Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Executive Summary

Concentrations of Roots

One of the central features of the advice we are giving the Premier is the need to focus attention and resources on specific locations across Ontario where the roots of violence involving youth are finding particularly fertile ground. It is clear to us that many of the circumstances that can lead to the immediate risk factors for violence involving youth — the roots of such violence — grow and are nurtured in specific places.

We believe that Ontario needs to focus on addressing the roots where they are the most entrenched and damaging: in neighbourhoods characterized by high concentrations of poverty. We see such an approach as being based on the following key rationales and elements:

Focusing on the Roots of Violence Involving Youth: Areas where multiple roots intertwine to generate the immediate risk factors must be identified and given priority in order to make the largest structural and most sustainable impacts on the roots.

Asset-Based: This involves looking in each neighbourhood to determine what is working already, and to find and support local sources of strength. What is important is that the operating orientation not be to simply focus on naming problems.

Tailoring: Addressing the roots of violence involving youth requires understanding the particular constellation of issues affecting a neighbourhood and its capacities and strengths, and then providing the flexibility to adapt broader policies and programs to these local circumstances and their unique intersections.

Community Building: If local problems are to be addressed on local turf and if solutions are to grow out of local strengths, it follows that residents and local agencies must have significant roles in setting policies and priorities. These roles strengthen the community, which, in turn, leads to the stronger community itself reducing the impact of the roots, while beginning to remove them.

Collaborative: The place-based approach both requires and facilitates collaboration among governments and with communities in ways that get the greatest value from the initiatives and assets of each.

We are encouraged in this approach by the experience in England and in Toronto. Both have brought a powerful new focus on disadvantaged neighbourhoods. In England, this was done through a national strategy that focused major government departments on what they could do to improve the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, including by working through local strategic partnerships involving the local authority, community residents and agencies serving the community.

In Toronto’s case, the city aligned its own departments around 13 priority neighbourhoods and now organizes itself at the local level to understand and meet the needs of those specific neighbourhoods through neighbourhood action teams. These are being transformed into partnerships with residents and agencies to further advance this work. This has not only brought renewed attention to these areas and the issues they face, but as well has driven greater collaboration and coordination at city hall itself. Both examples demonstrate the power of this concept to not only improve neighbourhoods, but also align governments around that important objective.

The first step in using a place-based approach to address the roots of violence involving youth is to identify where there are concentrations of disadvantage that nurture those roots. The process to identify these places must be objective and based on clear and appropriate criteria that resonate with communities.

We discuss in our report the approaches taken to this task in Britain and Toronto. We then outline a methodology for doing this on a provincewide basis in Ontario. It uses five indicators of disadvantage and then, drawing on readily available and highly reliable data from Statistics Canada, compiles them into an Index of Relative Disadvantage. This index can then be used to compare all of Ontario at the level of small geographic units composed of about 400-700 people each, permitting a very precise assessment of where the greatest needs lie. As with the other approaches to this issue, it does not identify individuals, but rather places. We understand that this approach could, with any necessary fine-tuning, produce data early in 2009.

This methodology allows areas to be ranked in order of disadvantage, or compared to provincial, regional or local baselines. We propose that once those data are available, the Province then work with municipal governments where the highest concentrations are found to refine the assessment of disadvantage in light of local information. This local information could include the services available or not available to ameliorate the disadvantage. It could also provide vital information to define the boundaries of an area for focused work, having regard to possible groupings of the small areas identified by the index and to local geography and social patterns that suggest natural neighbourhood boundaries.

Once the most disadvantaged areas are identified, the Province can then develop Neighbourhood Strategic Partnerships to bring together governments, communities and community-serving agencies to develop local plans to improve the conditions in these neighbourhoods and work collaboratively to implement them. This will provide a powerful new way to address some of the deepest roots of violence involving youth.

Pivotal as this approach can be, its use does not replace the need to deploy broader instruments of public policy to address the roots wherever they arise. While particularly devastating where they combine in a physical place, the roots we have identified can grow anywhere and must be addressed wherever they do.