Gearing Up

Goal: Ontario Children Have Caring and Connected Families

A committed, caring relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult is the single most important factor in helping children develop resilience, self-confidence, motivation to learn, and healthy social skills and relationships. 56

Outcomes we want:

#4 Ontario children have at least one consistent, caring adult in their lives

#5 Ontario families are financially stable and secure

#6 Ontario families are supported to thrive and are active in their children’s lives

Why it matters:

Caring and connected families also support overall healthy social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.57 Despite growing independence during the middle years, children need the guidance of their families. We know that all families are different. A child may have one caregiver or several different caregivers in different homes, or may be in the care of an appointed guardian.

Helpful Resources

Authoritative parenting is warm but firm, structured parenting with consistent rules, high expectations and encouragement.

The presence of a caring and authoritative caregiver who sets rules and expectations, while being supportive, nurturing and sensitive to the child’s needs, can help instil self-efficacy, motivation, social competencies, self-esteem and health-promoting behaviours. Being connected with parents/caregivers is associated with a decrease in mental health challenges and an increase in a range of prosocial behaviours.58 Families play an important role in supporting identity formation of their children. Families transmit culture and language, model self-worth, and can establish open, supportive home environments where children are enabled and encouraged to express their feelings and experiences and explore who they are.

Helpful Resources

Experts say that parents/caregivers’ involvement in children’s education has a significant impact on children’s academic and developmental goals.

Parents can make a significant impact on their children’s educational goals by being actively engaged at home, such as:

  • communicating high (but reasonable) expectations of children and belief in children’s potential
  • talking with children, particularly about school
  • helping children develop positive attitudes towards learning and strong work habits
  • reading to or with children and talking about books and stories

Source: People for Education, Doing What Matters Most

Snapshot of Ontario:

Ontario is home to over four million families – each of which has unique strengths and challenges. Families in Ontario are diverse with a range of structures, including children living in foster care, with extended family, with one or more parents, with LGBTQ2S parents, and from mixed race, language, cultural, or religious backgrounds.

#4 Ontario children have at least one consistent, caring adult in their lives

Research on child development is clear – having the support of a consistent caring adult can make a profound difference in the life of a child. Children who have one or more caring adults in their lives feel more worthwhile, have greater self-esteem and are more resilient.59 Having a strong, supportive parent, caregiver, or other consistent adult can be a protective factor against risks associated with poverty, living in high-risk neighbourhoods and mental health challenges.

However, we know that there are complex factors such as poverty and precarious employment, as well as other things that cause toxic stress such as abuse/neglect and/or exposure to domestic violence that can contribute to family breakdown. These families need tailored supports in order to create a healthy home life for their children.

Supporting this outcome involves:

Supporting parents and caregivers as central to a child’s wellbeing

Parents and caregivers are the most important and influential people in the lives of middle years children – and often the greatest advocates they have. Empowering and equipping them with information resources and skills to access and apply that information can ensure children get the help they need when they need it. Investing in parents and caregivers means providing wholistic supports to help them understand their child’s development, navigate service systems when it is required, and access additional support when it is needed.

Evidence suggests that whole-family interventions provide broad-based benefits beyond those that focus on a child or parent alone. Concurrent counselling and therapy interventions, for example, can help children and their caregivers address challenges together.60

What Ontario is Doing

The Youth Mentorship Program supports evidence-based, regionally specific and locally-developed mentorship initiatives for high-risk young people ages 6–25 in target communities across the province. Programs focus on four outcomes streams: employment and entrepreneurship; educational achievement; civic engagement/leadership; and building strong cultural identities.

The 2017 Ontario Black Youth Action Plan builds on the Youth Mentorship Program with the introduction of a culturally focused mentoring network for Black children and youth.

Fostering role models and mentors

Children benefit from having positive relationships with supportive adults outside the home. Maintaining a relationship with a mentor has been shown to support optimal development, reduce problematic behaviours and promote strong attachments later in life. A recent study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that young girls with a mentor were four times less likely to bully, fight, lie or inappropriately express anger than girls without a mentor.61 High quality mentorship can be informal, such as with a neighbour, coach or extended family member, or created through formalized mentorship programs. Both types have been found to improve outcomes.62 Research has shown that equipping formal mentors with high quality training and finding mentors from a similar social background can contribute to their effectiveness.63 Indigenous approaches to mentorship and caretaking of children often include an acknowledgment of the important role played by Elders, Senators and traditional knowledge keepers, in supporting young people.

