Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Executive Summary

Recommendations for the Premier


As will be clear from our report, our core conclusions are that:

The structures required to act on those conclusions can be defined with considerable confidence, having regard to experience elsewhere, our research and our consultations. We accordingly make specific recommendations at the structural level. At the level of individual programs or initiatives we generally offer advice rather than providing detailed recommendations. We take this approach because of the clear need for coordinated planning and close work with communities, agencies and other governments to determine the specifics of what needs to be done in each community across this highly diverse province to address the very serious issues we have surfaced.

Fundamentally, we strongly believe that, starting this fall, the Province must put at the heart of its overall agenda a sustained, aligned and structural response to the roots of violence involving youth, based on the four pillars we have proposed and complemented by an effective community-based intervention strategy for youth who are already involved in, or perhaps on the verge of, serious violence. In summary, the four pillars are:

To build and maintain support for the needed action, we are also convinced that the Ontario government must implement an effective communications strategy to bring the main findings of our report to the attention of the public. It should focus on the serious risks of failing to act now to address the circumstances that are producing alienation, a lack of hope and belonging and the other conditions we have identified as being the immediate risk factors for serious, explosive and unpredictable violence involving youth.

Structural Recommendations

  1. The Ontario government must immediately put in place a governance structure that can align and sustain over the long haul the work required from a dozen or more ministries, and at the same time can also support effective collaborative work with other orders of governments and with communities.
  2. The governance structure should be headed by a Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion and Anti-Racism, or a central body with equivalent authority, with a clear mandate to develop a corporate agenda, approve coordinated work plans for ministries, monitor progress and report regularly to the public against published indicators of progress.
  3. The committee should be supported by a dedicated secretariat within Cabinet Office to provide policy advice and oversee, on the committee’s behalf, the work by ministries to produce and implement coordinated plans to effectively address the roots we have identified. The secretariat should also have a research capacity to identify emerging needs and responsibility for monitoring the effectiveness of the structural initiatives established to advance this agenda.
  4. The Cabinet committee should meet periodically with a small number of external associate members, who would bring relevant experience and expertise to its deliberations, and should be supported by a Premier’s Advisory Council on Social Inclusion and Anti-Racism to ensure that a variety of perspectives, including those of youth, informs the work of the committee on an ongoing basis.
  5. Internal alignment mechanisms should be put in place to ensure sustained and coordinated progress at the provincial level, including performance agreements for senior officials, impact analyses, public reporting, public sector agreements among ministries and a number of cross-ministry units.
  6. The Province should create a comprehensive youth policy framework for Ontario to provide overall direction for the myriad of programs affecting youth. The framework should be developed in consultation with communities, youth and service providers and should include a vision, a set of principles and a series of specific outcome indicators to align programs to meet common goals and to measure whether progress is being made over time.
  7. The Province should adopt the place-based approach we have outlined, in which a pivotal although not exclusive focus is placed on addressing the roots of violence involving youth by working within and with the neighbourhoods where those roots are concentrated and where they are producing a downward cycle of disadvantage and violence.
  8. To identify the neighbourhoods for the place-based approach, the Province should employ the Index of Relative Disadvantage we have proposed to determine on a provincewide basis the areas where disadvantage is most concentrated. Once the index results are available, the Province, through a lead ministry for community building, should immediately open discussions with the affected municipalities to identify local factors, such as the availability of services, for inclusion in the determination of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods and to define the boundaries of such neighbourhoods.
  9. Within the identified disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the Province should support and ensure the funding of the following structural initiatives:
    • Community hubs to provide space for community activities, including for meetings, recreation and the arts, and service providers. Wherever possible, these hubs should be based in or near schools.
    • Full access to schools for community activities and services, by having a body with facilities management and program experience lease the premises in school off-hours and engage with the community to identify priorities for the use of the space.
    • A Neighbourhood Strategic Partnership (NSP) to bring together the Province, other governments, community residents and service providers. The NSP would provide a forum for collaboration to develop and help implement a local plan to address the roots of violence as they manifest themselves in each disadvantaged community.
    • An arm’s-length funding board to support local initiatives to bring residents together to form networks of mutual assistance and community involvement, to plan the use of the hub and to participate in governance initiatives through the NSP, and also at least one youth-led organization to engage and serve youth based on local needs and priorities.
    • A local coordinating body to help improve access to the services offered in the neighbourhood and to move towards better coordination amongst them.
  10. With particular reference to the disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the Province should engage with community-serving agencies to develop a mechanism to provide streamlined and stable funding, and continuity of service, for agencies meeting key community needs.
  11. The Province should, by the summer of 2009, prepare and publish an integrated plan setting out how ministries, and combinations of them, will work at the provincial and at the local levels to address the roots we have identified.
  12. The Province should commit to measuring and publishing progress towards defined outcome goals as a central part of its approach to the roots agenda. To the greatest extent possible, the outcome goals should include minimum standards of achievement, a level below which no institution or community should fall (known elsewhere as “floor targets”). Progress towards those targets should be tracked by racial and other relevant differences.

    Advice on Specific Initiatives to Address the Roots

    Our report also offers extensive advice on how to respond to each of the roots we have identified. We primarily frame this as advice rather than as detailed recommendations because we believe that the most effective actions arising from our findings will be those taken with a full understanding of the capacities of Ontario’s ministries and their potential to work outside their silos, of the issues they are already pursuing, of the realities on the ground across the province, of the competing priorities, and also with the kind of engagement of other governments, experts and communities that was outside our mandate and time frame.

    In our view, only an integrated and collaborative approach to the roots will succeed. That is why we propose a body at the centre of government with the mandate and resources to consider our advice, situate it within the context of the balance of the government’s agenda, determine priorities, make linkages among ministries and with other governments and manage a process of both building and being responsive to communities across the province. Only this kind of body and approach will be able to produce a coherent, long-range plan for the province capable of effectively responding to the intertwined and entrenched nature of the many roots we identified. This need not be a lengthy exercise: given a major focus by the ministries and with the leadership structure we propose, we believe that the planning exercise can be completed and the coordinated plans made public by the summer of 2009.

    For ease of reference, we list below the major areas where we call for action and set out brief examples of the advice we have provided in our report, along with a reference to where our full advice can be found. Although these issues are presented individually, for ease of reference, actions to address them must be fully integrated if they are to be effective. To give but one example: providing a youth with even the best mentor will accomplish little if that youth goes home every day to a dysfunctional family and to cramped, substandard and depressing living conditions, attends a school that discourages their achievement, has an unaddressed mental health condition or lives in a neighbourhood where there is nothing to do but hang around aimlessly or get involved in anti-social activities.

