on positive youth outcomes. It draws on discussions with youth and our knowledge about youth development, along with the expertise of hundreds of dedicated organizations and community partners across Ontario who are making positive changes in the lives of young people every day.

Stepping Up builds on Ontario's past experience supporting early childhood development through the Best Start Strategy. It responds to recommendations from the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence report and continues the important work outlined in Stepping Stones: A Resource on Youth Development and Ontario's Youth Action Plan.

The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence

Released in 2008, the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence report is a guiding document that provides information about the complex and often interrelated roots of violence involving youth. These include poverty, health and family issues, racism, and issues in the education and justice systems. More than 750 individuals were consulted in the development of the review, including community leaders, government representatives and youth. Stepping Up responds to the recommendation included in the review to develop "a comprehensive youth policy framework" for Ontario to provide direction for youth programming and "align programs to meet common goals."footnote 4

Figure 1. Stepping Stones: A Resource on Youth Development depicts the cognitive, emotional, social and physical domains of youth development as a circle which demonstrates that these domains are interconnected and that both context and a person's sense of self matter.

Stepping Stones: A resource on youth development

We know that when we understand how youth develop, we can better provide supports and services that meet their needs. That's why the Government of Ontario created Stepping Stones: A Resource on Youth Development. Released in June 2012, Stepping Stones was created in broad consultation with researchers, youth, community leaders and service providers. Stepping Stones provides a detailed look at the predictable stages of adolescence and young adulthood across the cognitive, emotional, social and physical domains of development, and the interrelated and interdependent nature of human growth in these domains (see figure 1). Stepping Stones describes what leading research and youth say about positive youth development, including how experiences during adolescence can shape future wellbeing.

Ontario's Youth Action Plan

Ontario's Youth Action Plan was released in August 2012 in response to gun violence in Toronto. It focuses on supporting young people living in underserved and disadvantaged communities to help them build their skills through outreach and enable them to positively contribute to their communities. It incorporates and responds to the feedback we received from youth and their families, community leaders, organizations that serve and support youth and community partners over a 30-day consultation period. Ontario's Youth Action Plan builds on investments and supports for youth originally developed through the 2006 Youth Opportunities Strategy.

Ontario Youth Program Review

The government reviewed Ontario's portfolio of youth-serving programs, as a direct result of Ontario's Youth Action Plan. Completed in December 2012, the review looked at a cross-section of youth programs in Ontario to determine whether the government is doing the right things, delivering youth programs in the right ways, and serving the right young people. The review showed that Ontario's current portfolio of youth-serving programs goes a long way in supporting young people to succeed, and that there are also opportunities for improvements – such as increasing program capacity to serve diverse youth and increasing opportunities for youth engagement. The insights and lessons learned from the review are reflected in Stepping Up and will guide our efforts going forward.

Listening to youth and adult allies

Stepping Up incorporates the voices of young people, service providers, researchers and other experts from the following recent initiatives:

We have continued to hear from these voices, amplified by Dr. Alvin Curling, Strategic Advisor on Youth Opportunities to the Minister of Children and Youth Services. Dr. Curling, a former MPP and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, was one of the co-authors of the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence report and is an expert on the causes of violence among young people. Since his appointment as Strategic Advisor, Dr. Curling has met with many different individuals and groups in diverse communities to hear about the issues that matter most to Ontario's youth and their families.

In addition, Ontario has also established a new, permanent Premier's Council on Youth Opportunities. The Premier's Council, announced in early 2013, provides a permanent voice for youth and young professionals on matters important to youth across Ontario. The initial members of the Premier's Council include representatives from diverse communities with diverse experiences. These Council members provided advice to support the development of Stepping Up to ensure it reflected youth perspectives from their communities.

A strong provincial foundation

The following major provincial strategies and initiatives directly complement Stepping Up and have also shaped its development: