Review of the Roots of Youth Violence

Volume 1, Chapter 7:

Where the Roots Are Most Prevalent: Towards a Place-Based Approach


Many of the reports outlined in the previous chapter, along with the roots discussed in Chapter 3 and, perhaps most significantly, the devastating trends identified in Chapter 5, point to the central role of disadvantaged neighbourhoods as fertile fields for the roots of violence involving youth. In this chapter, we will outline the ways in which a place-based approach, firmly anchored in neighbourhood strengths and assets, is accordingly a core and essential part of any strategy to address those roots.

We will begin with a brief overview of the kind of place-based approach we believe is most appropriate in this specific context. We will next consider two leading examples of such approaches, one in Britain and one in Ontario, and then outline a methodology by which to determine the areas in Ontario that could most benefit from a place-based approach. We then conclude this chapter with a note on a process to consider the applicability of our approach to First Nations communities.

The Rationale for a Place-Based Approach

While there are many theoretical models for place-based approaches, the one that best applies here looks at the many roots of violence through a spatial lens to consider how those roots manifest themselves in a particular physical place: a neighbourhood. It looks at the local sources of the roots (concentrations of poverty, manifestations of racism, family issues, transportation concerns and lack of space for play or gathering, for example) and goes on to assess what is already being done in that place to address them. It moves from these analyses to consider all the local strengths that can be brought to bear on the roots and to develop a local plan to do so, and then relies as much as possible on local residents for the implementation of that plan as well as its development.

Pivotal as this approach can be, we preface our discussion of it by noting that 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 identified in Chapter 3 can grow anywhere, and must be addressed wherever they do. What the place-based approach offers is a way to ensure that the broader strategy of which it is an essential part can deliver the intended results where their impact is most needed. It adds complementary local initiatives and assists with the targeting of the broader ones. For example, among the many universally applicable responses to the level of poverty is an increase in the minimum wage. A complementary local strategy would be a job-readiness program tailored to the educational and language issues in a neighbourhood and initiatives to bring employment opportunities to it.

Although used to good effect elsewhere, the place-based concept has been slow to arrive in Canada. The typical approach of provincial and federal governments remains to identify a provincial or national priority, develop a program and a service delivery model, and then either provide the service or contract out its provision in accordance with standards set by the government. While there is some experience with regional approaches, and some evidence of support for the place-based initiatives of municipal governments, the paradigm remains centrally driven universality.

There are, of course, a number of issues of broad social and economic policy where this approach remains appropriate. But for those issues that intrinsically anchor in a geographically defined place it seems clear that place-based responses must be part of any successful approach to address them.

There is growing recognition of this in Canada at the policy level. We note, for example, that a report by the External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities recommended that all governments adopt a place-based approach to policy-making to help achieve more broadly based outcome goals. That committee, which reported to the Prime Minister in June 2006, included senior and experienced members from every province.

As well, in our particular context, it is noteworthy that a discussion paper published for the Canadian Policy Research Networks argued that a properly designed and implemented place-based policy can help governments meet challenges and opportunities in urban neighbourhoods with high concentrations of poverty. That paper noted that Britain, Europe and the United States had started earlier on place-based approaches to neighbourhood revitalization, and observed that Canada was ready to move forward with this approach (Bradford, 2005).

Part of the rationale for this is found in a recent paper entitled Asset-based, Resident-led Neighbourhood Development, written by Eric Leviten-Reid for the Caledon Institute of Social Policy. That paper described the place-based approach as follows:

It is, in effect, a prevention strategy through which various government agencies can collaborate in addressing ‘risk factors where they are joined, upstream,’ rather than contending separately with a series of even more difficult challenges ‘at the tributaries downstream’.... In part, the growing attention to ‘place-based development’ and ‘place-based public policy’ reflects a growing appreciation of the unique significance of local settings: localities are where diverse factors come together to generate either positive or negative effects. (Leviten-Reid, 2006: 4; quotations from Bulthuis and Leviten-Reid, 2005).

In another Caledon Institute paper, Final Reflections from the Action for Neighbourhood Change Research Project, Cheryl Gorman put the case for a place-based approach this way:

There are three intertwined qualities embedded in [the principle of asset-based,r esident-led neighbourhood development]. First, all neighbourhoods have individual and collective assets that can be strengthened and enhanced. Second, resident engagement is integral to the process and outcome of interventions. Sustainable progress toward neighbourhood vitality requires that issues chosen for intervention be resident-led. Finally, place-based development reflects a growing understanding that local settings present unique factors, which interact in a complex way to generate positive effects — like innovation and resilience, as well as negative effects, such as poverty (Gorman, 2007: 7).

And, in a January 2008 publication entitled New Deal for Communities: A Synthesis of New Program-Wide Evidence: 2006-07, researchers at Sheffield Hallam University added another important long-range benefit to the above rationales for a place-based approach, noting:

Evidence from [the New Deal for Communities] evaluation generally supports the view that in the longer run interventions in one outcome area are likely to reap benefits across a range of other outcome areas. This provides a rationale, and support, for area-based urban regeneration schemes, which adopt multi-outcome interventions and targets (Beatty et al., 2008: 51).

Our Approach

These perspectives, and in particular the situation we describe in Chapter 5, led us to strongly favour having a place-based approach as a core part of Ontario’s strategy to address the roots of violence involving youth. We see such an approach as being based on the following key rationales and elements:

1. Focusing on the Roots of Violence Involving Youth

Limited resources must be put where they will have the biggest impact on the roots of violence involving youth. In that connection, we have taken note of two additional perspectives on the importance of place specifically in relation to violence involving youth. First, a very helpful paper commissioned for us by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services includes the following observation:

The links to youth violence in [the context of rural and urban settings] rest on the youth’s perception on the degree of safety, social stability and social cohesion that exists within the immediate community. Transient communities, communities where there is a high level of openly expressed violence and communities where there is not a shared appreciation for academic or vocational attainment are perceived as less stable and more threatening. Locating where a youth lives can influence the extent to which they experience both mental health and violent outcomes (Leschied, 2007: 5).

Similarly, in a review of the literature on the social disorganization theory of the sources of crime, published in Volume 5, Prof. Scot Wortley concluded as follows:

Social disorganization theory suggests that public spending and private investment must be concentrated in the most impoverished areas… [it] suggests that money be spent mainly on programs physically located in underclass neighbourhoods, run by people with ties to the neighbourhoods they intend to serve. [This targets] programs for the underclass while also strengthening minority agencies or creating new agencies within very poor neighbourhoods.

In our context, this means that the 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.

2. Asset-Based

This involves looking in each neighbourhood to determine what is working already, and to find and support local sources of strength. Those sources may be municipalities, individuals, organizations, programs or institutions. What is important is that the operating orientation not be to simply focus on naming problems, but rather on finding, supporting and building on strengths.

Supporting those local assets is not only key to making short-term progress on addressing the roots, but also has longer-term benefits. In Eric Leviten-Reid’s paper, he notes the powerful long-term impacts of so doing:

Moreover, like great cities, healthy neighbourhoods are those that are able to sustain a development over time. They do this by building a stockpile of assets they can use to generate income, weather hard times and innovate in response to changing circumstances. More than just financial or physical, such assets are cultural (ways of thinking and acting) and social (connections with others) as well. By developing a critical mass of assets in these different areas, neighbourhoods are able to meet their needs and aspirations on an ongoing basis (Leviten-Reid, 2006: 4).

3. Tailoring

Adopting a place-based approach also means working locally to identify what methods work best in each given community to address a given issue. 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.

4. 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. Both the process of working towards that goal and its results will bring individuals together to strengthen the local social fabric in innumerable ways. This then leads to the stronger community itself reducing the impact of the roots while beginning to remove them. Enabling communities to take positive actions to make their neighbourhood a better place to live can in these ways lead to a “virtuous cycle” where community action reduces the impact of the roots of violence as the community assumes more responsibility locally. More responsibility results in stronger commitment and engagement, improved targeting efforts and a stronger social fabric in a continuous, positive cycle.

5. Collaborative

To achieve the benefits of a place-based approach in a particular neighbourhood, governments must collaborate with each other and with those neighbourhoods. As we will explore in Chapter 9, 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.


