Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Executive Summary

Perspectives on Implementation

As discussed earlier in our report, we believe that a comprehensive and coordinated plan is essential to make progress on the roots, considering their number, complexity and interconnections.

In that respect, we have provided a broad and multi-faceted framework to address the roots of violence involving youth. We appreciate, however, that our report is being submitted at a point in time when the Province faces economic challenges, when it must deal with multiple priorities, and when its flexibility to immediately implement a bold reform agenda will face limits. We similarly understand that the government, working with its partners, will be best placed to determine the optimal timing and sequencing for the recommendations that we have put forward.

While we are mindful of these constraints, we also believe that the government must respond proactively to implement the advice that we have provided. In general terms, it is our view that the Province can make substantial progress towards preparing its integrated plan by next summer. Within this context, and based on our discussions with stakeholders, we offer the following views on how some of our key recommendations could be advanced.

Recommendations for Priority Implementation

We believe that there are three key areas where progress can and should be made independently of the government’s overall planning process, in addition to the early action that we hope will follow release of the report of the Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction later this year. We accordingly make three further recommendations to the Premier for urgent action in the following areas:

Children’s Mental Health: This issue affects many aspects of the roots: the stability of families and the ability of parents to work and parent, how youth develop with their peers, how they do in school, how they interact with the justice system and their life chances overall. We believe that one or more associations with expertise in youth mental health should be retained immediately to prepare a plan for universal, community-based access to mental health services for children and youth for the earliest possible implementation. They should also prepare plans for all interim investments that are feasible within the limits of the available professional expertise in Ontario. In a province with a health budget of $40 billion and a youth incarceration budget of $163 million, we believe that the $200-million estimate of the cost of providing universal youth mental health services is manageable within this government’s mandate.

Anti-Racism: It is tragic — not ironic — that 30 years ago this November, Walter Pitman entitled his report on police minority relations: Now Is Not Too Late. Since that time, 30 separate groups of five-or six-year-old children have started Grade 1 and many have gone through their school years without seeing sustained progress on these issues. For many of them, now is too late — their lives marred, their futures circumscribed and their faith in this society quite justifiably shaken. And many of them are the parents of children in the system now, with little reason and sometimes no ability to instil hope in those children.

To lay the foundation for the extensive action required to address this growing problem, the Province should proceed immediately to develop the methodology for the collection of race-based data in all key domains. As well, to ensure that action is underway before the summer of 2009 to address the pressing issues that arise in police-minority relations in a number of neighbourhoods, we believe the provincial funds that we propose for youth-police liaison committees and for front-line officer training programs should be put in place as quickly as possible.

Additionally, the Province should take immediate steps to put in place measures that will ensure that teachers and school administrators better reflect the neighbourhoods they serve.

Steps Towards Community Hubs: There is an overwhelming consensus in favour of building community hubs and, accordingly, no reason to delay action on that front. In neighbourhoods where it is clear that the Index of Relative Disadvantage will demonstrate a high level of disadvantage, or where similar methodologies have already done so, the Province should promptly initiate discussions with the municipal governments, to begin to plan for a hub if none exists and in particular to determine the availability of recreational and arts facilities. Where the latter facilities are lacking, the Province should work actively with the Ontario Realty Corporation and the municipality to lease alternative space for youth and youth services until a hub is developed. Another winter and spring should not go by in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods with there being no safe place for youth to gather and play.

Short-term Building Blocks

In addition to the three areas that we have just canvassed, we believe that the government’s implementation priorities in the short term must focus on putting a number of key building blocks into place, upon which the success of our advice will ultimately depend. The actions in question are set out below:

In the case of the first two items, the Province must move quickly to put in place the necessary governance structures. In the case of the other recommendations, and subject to discussions with municipal governments and community groups, we believe that substantial progress could be achieved within six months.

Short to Medium-term Initiatives

We believe the Province must also work to make steady progress on the following components of our strategy and appreciate that several will require more in depth consultations among ministries and with municipal governments, agencies and community groups.

Towards Full Implementation

We believe that, assuming good progress is made on the building blocks and other initiatives, other key components of our strategy, listed below, would then fall into place. While the availability of resources and the need to consult with partners will dictate the pace and timing of implementation, we believe that some work can occur to advance these objectives within the first year.

As we have noted, the roots we have identified will require sustained and aligned attention over the long haul. The government’s plans will provide the details of how it proposes to approach that task. For our part, we strongly believe that whatever those plans may be, the government should continue to engage and involve the public in this endeavour through regular and highly accessible public reporting of progress based on published outcome goals and interim indicators in all key areas.