How we can tell:

▲ % of children who have at least one parent/caregiver who usually knows where they are

▲ % of children who feel they have a family member who could provide emotional help and support when needed

▲ % of children who talk about the activities they do in school with their parents/caregivers

▲ % of children who feel their teachers care about them as a person

#5 Ontario families are financially stable and secure

Families want the best for their children. But we know that some families in Ontario are in precarious or unstable situations and are not able to provide for their basic needs. Research shows that optimal development of middle years children is diminished when they are facing food insecurity, have poor access to safe and affordable housing and transportation, do not have access to health care or are exposed to hazardous conditions. Increased stress on families also affects the wellbeing of children in terms of their mental health, ability to develop positive relationships, identity formation and spiritual wellbeing.

Supporting this outcome involves:

Addressing food insecurity

Evidence shows that providing nutritious, regular meals to children helps them do better in school and in their daily lives. We know that some Ontario families do not have access to enough affordable nutritious food to provide for the healthy growth and development needs of their children. Food insecurity has both acute and long-lasting impacts on children, including the physical and cognitive impairments that result from malnutrition, and the emotional and social developmental challenges associated with uncertainty about access to food. Supporting low-income families with school- or community-based food programs can have a big impact and contribute to better outcomes for children, families and communities.

What Ontario is Doing

The government has committed to reforming the income security system, including social assistance. The Income Security Reform Working Group and parallel First Nations and urban Indigenous working groups have been asked to provide a potential roadmap to guide reform over multiple years based on equity, adequacy, simplicity and sustainability.

The government is also, through the Basic Income Pilot, testing whether a basic income can better support vulnerable workers, improve health and education outcomes for people on low incomes, and help ensure that everyone shares in Ontario’s economic growth.

What Ontario is Doing

Ontario is proposing the largest increase to the minimum wage in the province's history, raising it to $15 per hour by 2019, as part of a plan to create better jobs and fair workplaces.

What Ontario is Doing

Each year Ontario invests $32.2 million in the Student Nutrition Program to provide healthy meals and snacks to more than 896,000 children and youth during the course of the school year. In 2015–16, the Ontario Student Nutrition Program was expanded to 120 educational settings in 63 First Nations communities to help children and youth access a healthy diet. Many programs incorporate traditional foods and cultural practices.

What Ontario is Doing

The Portable Housing Benefit for Survivors of Domestic Abuse is available through the Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy to help survivors of domestic violence find safe and affordable housing beyond traditional social housing assistance.

Improving access to affordable housing

As a basic need, children require a safe and supportive living environment, yet this is not a reality for Ontario families who cannot access affordable housing. For example, we know access to affordable housing is a major barrier for those fleeing domestic violence. Finding secure housing can be a challenge for families who have children with special needs, as accessible housing or modifications to a home to make it more accessible can be costly. Inadequate housing can cause children to experience stress and anxiety, reduce their feeling of safety, and lead to illness and allergies.64 Flexible housing supports need to be available to families so that they can choose where to live and be closer to relatives, social support networks, schools and employment opportunities.

What Ontario is Doing

Through the Ontario Child Benefit, monthly benefits to children under 18 have more than doubled since 2008 and the current maximum annual payment is $1,356 per child. Child support benefits are now fully exempt from social assistance benefit calculations, which will help the monthly income of almost 19,000 families, most of whom are lone-parent, mother led households.

Increasing access to affordable child care and recreation programs

Ontario families rely on access to high quality, affordable child care and before- and after-school programs for their middle years children. Recreational and before- and after-school programs are important opportunities for children to develop peer relationships, build connections to caring adults outside the home, and provide needed before- and after-school care for working parents. However, some families face barriers to accessing programs. These include cost, transportation and location of services, waitlists and lack of specialized programs and supports for children with special needs. Increasing access to high quality, affordable child care and recreation programs for middle years children can enrich their development and help caregivers to make ends meet.

What Ontario is Doing

Ontario is championing women’s economic empowerment through a number of initiatives, including the Gender Wage Gap Strategy to close the gender wage gap, create equal opportunities and eliminate barriers that prevent women’s full participation in the workforce.

How we can tell:

▼ % of families living in deep poverty and struggling to afford housing

▼ % of children living in low income households (LIM 50 – low income measure)

▼ % of families who experience food insecurity

Snapshot of Ontario Families Living in Poverty

In Ontario, 13.9% of children live in a low-income65 household.