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. High concentrations of people living in poverty, substandard housing, poor design, limited public services, few stores or businesses, restricted transportation and employment options, few positive role models or mentors, and other roots, all frequently coalesce in identifiable neighbourhoods. Where this happens, these individual roots interact to dramatically magnify the negative impact each can have.

Not only do place-based approaches respond directly to the very local nature of these interactions in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, but also they have a galvanizing effect on all who are in a position to advance such an initiative. They capture the imagination of those positioned to help by providing an opportunity to work at an understandable scale and to achieve results that can be seen and felt, not just observed in abstract statistics. They obtain local buy-in, bring people together and promote cohesion as they address the roots because they feature and support local initiatives based on local circumstances and priorities, and because they bring residents to the core of the solution rather than leaving them on the margins as service-recipients or clients.

Examples of Place-Based Approaches

1. England’s Place-Based Approach

Since at least the 1970s, disadvantaged neighbourhoods in England have been identified for particular attention in various national initiatives. This led in 2001 to a highly significant new policy, in which concerted efforts across a range of national government departments have been brought to bear on 88 local authorities with high concentrations of disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

A paper presented to us in London by staff from the Department for Communities and Local Government, and many discussions there, provided a very helpful overview of this long-term and complex strategy. We will draw on that information in the very brief summary we offer here.

Known as “A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal,” the 2001 National Strategy Action Plan aims to narrow the gap between outcomes in deprived areas compared to the rest of the country. The strategy combines initiatives to link up action at the national level to improve the quality of public services in deprived areas with a suite of time-limited funds and programs to develop and mainstream best practices in neighbourhood renewal.

The strategy was designed at the national level, albeit in a highly collaborative way, but in practice it requires resident involvement in all stages of the process. There are three key dimensions:

We were deeply impressed by the scope of this place-based policy initiative. Among many other elements, it included the publication at the launch in 2001 of 105 specific commitments by national government departments to address the situation in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. These ranged from economic and tax measures to child care, transportation, anti-racism, school exclusion, governance and many other initiatives. Each identified the responsible departments and included a timeline, ranging from months to 15-20 years. What is key for our purposes is that numerous departments were required to consider how they could contribute to a place-based approach as part of their mainstream budgets and programs, not just through short-term special projects, with their commitments then being made public.

As it was implemented, the strategy provided a cross-departmental and place-based approach to empowering residents and getting public, private and voluntary organizations to work in partnership to address community capacity and involvement in its central policies. Those policies aim to reduce worklessness and crime, to have better health, skills, housing and physical environments, and to narrow the gap on these measures between outcomes in deprived areas and the rest of the country. Core features included:

Overall, the initiative linked the areas of housing and the environment, education and employment, and health and safety with the underlying goal of improving the management of resources within neighbourhoods through resident participation and strengthening communities.

To support and coordinate the strategy, the government established the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, which worked with regionally based government neighbourhood renewal teams to maintain a flow of knowledge between local partnerships and government departments. That unit reported to the deputy prime minister and had the benefit of a cross-departmental steering committee composed of permanent secretaries (deputy ministers).

Given the centrality of racism to our own focus in Ontario, it is noteworthy that the unit worked with an external Race Equity Advisory Group to implement a Race Equality Action Plan as a core part of the initiative. Indicators in England had shown that some 70 per cent of Black and minority ethnic individuals lived in the deprived areas. The action plan signalled that race equality would be an integral part of the neighbourhood renewal strategy.

The hallmarks of the plan included expectations that the needs of diverse communities would be met through measures that included the employment of Blacks and minority ethnics in the central and local units; their representation on neighbourhood decision making bodies; and outcome measures, including improvements in their participation in employment, achievement in school, health care access and other key areas.

To advance the strategy overall, the government also created Local Strategic Partnerships with the local authorities (municipalities), community agencies and residents. These partnerships (discussed in more detail in Chapter 9) connected local funding priorities with national polices by identifying urban neighbourhoods in need of assistance, helping them form a plan and arranging necessary service agreements with other organizations.