  13. The Province must address the level of poverty in Ontario, its concentrations and the many invidious circumstances that accompany it. In addition to reducing the level of poverty, this should include promoting economic integration by ensuring that there is affordable, good quality housing in many different neighbourhoods and by substantially improving and diversifying the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods so that people do not leave as soon as their economic circumstances permit. Among other initiatives we outline, it should also include ensuring that high-quality services, recreational and arts facilities, parks and schools are available to those who are the most disadvantaged, and that neighbourhoods are safe. Overall, where people live should not itself produce the immediate risk factors for their being involved in violence. (Volume 1, pages 229–238)
  14. The Province must articulate more effectively its commitment to anti-racism and should address this urgent issue as a major priority in its response to our report. As a key anchor for other initiatives, we suggest that the Province should require all ministries and public sector agencies to develop and publish a specific anti-racism plan with measurable objectives and timelines. (Volume 1, pages 238–245)
  15. The Province must take steps to bring youth mental health out of the shadows. The Province should enhance prevention through programs that promote health, engagement and activity for youth. It should also provide locally available mental health services that afford early identification and treatment for children and youth in the context of their families and schools, that are culturally appropriate and that are integrated with the community hubs we propose. (Volume 1, pages 246–247)
  16. The Province must remove the barriers and disincentives to education that exist for many children and youth. We suggest a number of ways in which this can be done, including by ensuring that teachers and administrators better reflect the neighbourhoods they serve, developing and providing a curriculum that is racially and culturally inclusive, addressing the continuing concerns about the safe schools provisions, better connecting schools to families and communities and providing ongoing educational and mentoring supports and incentives to encourage students to remain in school, engage in learning and seek further education, especially in priority neighbourhoods. (Volume 1, pages 248–251)
  17. The Province must remove the barriers and disincentives to education that exist for many children and youth. We suggest a number of ways in which this can be done, including by ensuring that teachers and administrators better reflect the neighbourhoods they serve, developing and providing a curriculum that is racially and culturally inclusive, addressing the continuing concerns about the safe schools provisions, better connecting schools to families and communities and providing ongoing educational and mentoring supports and incentives to encourage students to remain in school, engage in learning and seek further education, especially in priority neighbourhoods. (Volume 1, pages 248–251)
  18. The Province must increase the supply of decent, affordable housing units, diversify their locations and improve standards within both public and private accommodation. This should be accompanied by measures to improve transportation services for disadvantaged areas and ensure that the physical environment does not promote crime, but instead provides safe and welcoming places for gathering and play. Community markets and other ways of fostering cohesion should also be facilitated, and stores and businesses should be brought back to neighbourhoods that lack them. (Volume 1, pages 256–257)
  19. The Province must recognize the value of sports and arts in supporting learning, development and creativity of youth. The Province should work with municipalities, school boards and community agencies to remove barriers that include income level, transportation and a lack of usable space. The Province should move to immediately embed accessible sports and arts programs in the priority neighbourhoods. (Volume 1, pages 257–260)
  20. The Province must work actively with communities and agencies to assist every child and youth to have access to at least one adult who provides nurturing and support, and towards providing youth with a voice in matters that affect them. Among other initiatives to support youth engagement, the Province should put in place training, standards and supports for mentors across the province, and all sectors working with youth should adopt meaningful and sustained measures to include the youth voice in their governance structures. (Volume 1, pages 260–262)
  21. The Province must support the contribution of youth workers to initiatives that address the roots of violence involving youth. The Province should recognize that youth workers bridge the divide between youth and their communities and schools, provide counselling and connectivity to the most disadvantaged youth and serve as role models, especially when they are from the same neighbourhoods or share similar circumstances. (Volume 1, pages 262–263)
  22. The Province must work with and encourage the private sector to create meaningful, long-term employment opportunities for youth. The Province should adopt a broad strategy to prepare youth for work and to help marginalized youth obtain and maintain it. The private sector should examine barriers to opportunity and employment of youth and work with the Province to shape holistic programs that provide learning opportunities leading to meaningful sustained employment and leadership development opportunities for youth. (Volume 1, pages 263–267)
  23. The Province must bring coordination to the three ministries that operate parts of the youth justice system, ensure an overall policy focus and support a more balanced approach to resourcing by establishing a Youth Justice Advisory Board. The Province should also take steps to reduce the over-criminalization of Ontario youth compared with those in other large jurisdictions, and to reduce the ways in which the powers of the justice system can be misused to produce alienation, a lack of hope or opportunity and other immediate risk factors for violence. Overall, all parts of the justice system need to adopt a more strategic approach to youth. (Volume 1, pages 267–289)

    Related advice

  24. To complement the roots strategy we have put forward, the Province should adopt a community-focused strategy to enhance its capacity to successfully intervene with, treat and reintegrate those youth who have committed acts of violence or have a propensity to do so. This strategy should, to the greatest possible extent, rely on initiatives that have been proven to work in similar contexts.
  25. To reduce the risk of serious violence where those interventions have not been made or have not succeeded, the Province should continue to press the federal government to implement a handgun ban in Ontario, and should also explore every feasible initiative it might take itself to minimize the risks while the federal government continues to permit these guns in Ontario apartments and homes.
  26. Having regard to the practical and jurisdictional reasons why our review did not seek to study violence within First Nations in Ontario, the Province should meet with First Nations leaders to consider the potential applicability of our advice to those communities and to consider whether a specific additional review concerning them is warranted
  27. Pending those discussions, the Province should act immediately to ensure that programs and safeguards are in place for children from First Nations communities who must move away from home to attend high school and to ensure that services are available to families who relocate to be with their children.