Low-income families are more likely to be:

Led by a female lone parent

Two times more likely to live in poverty

  • 32.6% of female headed lone-parent families are low income, compared to 18.2% of male led lone-parent families.66 Proportion of low income increases to 43.3% for female lone- parent families who live without other relatives. This is almost twice the low income rate of similar families headed by males (24%).67
  • Female lone-parent median income was $40,160, compared to $58,190 male lone-parent median income.68
  • More than 35.1% of families in Canada led by female lone parents experience food insecurity, compared to 19.6% of families led by male lone parents and 16% of all families.69


Two times more likely to live in poverty

  • 23.5% of Indigenous families living off-reserve are in low-income households.70
  • 22% of on-reserve and 21% of off-reserve households lived in inadequate housing and spent more than 30% of their income on housing, compared to 2.5% of non-Indigenous households.71
  • 27.1% of Indigenous households across Canada experienced food insecurity, over twice the Canadian household average.72


Two times more likely to live in poverty

  • 33.5% of very recent immigrants and 19.4% of recent immigrants live in low- income households.73


1.5 times more likely to live in poverty

  • 20.1% of visible minorities live in low-income households.74

(Data obtained from Statistics Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)

#6 Ontario families are supported to thrive and are active and engaged in their children’s lives

When families are active and engaged in their children’s lives, children tend to have higher self-worth and social competence, and are less likely to engage in problematic behaviours. We want all of Ontario’s families to be the place where children find love, guidance and positive role models so they can achieve their full potential. Some families, however, may face complex challenges and need additional supports before that can happen. This is particularly true for families living in poverty, with precarious employment, headed by single parents, or where parents face mental health and addiction challenges, have a disability, are newcomers or racialized.

Supporting this outcome involves:

Encouraging families to spend quality time with their children

Engaged parenting is about being aware of their children’s needs and experiences, and being present in their lives on a daily basis. Research tells us that what matters most is the quality of time spent together. Family dinners can connect parents and caregivers to the daily lives of their children. Parents and caregivers can also encourage family connection and communication by putting away their own screens and technology. Children are more likely to share information about their experiences, feelings and needs when communication is open, respectful and a part of daily life.

Connecting families and schools

We know that school attachment is important for middle years children – and it is also important for their parents and caregivers. Connecting parents and caregivers to what children are learning in school can help ensure that they know how to support home-based learning activities, address questions and concerns, are able to keep track of how their children are doing, and see themselves as active participants in their child’s learning. Supporting parent engagement in children’s learning means building effective, collaborative and respectful relationships between families and their school/school board. Parents should receive regular communications about their children’s progress. There should be opportunities for parents and caregivers to participate in school decision making (such as school councils). Most importantly, parent engagement needs to be culturally appropriate, flexible and responsive to a variety of different family needs and constraints.

What Ontario is Doing

Through the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan, MCYS is investing in, and evaluating, innovative culturally focused supports for Black parents.

Recognizing that all families need help sometimes

All families face challenges that can sometimes feel overwhelming. Removing stigma and encouraging parents and caregivers to seek help can ensure they are well-positioned to cope with challenges and to be resilient. Support may come in the form of programs and services, but it may also mean strong and reinforcing community networks and parenting supports.

Some families are at greater risk of isolation and face barriers to accessing services. We know that having a coordinated, easy to navigate service system is essential. We also know that some families living in remote communities or without strong transportation networks face additional challenges accessing services and programs. Providing practical, family-oriented services that address common barriers – things like transportation, flexible hours and cultural responsiveness – can support all families to access the supports they need. Effective services are those that are designed with the whole family in mind. Supporting the family is often an important part of supporting the child.

How we can tell:

▲ % of children who eat dinner with a parent on a regular basis

▲ % of teachers who share suggestions with parents/caregivers to support learning at home

▲ % of teachers who share information with parents/caregivers on their child's progress

Spotlight: Helping Children Have Caring and Connected Families

London’s Merrymount Family Support and Crisis Centre helps children by supporting families during an emergency, crisis, severe stress, or other disruptive situation.

Merrymount provides a safe, positive environment where children can develop and learn through programs that build self-awareness, self-esteem, help them handle stress and emotional challenges, develop confidence and social skills, improve coping strategies, build resiliency, and increase their sense of safety and wellbeing.

Merrymount’s Crisis Residential/Respite Program offers 24 hour continuous care to children from birth to 13 years of age. The program provides services that meet children’s needs over a temporary period of family instability. Each year 2,300 children use the 18 available beds. Merrymount then works with the family to help them cope with the present crisis, become involved with community supports, and plan for adequate care for the child’s return home.

photo of children and adults being creative with beads

Photo: Being creative with beads

I like it here because the staff make me feel happy and good about myself and teach me how to share.” Montana, 8

I have fun here and my Mom gets to have a break.” Ashton, 8