The national government also provided significant funding to help the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods improve core public services. This funding was not restricted to a particular activity, but the recipient had to be part of a local strategic partnership and have developed an agreed-upon local neighbourhood renewal strategy. The funds had to include a focus on tackling deprivation. Funds were also provided to support community involvement in the local strategic partnerships and for grants for community organizations in deprived areas.

What is interesting for our purposes is the scale of this initiative and the way that the national government focused policy attention and public resources on specific places across the country: the deprived neighbourhoods. Through a process we will discuss later in this chapter, it identified the most deprived neighbourhoods, then focused attention and resources on the 88 local authorities that had the largest numbers of those neighbourhoods. While the strategy has shifted in the last year or two towards one that focuses more on worklessness than on the other original outcomes, the neighbourhood focus remains, with 65 local authorities now targeted for special attention in relation to worklessness.

While a formal evaluation is not yet available, we were advised that the evidence so far shows that the gap between deprived neighbourhoods and the average has closed in several fields, most notably in community safety. The slowest change has been in health outcomes and employment outcomes, especially for minority groups. It is significant that, while the government in England has accordingly now moved its emphasis to worklessness, it has maintained the neighbourhood focus. As well, at the core of Britain’s national governance structure, there is ever-increasing reliance on the local strategic partnerships, which are integral to the neighbourhood strategy, suggesting that the national government continues to view this place-based approach as having positive impacts on the ground.

Certainly, Canadian observers have drawn positive conclusions. In a February 2007 discussion paper, the Toronto City Summit Alliance noted the following:

In Europe, many governments have responded with strategies aimed at building their troubled neighbourhoods and redressing the social exclusion they represent. Nowhere is this more evident than in Great Britain, where the government launched an all-out campaign to revitalize its troubled neighbourhoods in 2001.... Results after four years show progress on most fronts and have led a number of state governments in Australia, such as Queensland and Victoria, to adopt similar targeted neighbourhood strategies aimed at revitalizing distressed neighbourhoods (Toronto City Summit Alliance, 2007: 3).

2. Toronto’s Place-Based Approach

Closer to home, the City of Toronto has led the way in Canada in adopting a place-based approach. The city’s approach had its origins in work done by the Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force, which the city established in 2004 with the United Way, in response to the community infrastructure challenges identified by the Toronto City Summit Alliance.

The task force brought together private, labour and community sector leaders, as well as representatives from the City of Toronto, and the governments of Ontario and Canada. It worked to understand the conditions that both strengthen and weaken neighbourhoods, the indicators of community stress and the scope of community service infrastructure. The resulting strategy provides a mechanism whereby investment neighbourhoods can identify opportunities for improvements in the use of existing resources, and local knowledge can be used to identify program and policy barriers to creating strong neighbourhoods.

In its February 2007 discussion paper, the Toronto City Summit Alliance noted the progress since then, stating:

The City of Toronto has made significant internal structural changes to enable it to better respond to the 13 priority neighbourhoods. Action Teams have been established in each of the neighbourhoods, comprising staff from all relevant city divisions. These are responsible for ensuring a coordinated city response to neighbourhood issues, to be achieved through targeted resources, better cross-sectoral linkages and new service partnerships (Toronto City Summit Alliance, 2007: 13).

As described by the City of Toronto itself, the initiative brings together in neighbourhood action teams staff working locally from city divisions and boards to address local needs, coordinate services and build community capacity. Each neighbourhood action team is facilitated by a community development officer and championed by a senior member of the city’s staff, and works to build stronger, safer, healthier neighbourhoods in underserved communities.

The city describes its goal as to go beyond the old conversation of “who leads” to a new understanding of partnership and integration. More recently expanded into neighbourhood action partnerships, the initiative now gathers residents, governments, community agencies and businesses to create opportunities to improve communities. It guides neighbourhood investment and ensures that residents identify local needs and priorities, and have a seat at the table with other partners to collaborate and problem-solve to see that the neighbourhoods’ needs are met. As described to us by the city:

At its core, neighbourhood action is about building new service relationships that inspire systemic change and lead to a safer, more equitable city…[by working] in each priority neighbourhood to [coordinate and improve] service delivery to achieve community outcomes in youth employment, education and skill development; youth engagement; community and family support; and youth justice.

The potential for the galvanizing effects we referred to earlier is demonstrated by the Province’s targeting of some Community Health Centre expansion to the priority neighbourhoods, funding new youth outreach workers in the priority neighbourhoods, and launching the Youth Challenge Fund to improve opportunities for youth living in these poorly served neighbourhoods. The federal government has also supported this place-based approach by targeting some of its initiatives, such as the Local Labour Market Partnerships and youth employment programs in these neighbourhoods.

That said, it has been difficult to integrate place-based strategies to assist Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods to the same degree as has been possible in England. One key reason for this is that, unlike the national government there, the City of Toronto does not control most of the key drivers for investment in these areas and there is still little collaboration among the three levels of government on this place-based initiative.


The experience to date in Britain and in Ontario illustrates the value of looking at where improved services, facilities and collaboration can play a critical role in improving outcomes for a neighbourhood, and provides examples of how a place-based approach can be implemented to positive effect.

Identifying Places for a Place-Based Approach


A 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. Once selected, the choices must be effectively communicated, along with a clear message that similar issues in other parts of the province are also being addressed through more generalized policies.

1. Identifying Disadvantaged Areas in England

Both the discussions we had and the background information we received in London provided us with a very useful overview of the English approach to this issue. We draw on both in setting out the following brief summary.

Since the 1970s, Great Britain has developed and continued to refine measures of multiple deprivation to help inform the targeting of its policies in a number of national policy areas, ranging from health and neighbourhood renewal to crime. The resulting measures, known as Indices of Multiple Deprivation, are produced for all local authorities.

The 2007 Index of Multiple Deprivation is made up of 33 indicators divided into seven domain indices. There are also supplementary indices on income deprivation affecting children and affecting older people. The seven domains in the main index relate to income deprivation, employment deprivation, health deprivation and disability, education skills and training deprivation, barriers to housing and services, living environment deprivation and crime.

Each of the seven domains contains a number of component indicators. For example, the health deprivation and disability domain looks at years of potential life lost, the comparative illness and disability ratio, measures of acute morbidity and the proportion of adults suffering from certain mental disorders. The sub-domain for children in the domain of education looks at average test scores of pupils at certain stages, the proportion of young people not staying in school, the secondary school absence rate and others.

The overall index is based on the idea that distinct dimensions of deprivation can be recognized and measured separately, but are experienced by individuals living in an area in linked ways. The concept is that multiple deprivation is a combination of different, though clearly interrelated, deprivations. For example, poor health may be related to inadequate housing or other factors linked to low income and is also a deprivation in its own right.

While, in 2000, the data were published at the ward (in very general terms, about 10,000 people) and local authority levels (again, in general terms, about 250,000 people), they are now also published at a unit of analysis of about 2,000 people. While not generally published at levels of analysis below that, the indices are now prepared at the level of even smaller areas, starting at 1,000 individuals (in Scotland the equivalent measure is based on areas with as few as 500 individuals). At whatever level of analysis, the data allow the government to rank all areas by their relative level of deprivation. Once this is done, the targeting of many programs follows based on that ranking.

The important lesson for us is that, while the specifics have varied over time, this approach has been used in England for more than three decades and is now an integral part of governance in that country.

2. Identifying Disadvantaged Areas in the City of Toronto

The city’s approach to identifying priority neighbourhoods started by identifying areas where there were fewer public services than the norm. Once these had been identified, the city then looked to see where the impact of those inferior services would be felt the most. The premise was that the most disadvantaged individuals would have the greatest difficulty getting to services further away from their homes, or replacing public services with services they could afford to purchase themselves. Assuming that, in the long run, services should be more equitably available, the concentration of disadvantaged individuals in each under-serviced neighbourhood was used to set priorities for improving services.

This approach has the significant advantage of providing an easily understood rationale for selecting priority neighbourhoods, linked to both the level of services and the degree of need for them. This allowed the city to describe its assessment process as leading to “a clear method to determine where community investments are most immediately required.”

Importantly, in looking at services, Toronto went further than simply listing services within the geographic boundaries of a neighbourhood to assess whether, as a practical matter, those facilities were actually available to residents. This involved looking beyond questions of proximity to also consider transportation issues, fees and the relevance to the particular neighbourhood of the programs being offered.

Eleven key services within Toronto’s neighbourhoods were analyzed. These were recreation and community centres, libraries, schools, community health centres and hospitals, community-based children’s services, community-based services for youth, community-based services for seniors, settlement services, community-based employment services, food banks, and community kitchens, gardens and markets.

For each of these services, the city analyzed whether they were near the residents who would need them most. For example, the distance of settlement services from recent immigrants in the neighbourhood was analyzed, as was the distance of youth services from neighbourhood youth aged 15-24.

Once areas with lesser access to services had been identified, the city then went to the second level of its analysis. That level considered 11 socio-economic measures within five domains to determine the degree of disadvantage facing each under-served neighbourhood. The domains were:

These socio-economic indicators were then used with the service-level indicators and certain safety indicators to determine the priority neighbourhoods. As a result, Toronto now has a mechanism that not only considers socio-economic disadvantage, but as well a lack of services or other circumstances that make it appropriate to focus attention and priorities on certain communities. These open and transparent criteria link the resulting targeting directly to the policy goals the city seeks to advance.

3. Towards an Index of Relative Disadvantage for Ontario

To help us appreciate how relative disadvantage might be determined objectively on a provincewide basis, we commissioned a paper by Prof. Desmond Ellis of York University. In that paper, published in Volume 4, Prof. Ellis provides a useful overview of the approaches that have been taken to this kind of question, and an assessment of their pros and cons. Prof. Ellis then goes on to recommend a particular Index of Relative Disadvantage. While some additional conversations with experts may be required before the Province determines what best meets its long-term needs, assuming it accepts our proposal for a place-based approach, Prof. Ellis’s work seems to us to be a good starting point.

Prof. Ellis’s proposed Index of Relative Disadvantage uses area-specific data from the national census to assess the relative disadvantage of the people living in each area, considered as a group. As with the other approaches to this issue, it does not identify individuals, but rather places. It allows a comparison or ranking of all parts of the province using objective, universally available and highly reliable data.

Before we outline Prof. Ellis’s approach in more detail, we should first indicate how we would see it being used to identify priority neighbourhoods. We would regard the rankings determined by the index as the basis to start a conversation with each affected municipality to determine areas requiring priority attention. We believe that the factors and approach used by Prof. Ellis will usefully identify areas for careful consideration, but that the Province must work with the affected municipalities to ensure that local, on-the-ground knowledge is taken into account to verify that the identified areas are indeed the most disadvantaged ones locally.

We note, for example, that Toronto has been able to develop a more comprehensive approach to identifying priority neighbourhoods, using more indicators and looking at the local availability of services. These and any similar initiatives elsewhere should be respected by the Province, and the lessons learned from them should also be included in conversations with other municipalities. In particular, every consideration should be given to adopting Toronto’s approach of using a local mapping exercise to assess the practical availability of core public services in determining that an area warrants priority attention.

Similarly, municipalities should have the lead in determining the boundaries of any such areas. The units of analysis proposed by Prof. Ellis are small, which permits them to be either used individually or combined into approximations of actual neighbourhoods. For governance purposes, they will almost certainly have to be combined and included in a larger area to provide economies of scale and to support broader neighbourhood cohesion. Neighbourhoods “as lived,” as opposed to “as mapped” do not follow the bright lines of census tracts or dissemination areas. There will often be issues of local geography or transportation or established patterns of social interaction, which better define the boundaries for these purposes.

It follows from what we have said that, in our view, the Province should respect determinations that have already been made about local areas of relative deprivation wherever those determinations have been made on factors relevant to the roots of violence involving youth. Neighbourhoods already selected on this basis, such as Toronto’s 13 priority neighbourhoods, should be incorporated into the Province’s strategy, in order to support the important work underway in them. This reflects the principle that the Province’s interventions in communities should start by understanding and respecting what is already in place.

