Echoes still reverberate from Summer of the Gun
TheStar.com – comment – Echoes still reverberate from Summer of the Gun: Fragmented services are plaguing efforts to give Ontario youth positive opportunities
June 25, 2008. Frances Lankin
It was this time of year, three years ago, that we entered a season of tragic loss; a season that saw many young lives lost to senseless violence during what became known as the Summer of the Gun.
All of us, here in Toronto and across the province, were rocked by the events of 2005. There were many questions. How did this happen? What should we do to change conditions that lead some of our young people, our community’s children, to the choices they are making? Are we giving them enough opportunities to make different choices?
Much has been done to make a difference. The province created a network of new youth outreach workers and expanded summer youth employment programs.
Together with United Way, the province entered into a partnership to launch the Youth Challenge Fund and more than 90 new youth-led programs are giving kids options in 13 priority neighbourhoods in Toronto.
The Ontario government has also partnered with Toronto school boards and United Way to keep more schools open during the summer to provide summer camps and activities for neighbourhood children and youth.
The City of Toronto has partnered with the private sector on PAYE, a program focused on creating and supporting youth employment opportunities. The city, Heritage Canada and United Way have invested in Involve Youth, an initiative engaging young people to become leaders in their communities.
The Toronto Community Foundation supported the GTA Faith Alliance in creating more mentorship supports for youth. TCF also leads a partnership supporting the Toronto Sports Leadership Program, training and certifying young people in team coaching, lifeguarding, and helping them find jobs with organizations like the city’s parks and recreation department.
The Toronto police have focused more resources on guns-and-gangs law enforcement and in deepening community-relations activities. At a recent United Way meeting, Chief Bill Blair commented on the combined impact these efforts are having and he noted that violent crime in priority neighbourhoods is down by 40 per cent.
Much has been done. Yet as the violent events over the past two weeks involving young people so painfully remind us, much remains to be done.
Two research reports released by United Way this week should give us pause. What we found is a patchwork of services – unconnected and fragmented, plagued by duplication and competition among organizations targeting the same population. Despite multiple levels of government involvement and many organizations offering services and programs to help young people, outcomes for youth are not where they should be.
Indeed, there is little agreement on just what outcomes should be targeted and measured. Discussion with United Ways right across the province suggests this is not only a problem in Toronto.
Ontario needs a new, more co-ordinated and strategic approach to serving the needs of young people. An Ontario Youth Outcomes Strategy would build long-term change and improve opportunities for all young men and women.
This means having a co-ordinated youth strategy that takes into consideration broad factors required for positive youth development, and taking a proactive approach to identifying and responding to youth needs.
It means breaking down the policy silos that exist in government, and ensuring an integrated and co-ordinated system of sustainable youth services. And it means setting targets and measuring effectiveness.
When we looked at what other jurisdictions are doing with children and youth, the ones that are successfully changing conditions for young people are those that have an aligned strategy with common outcomes.
For example, in 2002, the government of the state of Victoria in Australia implemented its first youth policy framework that set significant milestones for progress, including improving educational outcomes for young people.
By 2005, the government was able to report on the progress made toward achieving certain targets. For example, the number of youth leaving school with plans for future education, training and employment options had increased to 96 per cent from 84 per cent a year earlier.
A new co-ordinated strategy for youth would align policy, best practices and research at the provincial level to service delivery and outcomes at the local, individual level.
Few would disagree that providing young people with every opportunity for success should be among our top priorities as a society.
Young people are our future, and our collective well-being ultimately lies in the hands of the next generation. The paths we help set youth on today will determine, not only where they end up as individuals, but also where all of us end up as a community.
Frances Lankin is president and CEO of United Way Toronto.