Toronto releases strategy to help city’s most vulnerable youth
The Toronto Youth Equity Strategy was released Tuesday. The report will go to the city’s development and recreation committee next week.
A comprehensive youth violence strategy released by the city Tuesday recommends appointing a councillor to serve as a “youth equity champion” and the creation of a city-wide committee to combat the problem.
The youth equity champion, who would be appointed in 2015, would promote the strategy in council and other levels of government, a position that has been missing since the city’s youth advocate position was eliminated years ago.
The city committee would include a staff representative from every department that serves youth. It is just one of a number of action plans contained in the strategy to help young people who are most vulnerable to violence or at risk of being involved in crime.
The committee would help Toronto oversee implementation of the recommendations and identify services, as well as gaps, for youth across all departments.
The recommendations take a page out of the 2008 Roots of Youth Violence report which laid out a plan that wasn’t acted on by the province until years later.
“The whole idea of the strategy is to try, for the first time, to create a comprehensive, focused and deliberate plan to combat the roots of youth violence in our city,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who introduced the motion early last year asking staff for the report. “Without having individuals with clear responsibilities to do this work, it’s impossible to do.”
The report also recommends there be a point person at the school boards, said Matlow, a former trustee who was on the Toronto public board when 15-year-old Jordan Manners was killed in 2007.
Matlow said it wasn’t any one incident that led him to ask staff for the report, but many.
“It was seeing a series of violent incidents in our city where I just thought there were too many kids in Toronto being killed on our streets,” he said.
Many of the report’s 100-plus recommendations can move ahead with available resources, said Chris Brillinger, the city’s executive director of social development, finance and administration.
Brillinger’s staff worked with youth, community partners and colleagues across the city to create the report.
Those initiatives include making employment services more accessible to at-risk youth, offering them job skills and access to scholarships, increasing free or affordable access to city space for groups offering educational services for vulnerable youth, and maintaining transitional or alternative learning programs for suspended students. Many of the recommendations involve consulting with youth to develop better policies and programs.
Other recommendations, which involve the expansion of existing programs, require $430,000 in additional funding that is not yet in the 2014 capital budget.
Matlow is hopeful council will approve funding for those programs, which include:
Broadening trauma and mental health supports in communities affected by violence.
A skills development program for incarcerated youth offered through the Toronto Public Library.
More one-on-one mentoring for youth through the city’s Job Corps Program, which works with community partners to offer workshops, job placements and life-skills training.
Expanding Focus Rexdale, a partnership between the city, United Way and Toronto police that intervenes in high-risk cases before an individual commits a crime or is the victim of one. The cases are referred to community agencies.
The strategy also contains restorative justice programs and other alternatives to criminalization.
“It’s not about penalties,” said Matlow. “It’s about grabbing on to these kids’ hands before they’re lost.”
If the strategy is passed by the city’s community development committee next week, Toronto will have a centralized table to oversee the city’s youth initiatives, a move the province failed to implement until the Danzig and Eaton Centre shootings in 2012, when the province expanded the focus of a cabinet-level committee on poverty to include the Roots of Youth Violence report.
Appointing a councillor to head the cause would also create a “czar-like” figure to pull together existing city resources, a move championed at the provincial level by former MPP Alvin Curling, who co-wrote the 2008 youth violence report with former provincial attorney general Roy McMurtry.
Olivia Chow, one of the city’s last child and youth advocates, created the Toronto Youth Cabinet, an advisory body to the city, and initiated a youth outreach program through the parks and recreation department. Employees there engage youth and refer them to services.
Chow, who held the position from 1998 to 2006, was lauded for her ability to cut through bureaucracy as well as her ability to find creative funding for social programs.
Curling has said the province has enough resources to “move towards solutions” for youth violence, but that ministries often work in silos. Brillinger said the city has a similar problem and that the strategy will break down the “siloed nature of our service delivery.”