With those important conditions on its application, we see value in proceeding with Prof. Ellis’s approach, following whatever brief consultations are required with experts to assess the need for refinements. That approach is to create an Index of Relative Disadvantage using readily available, highly reliable and inexpensive (about $20,000 for the entire province) census data. These data would be analyzed at a level known as a dissemination area. This is similar in size to the super-output areas very recently adopted in Britain. Each contains about 400-700 individuals. As appropriate, two or more dissemination areas can be grouped together to avoid the privacy issues that block the provision of statistics on very small areas, or to more closely approximate each local sense of neighbourhood.

As Prof. Ellis points out, there are several advantages to conducting the analysis at this level. The size of the dissemination areas or small groupings of them more closely approximates the sense of scale of a neighbourhood than does the traditionally used census tract (which is about 10-12 times bigger), particularly outside of Toronto and other large urban settings. Working at this level or, where appropriate, amalgamating two or more dissemination areas to approximate a neighbourhood, would address some of the concerns we have heard about stereotyping a relatively large area by creating the impression that all parts of it are deeply disadvantaged. And, even if amalgamated into larger areas and adjusted for the “as-lived” boundaries, having information by dissemination area allows a tight focus on the most disadvantaged areas within those larger constructs. This capacity for tighter targeting clearly allows the maximization of the efficiency of available resources.

With the dissemination area as the basic unit of analysis, the proposed Index of Relative Disadvantage is built on five domains of disadvantage. They are income, housing, education, family and employment. For each of these domains, Prof. Ellis has selected an indicator based on those used elsewhere and on the ready availability of highly reliable Statistics Canada data. The indicators are the percentage of residents with incomes below a defined poverty level, who live in homes they own, who did not graduate from high school, who are children in single-parent households, or who are males over 25 who are unemployed. A justification for each domain and indicator is found in his paper.

In Prof. Ellis’s model, Statistics Canada data on each indicator would be analyzed and combined into an Index of Relative Disadvantage for each of the 19,177 dissemination areas in Ontario. The Index of Relative Disadvantage scores can then be used to rank all dissemination areas with respect to their relative levels of disadvantage, or to rank them according to the degree to which they fall above and below Ontario large urban, small urban and rural benchmarks.

Additionally, because the data Prof. Ellis proposes to use are available for all dissemination areas for 2001 and 2006, the approach allows an assessment of reductions or increases in disadvantage that may have occurred during that five-year period. Going forward, it will permit the use of that trend as a starting point for an analysis of whether investments in addressing the roots of violence involving youth are reaching the most disadvantaged areas in ways that make a difference. In effect, it not only permits targeting, but as well provides a built-in and inexpensive evaluation of that approach.

The immediate value, though, remains that the index will provide the Province and its municipal partners with an objective way to identify the areas of the province that should be considered as priority areas for a place-based approach.

A Note on Ontario’s First Nations and our Review

The analysis in this chapter and the neighbourhood conditions described in Chapter 5 will be familiar to those who live and work in many First Nations communities. While there are wide variations among these communities, far too many are characterized by poverty, abuse, dysfunction and despair, and are isolated from the rest of the province by racism, as well as geography. As we have seen, these conditions create particularly fertile ground for the immediate risk factors for violence involving youth, including alienation, low self-esteem and a limited sense of hope or opportunity.

These conditions exist within some urban concentrations of Aboriginal people, but are most visible and often most extreme in reserve-based populations. Our review considered the former in some detail. Two of the eight communities in which we held Neighbourhood Insight Sessions have significant Aboriginal populations: Thunder Bay and Kingston-Galloway. And the urban Aboriginal youth consultation organized for us by the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres brought us the Aboriginal perspective from these and 11 other urban communities across the province. We have published a report on these important sessions in Volume 3 and have reflected what we learned from them throughout our report.

For several reasons, our review did not go on to attempt to deal with the particular circumstances of reserve-based First Nations. The first reason was a combination of the factors of time and jurisdiction. First Nations have their own constitutional status and generally have a relationship with the federal Crown, rather than the provincial government. Before a provincial review could conduct an examination of reserve conditions, complex negotiations with Aboriginal leadership and likely with individual reserves would be required. These would likely go beyond seeking agreement to have the review deal with reserves to also include issues of participation in the review itself and potentially in the framing of the terms of reference. As well, given the federal responsibility to deal with much of what a review would likely recommend, its role would also very likely have to be negotiated.

