Evaluating Toronto’s Youth Pre-Charge Diversion Program

Context

The Youth Pre-Charge Diversion Program aims to divert youth who have convicted minor offences from the prison system to community-based sentencing options. This program allows youth to get access to the adequate resources and support they need to help deter them from repeating offences. Toronto Police Services (TPS) has adopted the program based on the positive anecdotal experiences of participating youth. The program is believed to be an effective alternative to having young people enter the prison system.

The program is not mandatory amongst all TPS divisions, and as it stands the decision to put youth in this program is at the discretion of individual officers. There is a lack of public knowledge or data on how the program is being monitored, the proportion of officers that choose to use the program, and the progress of youth participants. Many organizations, and divisions at the City of Toronto (including the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy) have previously called on the TPS to have a proper monitoring and evaluation process that is available for city stakeholders and community organizations to access.


TYC’s position

The Toronto Youth Cabinet firmly believes that the Toronto Police Services should not only have a thorough monitoring and evaluation framework for the Pre-Charge Diversion Program, but that the results should be accessible to City stakeholders, community organizations, and the public. With only anecdotal evidence it becomes difficult to identify potential  shortcomings that may be preventing the program from meeting its intended objectives. This ultimately hinders young people, especially those that are the most marginalized. The Toronto Youth Cabinet asks City Councillors to advocate for Toronto Police Services to monitor the progress of the program and to provide relevant stakeholders with results to date. With access to the data, the City and organizations will be able to study the program and improve its outcomes.


Building a More Supportive Education System for Toronto’s Youth

Context

Mental Health is an issue that affects everyone, and has a large impact on well-being. A young person’s environment is a main factor that impacts their mental health, emphasizing the importance that schools and educational facilities play in youth mental health. Youth aged 15-24 are at the highest risk, amongst all other age groups, of  having a mental disorder. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 34% of Ontario high-school students indicate a moderate-to-serious level of psychological distress. However, there is currently no framework in place for individual schools in the city nor is there mandatory training for teachers to assist students with their mental health. The lack of support systems within schools is of great concern to the Toronto Youth Cabinet.

TYC’s position

The Toronto Youth Cabinet believes that it is of growing importance for schools in the TDSB and TCDSB to bring a focus to the mental health of their students because of the large impact that mental health has during adolescence. By laying a framework for healthy lifestyles, both physically and mentally, schools can set up students for a healthy adulthood and teach students how to manage their mental health for the future.


The Toronto Youth Cabinet calls upon the TDSB and TCDSB to place a heavier focus on the mental health of their students through individual frameworks within schools. This includes:

  1. Mandatory classes for educators and teaching assistants on student mental health and how to assist students experiencing mental illness (e.g. what teachers should do if a student with an anxiety disorder has to do a class presentation)

  2. Implementing a framework for individual schools that covers the referral of students to healthcare professionals and mandatory pathways of assistance schools must take to ensure students are adequately supported (e.g. if a student needs time off of mental health reasons, or if a student asks for help regarding their suspicion of a illness)

  3. Implementation of education within the health curriculum in schools for all students regarding on coping with stress, loss, and anxiety. The curriculum must have a focus on:

    • mental health education for all youth, not just those experiencing mental illness

    • reducing stigma through encouraging open discussion

    • notifying students and parents of available resources for support

    • taking a more proactive approach to youth mental health

    • relationship building during adolescence, including teacher-student, peers, friendship and romantic relationships, and teaching youth how to develop empathy and an awareness of the life experiences of others.

    • teaching educators on building teacher-parent relationships, to assist them to become comfortable in reaching out to parents if they have any concerns

    • factors relevant to the digital age, and teaching youth how to navigate social media and online communication

Failing to teach young people how to manage their mental health and to develop healthy relationships is detrimental to the lives of all young people. According to the US National Library of Medicine, negative mental health, low self-esteem and addiction at adolescence is correlated with depression in later years of adulthood. By promoting healthy discussion regarding mental health in a learning environment, the TDSB and TCDSB are able to reduce the stigma regarding seeking help and to reduce the barriers that already exist in accessing necessary supports.


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Supporting Youth Experiencing Homelessness and Substance Abuse in Toronto

Context

Young people experiencing homelessness in the City of Toronto face complex historical, structural, and symbolic barriers in accessing support. These challenges, coupled with substance use, can exacerbate young people’s experiences of discrimination and marginalization. The City of Toronto has a nightly shelter occupancy for a mere 543 young people yet the estimated number of young people experiencing homelessness reaches upwards of 2,000 per night. Of that 2,000, 63% are fleeing forms of abuse or violence, 29% identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, 30% as First Nations, Métis or Inuit, and 28% as members of racialized communities.

Barriers to harm reduction resources identified by young people experiencing homelessness in Toronto include waitlists, eligibility of programs, lack of program hours, physical inaccessibility of programs, and lack of program options. To better serve young people in Toronto, public health services must step up and protect young people with harm reduction services rather than resorting to youth justice measures.  

TYC’s position

In light of the 2019 Budget, the Urban Health working group is particularly focused on three items related to youth substance use and homelessness. They are as follows:

  1. The lack of funding to expand harm reduction services in the Out of the Cold program.

  2. The lack of funding for youth-centred service providers in expanding The Works’ Community Outreach Program.

  3. A requirement for all City divisions, community agencies, and first responders to have Naloxone on site and be trained as per the recommendations laid out in the Toronto Overdose Action Plan.

We conclude with 3 main asks:

  1. That the City take immediate action in supporting the ongoing work of countless advocates in revisiting the motion to declare the housing crisis a state of emergency and furthermore,

2.   That Toronto Public Health reallocate or establish funding for one or multiple youth peer outreach  workers at The Works’ Community Outreach Program.

3.   That Toronto Public Health and the City of Toronto collaborate and track data in mandating Naloxone training, as per the recommendations in the Toronto Overdose Action Plan, to,

  • All City of Toronto divisions - specifically to shelters and respite centres.

  • First responders.

It is imperative that the City of Toronto critically interrogate their responses to drug prohibition and the shelter and homelessness crisis. It is unacceptable for young people to continue to fall through the cracks in municipal-led efforts in housing and harm reduction services. We believe the City of Toronto must commit to immediate actions that will boost and continually fund proper resources for young people experiencing homelessness and for young people who use drugs as well.

Removing Barriers for Toronto’s Newcomer Youth

Context

Both in our consultations and in research, education and educational institutions were emphasized as being paramount for the wellbeing and integration of newcomer youth in Toronto. Throughout our consultations with newcomer youth in October 2017, January 2018, and March 2018, many stated that they frequently felt isolated in schools, and that while their teachers were extremely supportive and important to their development in a new environment, they feel like more could be done in schools to make their experience in Toronto a more integrated one. They felt that increasing the accessibility of certain services and implementing programs that would improve both their academic performance and ease social integration into the school – such as peer mentorship – would ultimately offset the isolation and confusion that many of them feel as newcomer students.

Yet, since our consultations, changes to OSAP and financial aid for post-secondary students announced by the Ontario government on January 17, 2019, create additional barriers for newcomer youth pursuing education in Ontario’s universities and colleges.


TYC’s position

The Toronto Youth Cabinet calls for the unequivocal increase of support for newcomer youth in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools.

Specifically, we call for:

  1. Accessible mental health supports for newcomer youth in schools

  2. Implementation of peer mentorship programs for newcomer youth to ease transition into schools

  3. After-school academic assistance programs tailored specifically for newcomer youth

  4. More accessible guidance counsellors in elementary and secondary schools that are familiar with the unique challenges and barriers that newcomer youth face


Moreover, we call for a reversal of the Ontario Government’s cuts to financial aid for post-secondary institutions, knowing how much it harms students – among them newcomer youth – in their pursuit of education in colleges and universities.

Reconciling Toronto’s Youth Skills Gap

Context

Young people in Toronto need access to secure, meaningful and fair employment. Youth people between 15 and 24 experience a transition from high school to post-secondary education. This unique period usually sees youth move from full-time education to part-time work, and then into labor market on a full-time basis. In Toronto between 2008 and 2016, the labour market has featured fewer part-time and full-time jobs for young people. According to a 2018 labour force report, while full-time employment in the city has increased by 6.4% since 2008, city residents aged 55 and older accounted for the growth in this area, with full-time employment for young people aged 15-24 declining by 11.3%. Residents aged 55 and older also accounted for the increase in part-time employment, with fewer young people working part-time. In either case, there has been an increase in part-time, precarious labor across all age-groups. Young people who are graduating from post-secondary institutions face challenges turning educational qualifications into labor market outcomes, while youth unable to complete secondary education are struggling to meet the qualification demands of employers. This has put Toronto at the bottom of the charts, in comparison to other Canadian cities, as the city with the highest youth unemployment rate, lowest change in employment rate year-over-year, and lowest number of jobs created, per capita

TYC’s position

The Toronto Youth Cabinet recognizes the potential and importance of our city’s youth. We are in support of a system in which young people can use their talents and skills to earn a living. We believe all youth in Toronto should have the opportunity to seek skill and educational development, with a projected smooth transition into the workforce, or be gainfully employed in a career of their choosing, not being subjected to working in a capacity of little personal interest and no room for professional development.

In collaboration with private sector employers, the City of Toronto has an opportunity to reconcile the youth skill gap by ensuring that labour market needs are communicated to young people. The onus of preparing the workforce of the future rests on the government of the day, educational institutions and the local business community, as they are stakeholders in the future of the Toronto’s youth.

With modern technology, young people are now able to acquire skills for the job market through non-traditional means such as coding bootcamps and industry-related vocational classes. According to our research, the most in-demand technical skills range from knowledge and experience with software applications to writing code. Considering that these skills can now be learned and mastered outside of the traditional college or university programs, it is necessary for the public and private sectors to reassess the experience they demand for employment.  

The Toronto Youth Cabinet calls on the City Hall to:

  • Create a work-study transition program for high-school, college and university students who want a future in public service so they can get acquainted with City Hall before graduating, and be able to develop some of the qualifications that employment at the City might require, considering the public administration sector in Toronto has seen a 8.3% decline in full and part-time employed city residents between 2008 and 2016

  • Liaise with Toronto and Ontario educational institutions to implement transitional programs that prepare students for the move from school to work. Specifically, focusing on students in non-specialized programs to reconcile the gap between their studies and an employer demands.

 As reported by the Toronto Star, lack of employment opportunities for youth can, and has led to migration away from the city, and province. With young people unable to find fair employment in Toronto, evidence indicates that a move away from the province has been a recurring trend. It has already led to young people's’ growing frustration with the labor market. Without a support system, and little promise for the future, Toronto risks losing talent to other Canadian cities and provinces. It also risks losing potential value from young people who might transition from a state of potential benefit to the city, to potential strains on our society and the economy. On a global scale, Deloitte predicts that by 2030, more than half of the two billion young people worldwide, will not have the skills or qualifications needed to participate in the workforce. Therefore, it is crucial that relevant stakeholders in the future of young people, such as the City of Toronto, ensure necessary steps are taken to improve the conditions of employment for youth.

Improving Toronto’s Bus and Streetcar Network

Context

Toronto’s youth rely on public transit for 48% of all travel within the city (TTS, 2016). Bus and streetcar routes account for 60% of annual TTC rides. Given these statistics, the quality and quantity of TTC surface routes significantly affect the lives of young Torontonians on a daily basis. Further, the bus and streetcar network is essential for the most disadvantaged communities in the city. At present, 24 of Toronto’s 31 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas rely solely on the bus and streetcar network for public transportation. The most frequent transit concern brought to the attention of the Toronto Youth Cabinet is the reliability of the surface transit network. 14 bus and streetcar routes carry over 30,000 passengers a day with little or no separation from general traffic (TTC, 2017). This leads to buses and streetcars delayed by heavy traffic, turning vehicles or parked cars.


Toronto needs to improve the experience of bus and streetcar passengers, including both improving service and redesigning roads to prioritize transit. The TTC’s surface network is essential from an equity perspective as it allows young people who do not have a car to access education and employment. The TTC has stated that increasing traffic congestion is negatively affecting its ability to deliver service. Council has the ability to make the necessary investments and set transportation priorities that can improve the experience of Toronto’s 317 million annual bus and streetcar passengers.


TYC’s position

The Toronto Youth Cabinet suggests the following actions to improve surface transit service:


Transit Priority Measures

  • Make the King Street Pilot permanent

  • Expand surface transit priority to additional routes with a citywide plan that includes additional transit lanes


Customer Experience

  • Ensure all surface routes are within crowding standards

  • Make basic scheduling information available at transit stops for customers who do not have access to a smart phone with a data plan

  • Begin implementing all door boarding on express routes, approved by the TTC Board as part of the Express Bus Network Study

  • Explore expanding additional rush hour express routes to all-day

  • Remove double fares on Downtown Express routes to increase access

Capital Investments

Ensuring Financial Sustainability for Toronto’s Youth

Context

In the previous City Council term, the Executive Committee was presented with a framework to implement a long-term financial plan for the City of Toronto. The former City Manager presented "The City of Toronto's Roadmap to Financial Sustainability" in March 2018. This document outlined various alternatives for Council to consider as they not only set strategic directions for the City but also their ability to deliver on these commitments. One of the key findings in the report highlighted the growing funding gap between the amount of investment required for Council approved initiatives and the amount of money available to fund them.

Based on status quo revenues and expenses, the magnitude of the funding gap for Council approved programs, initiatives, projects was clearly communicated. Using the 2018 Budget as a reference, an estimated $30 billion in unfunded capital costs over 10 years as well as an estimated $900 million operating budget funding gap was forecasted over 5 years. These findings are consistent with the 2019 budget. For example, as proposed, key city assets such as the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) have extensive capital backlogs and a large amount of unfunded capital investments. In a recent Budget Committee meeting, TCHC noted that the backlog may lead to unit closures as early as 2020, and the TTC's 15-year capital plan notes that approximately $24 billion of the $33.5 billion plan to maintain the system in its current format (i.e. no expansions) is unfunded.

With many youth relying on the City's social housing stock, and even more relying on transit to get to and from school, work and home, it is necessary for the City to be proactive in maintaining these vital assets and others, as well as programs that youth rely on. While the report was presented to the Executive Committee towards the end of the previous term of Council, the item was not debated among the full set of Councillors. It is expected to be discussed early in the upcoming term.

TYC’s position

The Toronto Youth Cabinet (TYC) supports the implementation of various revenue tools as necessary to sustainably fund City operations and capital investments.

  • Ultimately, the funding gaps highlighted in the Long-Term Financial Plan as presented to the Executive Committee in 2018 should be reduced.

  • Specific to the Long-Term Financial Plan, the TYC endorses the Broader City Building approach to City operations. Regarding the operating budget, taking this approach would reduce funding gaps for key programs related to youth development and well-being, as well as proactively address broader city issues such as child and youth poverty.

  • The effects of capital backlogs and funding gaps are not experienced on a daily basis, however, these costs continue to increase. Future generations are slated to be overburdened to catch up with the increase in capital investment requirements. Additionally, there is always the risk that a failure caused by disrepair could negatively impact key city assets and the people that rely on them.

TYC calls on City Council to address recommendations outlined in the Long-Term Financial Plan.

  • Recommendations that call for the implementation of additional revenue tools requiring City approval under the City of Toronto Act, including but not limited to the vehicle registration tax, commercial parking levy, etc. should be implemented. Taking this approach will ensure that programs youth rely on will not only be maintained, but also expanded to be accessible to a larger amount of youth in Toronto. It will also ensure Toronto’s city-building efforts will be adequately supported.