Given the circumstances, we did not feel that we could manage these negotiations in the time required, nor that we had the authority to negotiate with First Nations or the federal government about the mandate and composition the Premier set for our review.

The second reason was that we knew that by consulting urban Aboriginal youth throughout our work, we would learn a fair bit about on-reserve matters and how they affect the issue we are concerned about. There is significant fluidity between on- and off-reserve living, giving us confidence that consulting with urban Aboriginal youth would bring us some understanding of the Aboriginal context overall.

The third reason is that we believed that the place-based approach would, if it proved a viable way to address the roots issues in urban areas, also likely provide at least the starting point for a consideration of issues arising on reserves. Having now explored that approach, we believe that the concept of focusing on the areas of greatest disadvantage, working locally, building on strengths, focusing on outcomes rather than inputs, acting in partnership with and respecting local leadership, and coordinating the Province’s own structures so that collaborative work in communities is not silo-blocked, all are highly relevant to an approach to the many roots that arise in First Nations communities.

Notwithstanding the primacy the Constitution gives to the federal government in this area, we strongly urge the Ontario government to open discussions with First Nations leadership about a focused exercise to assess the applicability to First Nations of what we propose for the rest of the province, having regard to their unique standing, circumstances, strengths and needs. Federal participation in these talks should be sought, but its absence should not bar proceeding if the First Nations are willing to do so.

It may be as well that a new “roots” review focusing on reserves or groups of them is also needed, but we would leave that question to be determined following the talks that we propose.

In the meantime, there is one specific issue relating to Aboriginal youth that we believe should be actively pursued. When we were in Thunder Bay, we were told of the many hundreds of young Aboriginal teenagers who must move from remote northern communities to Thunder Bay for their high school education, as high school is not available where they live. We understand this situation exists elsewhere; our focus on Thunder Bay arises because of what we learned there and should not be seen as limiting our concerns to that city.

We were told that these youth are expected to find boarding places in Thunder Bay and to live without parental supervision for the duration of their school year. The only exception involves the students who attend an Aboriginal high school, which serves only a limited number of the remote reserves. We were advised by the principal of that school that the federal government provides funding to permit the school to stay open until 10 p.m., that the students’ living places are inspected and that those students have access to a variety of supports when they are not in school.

But the majority of the students from these remote communities are left on their own, subject to only whatever guidance they are offered by their landlords. This is an obvious recipe for reducing the chances of positive engagements outside of school and increasing the odds of negative ones. To us, it simply makes no sense to take young children from remote communities, drop them into an unfamiliar urban setting and leave them unsupervised for the vast majority of their time, living as boarders in the houses of strangers.

We were also told that some Aboriginal families are so concerned by this situation that they move off the reserve and into Thunder Bay to look after their children. We were told that when they do so, they may lose their benefits from their First Nation. They are then forced to either subsist on welfare or find whatever employment is available. In either event, the disruption to the life of the family and their normal social networks is enormous.

No doubt there are interesting issues of federal-provincial jurisdiction that could be pursued for years and years while this deplorable situation continues. We think the answer is obvious. These children are Ontario residents. They are living in Ontario cities and going to Ontario schools. They are being subjected in Ontario to conditions that seriously erode the potential for that education to be effective and that, at the same time, easily lead to the immediate risk factors for violence involving youth.

In these circumstances, we believe that the Province must intervene to ensure that positive, engaging and culturally relevant activities are available to these youth after school and on weekends. The Province should ensure that the places they live are suitable and that they have safe and welcoming places to gather, play, do homework and engage in the arts. They should have mentors, and youth and other workers should be available to provide outreach to, and structure, coordination and support for them.

As well, when families move to town to look after their children, we think that the Province should provide settlement services to the whole family. As we discuss later in our report, programs and services for one family member can quickly founder if other family members are not receiving services they need. And, as we also describe, services will be far more effective if they are situated in the context of a family. In this, the Province needs to reflect the kinds of services provided to immigrants, as the cultural and other divides faced by some Aboriginal people when they leave remote communities can be as great as or greater than those faced by immigrants from distant lands.


Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews