Review of the Roots of Youth Violence

Volume 1, Chapter 8:

Highlights of Existing Approaches to Address the Roots of Violence Involving Youth


In Chapter 3, we discussed many of the conditions that can give rise to the immediate risk factors for violence involving youth — its roots — and in Chapter 5 we described the very troubling trends that we found in both the nature and consequences of that violence. Before going on in Chapter 9 to provide our advice on how best to address the roots, we discuss in this chapter a number of relevant programs that have been put in place in Ontario and elsewhere, and standards for evaluating them. We provide examples of crime prevention programs that have been found to be either proven or promising according to those evaluations, and we review the kinds of investments Ontario is now making to prevent crime and sometimes to address its roots. We then provide some examples of current programs being offered in Ontario communities.

In discussing these programs, we note that most of the academic literature considered by our lead researcher, Prof. Scot Wortley, and drawn on for this chapter, focuses on crime prevention. This means the evaluations assessed programs to determine whether their participants are less likely to engage in crime than those who do not participate. These assessments are very valuable for determining the kinds of interventions to make once a youth has been entangled in the kinds of roots we have identified — poverty, racism, economic disadvantage, and so on — and we commend them to the government for that purpose. However, as our report demonstrates, we as a society must address the roots themselves if we are to end the recurring cycle of violence and the need for such interventions.

In this chapter, we will look at programs and the evidence that supports them from four different perspectives.

At the end of Section 4, we offer our conclusions about the strengths and gaps in Ontario’s approaches and in Chapter 9, we set out a community-based strategy to make more effective the kinds of interventions discussed in this chapter.

Section 1: Evaluating Programs and Their Outcomes

Complying with the mandate contained in our terms of reference requires us to be rigorous in our selection of tested approaches in both Ontario and other jurisdictions. In this section, we will review evaluation criteria and describe some approaches and programs that have been evaluated as successful or promising.

We must note that while there is an extensive literature evaluating crime prevention programs that are intended to help reduce youth violence, the literature documenting other approaches that may be designed to achieve different outcomes, such as reducing youth violence by addressing alienation or promoting social inclusion, is more limited. For this reason, our listings of programs and approaches have focused primarily on those with crime prevention objectives.

Evaluation Criteria

Given the number of programs claiming to reduce violence involving youth, it is very difficult, on the surface, to distinguish among those programs that are effective, those that are promising, and those that have no effect or may actually do harm. The only practical way to sort them out is through proper evaluation, and fortunately there is a growing body of international literature that points to effective crime prevention techniques.

To make use of this knowledge, we commissioned a literature review to highlight programs that have undergone high-quality evaluations. We focused these reviews on programs that address the roots of crime and violence through prevention, rather than police crime suppression programs. The literature reviews are provided elsewhere, but the following points are important to our general discussion.

First, what do we mean by a “high-quality evaluation”?

To meet this standard, an evaluation must meet most or all of the following criteria:

Using evaluation studies that meet most or all of these criteria, it is possible to sort programs into two categories:

Proven (Model) Programs: Numerous high-quality, published evaluations in different communities or settings demonstrate that these programs have directly or indirectly reduced violent or aggressive behaviour in youth.

Promising Programs: Limited evaluations have yielded some positive results, but the rigour, scope or results of the evaluations falls short of the proven criteria.

Based on these criteria and categories, our lead researcher, Prof. Scot Wortley, conducted a review of international academic literature and selected the following examples of approaches and programs that have been evaluated as proven or promising. The classifications follow systems used by many respected academic institutions. The program descriptions and evaluation results, also provided to us by Prof. Wortley, are based on the literature review and material available from various websites. Where we have been able to identify specific websites for programs, we have included them in the text; otherwise, those seeking further details may find they are available at websites such as those of the Promising Practices Network on Children, Families and Communities (, the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy ( and the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (

Later in this chapter, we will discuss the Ontario experience.

Proven (Model) Programs

Home Visitations

The research literature has identified the first two to four years of life as crucial to childhood development. Infants and young children who do not receive proper parenting or care during this period are at much higher risk of developing various health and behavioural problems, including aggression and criminality.

A large number of home visitation programs have been developed to provide “at-risk” mothers (usually defined as young, single and poor) with intensive, in-home training about prenatal health, infant nutrition and parenting skills. Many of these programs also provide young mothers with temporary childcare and counselling concerning future pregnancies, child care and employment opportunities. Evaluations suggest that intensive, highly structured nurse visitation programs are the most effective type of program in this category. However, less intense programs, often involving social workers or other health care professionals, have also shown considerable success.

Examples of “proven” nurse visitation programs include the Nurse-Family Partnership program (, with sites in more than 20 U.S. states, and its predecessor, the David Olds Nurse Visitation Project. Both these programs, developed by David Olds, a professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and preventative medicine at the University of Colorado at Denver, involve monthly home visits by nurses from pregnancy through the first two years of a child’s life. Longitudinal studies have demonstrated that, compared to control group subjects, children whose mothers participate in home visitation programs are less likely to engage in serious violence and criminality in adolescence.

Preschool Intellectual Enrichment

Many studies have demonstrated that preschool intellectual development programs can significantly reduce anti-social behaviour, adolescent delinquency and adult criminality. Such programs — often delivered in a daycare setting — are designed to improve school readiness, thinking and social skills, self-control and emotional development for economically disadvantaged children. Such programs focus on providing stimulating and enriching experiences that are not likely to be provided in the home environment through developmentally appropriate learning curricula, a wide array of cognitive-based activities and training opportunities for parents so that they can better support school activities at home.

One of the most well-known programs in this category is the Perry Preschool Project, which was developed in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the 1960s. This program targets economically disadvantaged families with children three to four years of age. The project involves an intensive two-year intervention that operates two to three hours per day, five days a week. As well as a classroom component, the program also involves home visitations by highly trained teachers.

Evaluations of the program have demonstrated that, compared with control group subjects, Perry Preschool participants have much lower levels of adolescent delinquency, less contact with youth justice officials, fewer arrests at 19 years of age, less involvement in serious fights, less involvement in youth gangs and less contact with the police. Long-term results indicate that, by 40 years of age, Perry Preschool participants have fewer arrests for both violent and property crimes, higher levels of academic achievement, higher rates of employment, higher mean incomes, greater economic independence and less reliance on public assistance.

Early Intervention Strategies

Criminological research indicates that long-term, chronic offenders are often aggressive and anti-social in early childhood, but that early intervention strategies may help families identify and respond to children who display such behaviours. Parent Management Training programs, such as those developed by Dr. Gerald Patterson at the Oregon Social Learning Center and by Dr. Alan Kazdin at Yale University, also form the basis for two other programs, the Preventative Treatment Program and the Incredible Years Series. The former was developed in Montreal by Prof. Richard Tremblay at the University of Montreal, and the latter by Dr. Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Professor and Director of the Parenting Clinic at the University of Washington.

Parent training is a major component of all three programs. Parent Management Training programs are generally delivered through groups, while the Preventative Treatment Program uses individualized training in the home. The Incredible Years Series provides manuals that may be used by parents individually or in clinical/school settings.

The programs have similar goals for parent training, including techniques for monitoring a child’s behaviour, enforcing rules promptly and consistently, using rewards and punishments effectively and managing family conflicts.

In addition to parent training, the Preventative Treatment Programs (designed to intervene with youth from ages seven to nine) and Incredible Years Series (from ages two to 10) have training components that engage the youth themselves and their teachers.

All three have undergone high-quality evaluations through which they have demonstrated their effectiveness. For example:

Functional Family Therapy

Functional Family Therapy ( is an intervention program based in Seattle, Wash., that targets youth ages 11-18, at risk of or already demonstrating signs of delinquency, violence, substance abuse, conduct disorder, defiant disorder or disruptive behaviour disorder. The program typically requires between eight and 26 sessions of direct service time for referred youth and their families. The number of sessions required largely depends on the severity of the individual case. Service delivery is flexible and depends on individual needs. Services are generally delivered by a two-person team and can include specially trained teachers, social workers, counsellors, mental health professionals and probation officers. Clients can receive services within the home as well as in clinics, schools, youth correctional facilities, community centres or at the time of reentry from institutional placement.

Functional Family Therapy attempts to enhance protective factors and reduce exposure to risk, while also preventing early treatment termination. There are five basic steps:

  1. Engagement: designed to prevent youth and their families from dropping out of treatment early
  2. Motivation: designed to change maladaptive emotional reactions and beliefs and increase alliance, trust, hope and lasting change
  3. Assessment: designed to clarify individual, family and outside relationships and how they contribute to problematic behaviours
  4. Behaviour change: provides training in communication skills, parenting skills, problem-solving, anger-management and conflict resolution
  5. Generalization: develops case management strategies based on family functional needs, community-based environmental constraints and the available resources provided by program therapists.

High-quality randomized trials of Functional Family Therapy have demonstrated that these programs are effective in reducing youth delinquency and violence; drug use; conduct disorder; oppositional defiant disorder and disruptive behaviour disorder. Furthermore, compared to control group subjects, participants are less likely to require more restrictive social services (i.e., youth custody, group homes, foster care, etc.) and are significantly less likely to become involved in the adult criminal justice system.

Bullying Prevention

Research suggests there is a positive correlation between bullying, a form of interpersonal violence that can damage both victims and offenders, and more serious violence in later adolescence and early adulthood. Therefore, reducing bullying may prevent the onset of more serious forms of violent behaviour.

Many anti-bullying programs have been developed, but one stands out as a “proven” strategy: The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (, a multi-component, universal, school-based program intended to address bullying behaviour by restructuring the school environment to eliminate the opportunities and rewards that exist for bullying. The program targets students in elementary, middle and junior high schools and should be implemented for at least one year. Every student within the school participates.

This bullying prevention program has three main components:

  1. School-wide: a confidential student questionnaire to assess the extent and nature of bullying within a particular school; a student-teacher conference to discuss bullying and plan interventions; development of specific school rules against bullying; formation of a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee; increased student supervision at the times and locations where bullying is most likely to take place.
  2. Class-level: classroom meetings about bullying and peer relations; class rules established and enforced; teacher meetings with parents and students.
  3. Individual-level: interventions specifically for individual perpetrators and victims, which often involve discussions between students, parents, teachers and counsellors.

Large evaluations have found this program reduces bullying and bullying victimization by 30 to 70 per cent. It also reduces vandalism, alcohol use, fighting and theft. Additionally, it has caused significant improvements in classroom order and more positive attitudes towards school work.

For information about an Ontario anti-bullying program, Roots of Empathy, see page 203 later in this chapter.

Multi-systemic Therapy

Multi-systemic Therapy ( is an intensive family- and community-based treatment program developed at the Medical University of South Carolina and now offered through an independent but university-affiliated and licensed organization. The therapy addresses the multiple causes of serious violent and anti-social behaviour among youth. It targets chronic, violent and/or delinquent youth and their families and focuses on young people who are already involved in the justice system and who either have been or are at risk of being incarcerated.

Its objectives are to:

  1. Improve parental discipline practices
  2. Decrease association with delinquent peers
  3. Increase association with non-delinquent peers
  4. Improve academic performance
  5. Develop a network of support for youth that includes both immediate and extended family, neighbours, teachers, fellow students and friends.

This program provides intensive therapy in the family’s home or wherever the members are most comfortable. The initial sessions identify individual and family problems that require attention, while subsequent sessions provide treatment for these problems. Focusing on factors in the individual’s family and social network that may contribute to violent or criminal behaviour, Multi-systemic Therapy works to eliminate risk factors including a lack of adult mentors, low verbal communication skills, poor academic performance, dropping out of school, association with deviant peers, inadequate social skills, poor anger-management abilities and low community support. Treatment usually requires 60-80 hours over a period of four months. However, the treatment period is often adjusted to meet the needs of individual families, with more serious cases requiring longer periods of treatment.

Evaluations indicate that, compared with control group subjects, participants have 25-75-per-cent reductions in long-term arrest rates, 47-64 per cent fewer out-of-home placements, less violent offending and victimization, improved family functioning, better school performance and decreased mental health problems.

Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care

Youth within the child welfare system are particularly vulnerable to negative life outcomes including poor educational attainment, under-employment, homelessness, poor mental health, criminality and violence. Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (, based on studies conducted in the 1960s and ’70s at the Oregon Social Learning Center, has been developed to deal with adolescents within the child welfare system who have histories of chronic or serious criminality and are at high risk of incarceration. It is designed to:

The program provides an alternative for a youth who might otherwise be sent to a group home or youth correctional facility. Instead, each is placed, typically for six to nine months, with a foster family that has been trained to implement a structured, individualized program for youth with a history of chronic delinquency. The foster family will have learned how to establish and enforce rules within the home environment and how to monitor peer relationships. A heavy emphasis is placed on teaching social skills and providing opportunities for social activities. Periodic visits to the youth’s biological or adoptive family are also arranged, during which the family has a chance to implement the youth’s individualized treatment program on a trial basis. Foster families must attend weekly support meetings that focus on individual treatment programs for youth participants.

The second part of the program is focused on training biological or adoptive parents to ensure that when a youth returns home, he or she will continue to receive the treatments that started in foster care. Biological or adoptive families must attend weekly therapy and treatment sessions during which parents learn effective methods for supervising, disciplining and rewarding youth.

Long-term evaluations repeatedly demonstrate that youth who participate in the program have significantly fewer arrests and spend 60 per cent fewer days in youth correctional facilities than control group subjects. After 24 months, participants were significantly less likely to run away from foster homes and were less likely to have used hard drugs. They also had better school attendance records and better academic performance than control group subjects.

Life Skills Training

Life Skills Training, based in White Plains, N.Y., is a school intervention program that provides prevention-related information regarding drug use and criminality, the promotion of anti-drug norms, the development of drug refusal skills and the development of self-management abilities to students in grades 6–8. Teachers or trained health professionals implement this three-year intervention strategy in the classroom.

The program involves 15 classroom sessions in year one, 10 sessions in year two and five sessions in year three. The program consists of three major components:

  1. General self-management skills: Teaches students to examine their self-image, gain insight about their own talents and limitations, set goals for the future, track personal progress, confront personal challenges and react to problem situations
  2. Social skills: Teaches students to overcome shyness, gain communication skills, develop assertiveness, learn anger-management techniques and realize that aggression is not the only strategy for dealing with problem situations
  3. Information and skills specifically related to drug use: Teaches students about common misconceptions concerning drugs and alcohol; students also learn and practise various techniques that can help them resist social pressures to use drugs.

Large-scale randomized trials have over the past 25 years consistently demonstrated that, compared with control group subjects, participants have lower rates of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use and significantly lower levels of delinquency and violent behaviour. Positive results are sustained at one year, three years and six years following program participation. Finally, although originally developed as a program for middle-grade Caucasian children, the program has also been demonstrated among inner-city, economically disadvantaged ethnic populations.

Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies

Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies — PATHS — is a school-based program that teaches students emotional literacy, self-control, verbal communication skills, empathy, problem-solving, impulse control, self-awareness, social competence, positive peer relations and inter-personal problem-solving skills. Intended for delivery in a classroom setting, it works best when initiated at the beginning of elementary school (Grade 1) and continued through Grade 5. The curriculum is taught three times per week for a 20-30-minute period. Although primarily focused on school and classroom settings, information and activities are often included for parents.

High-quality evaluations have established that, compared with control group subjects, PATHS participants demonstrate improved self-control, increased ability to tolerate frustration, improved thinking and planning skills, the effective use of conflict resolution strategies, decreased school conduct problems and lower levels of violence and aggression. The program has been proven effective in a number of different settings and with children from different social class and ethnic backgrounds.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy Within Correctional Settings

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy ( is a correctional treatment approach that can be used on its own or as part of a broader rehabilitation framework. Using exercises and instruction techniques such as role-playing, reinforcement and modelling, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy seeks to alter dysfunctional thinking patterns, including a focus on dominance in interpersonal relationships, feelings of entitlement, self-justification, displacement of blame and unrealistic expectations about the consequences of anti-social behaviour. In doing so, it focuses on one of the most robust correlates of crime — anti-social attitudes.

Correctional staff can be trained to conduct this program in a relatively short period of time. Qualified staff helps youth transform negative thoughts into positive ones, and the emphasis on the connection between thoughts and behaviours helps change behaviour.

Correctional programs that have included Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy have fared well during evaluation research. Indeed, meta-analyses indicate reductions in youth offending that are 10–33 per cent greater than control group samples.

Promising Programs

Adult Mentoring

When properly delivered, mentoring can provide youth with positive role models, adult supervision, emotional support and educational assistance. Mentors can also negate the impact of deviant peers.

Some mentoring programs have been shown to reduce youth violence and delinquency, while others have proven to be ineffective. Research suggests that mentoring programs are most likely to be effective when they:

  1. Properly screen mentors for empathy, professionalism and commitment
  2. Properly train mentors
  3. Properly match mentors with youth participants
  4. Target fatherless youth from economically disadvantaged communities
  5. Involve a high level of weekly interaction (several hours per week at a minimum)
  6. Provide long-term relationships (at least two years commitment on the part of the mentor)
  7. Provide ongoing supervision, training and support for mentors
  8. Are combined with other programs in the community (cognitive skills, sports and recreation, etc.)
  9. Ensure that a relationship develops between the mentor and the parent(s) as well as between the mentor and the youth.

Mentoring programs are less effective when they lack structure or clearly stated objectives, when mentors are not properly trained or supported or when they involve only short-term relationships; some studies suggest that short-term mentorship can actually reduce feelings of self-worth and enhance feelings of abandonment. There is also considerable evidence to suggest that youth with serious behavioural or mental health problems may not benefit from mentorship.

The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado has identified Big Brothers/Big Sisters (in Canada, information is available at as a model mentoring program. The organization usually targets youth between the ages of six and 18 who come from single-parent families. Volunteer mentors who regularly interact with youth in one-on-one relationships provide service delivery. Big Brothers/Big Sisters distinguishes itself from other mentoring programs by establishing rigorous published standards and required procedures. A case manager screens all volunteers, makes and supervises matches and closes matches when eligibility requirements are no longer met or either party wants to terminate the relationship.

High-quality evaluation studies have found that this approach is effective at achieving several major program objectives. For example, compared to a control group, participants are less likely to use alcohol and illicit drugs, are less likely to engage in violence (including fights), have higher levels of academic achievement, have better attitudes towards school, are more optimistic about their career prospects and have higher-quality relationships with both parents and peers.

Employment Programs

The relationship between employment and youth crime is not a simple one.

An extensive review of the evaluative research pertaining to youth employment and crime (Bushway and Reuter, 2002) separated youth employment programs into three broad categories: (1) Summer work placement programs and subsidized employment; (2) Short-term training (approximately six months) followed by job placement; and (3) Long-term programs with extensive training and education, a residential component and job placement. The research results suggest that long-term, intensive youth employment programs are most likely to be effective.

One youth employment program that has been supported by the evaluation literature (for example, Bushway and Reuter, 2002, cited in Wortley et al., Volume 5) is Job Corps, and it has been deemed the only large-scale employment program for youth that has produced sustained, significant earnings gains for disadvantaged youths (Burghardt et al., 2001, cited in Wortley et al, Volume 5). Founded in 1964, Job Corps is the largest, longest running, most expensive and most extensively evaluated job-training program in the United States. Each year, it serves over 60,000 participants between the ages of 16 and 24, at a cost of $16,500 per participant. The program is aimed at disadvantaged youths (including high school dropouts, ethnic/racial minorities and those with prior criminal histories).

Job Corps services are delivered in four stages: 1) community outreach, recruitment and admissions; 2) Career Preparation Period; 3) Career Development Period and 4) Career Transition Period.

A distinctive characteristic of Job Corps is its residential component, designed to provide a highly structured environment that supports training. While it is not mandatory that participants live at the Job Corps centres, approximately 88 per cent take advantage of this opportunity. There is no time limit to the program; the average length of participation is about eight months.

The U.S. Department of Labor sponsored a high-quality evaluation of the Job Corps program based on 11,313 youth drawn from all eligible applicants between late 1994 and 1995. It showed, among other outcomes, that participation in Job Corps significantly reduced the likelihood of arrest and conviction, and of involvement in violent behaviour.

The success of Job Corps may be attributed to the uniform and proper implementation across sites of an intensive program model that is both individualized and self-paced. It is also suggested that the program was successful because participation rates were high and the structured environment allowed for the many barriers that participants faced to be addressed. Despite the high costs associated with the program, Job Corps was found to be a cost-effective strategy for reducing youth crime. Indeed, economists at Mathematica Policy Research recently concluded that Job Corps returns $2 in tax revenues for every dollar invested in the program.

Sports Programs

Many people believe that young people who are actively engaged in sports will be less likely to become involved in illegal behaviour. Therefore, sports programs have long been seen as strategies to reduce youth delinquency and enhance positive youth development.

Although evaluation research has produced mixed results, we believe sports programs can have a positive effect, if not on crime prevention directly, then certainly on other factors that can contribute to youth violence — factors such as enhancing self-esteem, learning the value of teamwork and developing greater self-discipline. However, as with mentoring and youth employment strategies, special attention needs to be paid to how sports and recreation programs are delivered.

According to the research, sports programs are most likely to reduce youth crime and violence when:

  1. The sporting activity is part of a program that is inclusive of all youth and run with the specific goal of reducing youth violence.
  2. Competition and aggression are de-emphasized in favour of skill acquisition and social interaction.
  3. The sports program opens up other opportunities for youth such as volunteering and future employment.
  4. The coaching staff is trained in conflict resolution and dealing sensitively with youth, as well as how to manage sporting goals.
  5. The program has adequate funding to be in operation for an extended period of time.
  6. Local leaders and members of communities are consulted and included in sport schemes.
  7. Parents and teachers are included in the program and connections are made from the program to school and home life.
  8. The program gives viable opportunities for females to participate and learn in a gender-safe environment where equality is taught and respected.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada ( provides one example of sports and recreation programming that appears promising in reducing youth crime and delinquency. Run out of local facilities, including schools, religious institutions or community centres, programs typically target at-risk youth ages five to 18. Programs usually operate between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., the after-school hours in which under-supervised children are the most vulnerable.

Other key elements of Boys and Girls Clubs programs are:

More than 20 quality evaluations of Boys and Girls Clubs have been conducted. Results suggest that participation in Boys and Girls Clubs improves school performance, improves family life, reduces violent behaviour and substance abuse and helps youth avoid conflicts with the law.

Family Violence Prevention Programs

Research suggests that, every year, many Canadian children are exposed to domestic violence. For example, using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, it was estimated that one in five Canadian children ages 6-11 has witnessed domestic violence during the past 12 months (Hotton, 2003, cited in Wortley et al., Volume 5). Research has also consistently demonstrated a strong correlation between childhood exposure to domestic violence and negative life outcomes, including poor academic performance, higher levels of anxiety and depression, higher levels of aggression and violent behaviour, and higher rates of adult criminality. With these findings in mind, programs designed to assist children and families involved with domestic violence must be seen as highly significant.

Evaluation research suggests that promising intervention and prevention programs for domestic violence are characterized by:

Furthermore, programs that approach prevention from multiple perspectives (individual, family, community, etc.) appear to be the most effective at helping children deal with the trauma of family violence (Leschied, 2007, cited in Wortley et al., Volume 5). Additional research suggests that adapting family violence programs to fit diverse cultural settings is also important.

Specific domestic violence programs that have been identified as promising include the Learning Club, a 16-week counselling and mentoring program for abused women and their children; Project SUPPORT, which targets children ages 4-9 who have been exposed to inter-parental violence and are manifesting aggressive behaviour; and Kids Club, a 10-week program designed for children ages 5-13 that focuses on child resiliency and trauma recovery (Graham-Bermann and Hughes, 2003).

School-Based Programs

Young people with a weak attachment to school and poor academic performance are more likely to indulge in serious delinquency and violent behaviour. In response, school-based initiatives have been developed to prevent youth violence, and some of these programs were discussed above in the “Proven” programs section. Other promising school-based strategies include:

  1. Programs that clarify and effectively communicate norms of behaviour through school rules, consistently enforce those rules and consistently provide positive reinforcement for pro-social behaviour
  2. Programs that provide teachers with effective class management skills
  3. Programs that provide cognitively based social competence curricula
  4. Programs that deliver cognitively based conflict resolution and violence prevention curricula
  5. Programs that deliver highly structured after-school activities
  6. Programs that promote a school environment in which students feel emotionally as well as educationally supported.

The evaluation literature reveals that programs that forge a strong relationship among schools, children and parents may be particularly promising. Specific family-school partnership programs that have demonstrated positive results include:

Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers — LIFT — is a 10-week intervention program focused on preventing aggression and other conduct problems. Another program administered by the Oregon Social Learning Center, LIFT is intended to be delivered to the entire population of first and fifth grade students. However, it is especially designed for children living in economically disadvantaged, high-risk communities.

LIFT is organized around three main elements:

A high-quality evaluation of LIFT indicates that, compared to a control group, LIFT participants demonstrate significant decreases in physical aggression on the playground. Interestingly, these reductions were most pronounced for children who had rated as the most aggressive during the pre-test period. Also, when compared to a control group, teacher rating data indicate that LIFT participants had a significant increase in positive social skills and classroom behaviour.

The Seattle Social Development Project ( is a multiyear, school-based program that targets elementary school and middle-school children residing in economically deprived neighbourhoods. It provides both teacher and parent training and is designed to minimize classroom disruptions by establishing clear rules and rewards for compliance.

Evaluations indicate that this program can improve school performance, improve the quality of family relationships and reduce childhood aggression. Furthermore, by Grade 11, participants, compared to control group students, showed reduced involvement in violent delinquency and sexual activity and lower levels of both drug and alcohol consumption.

FAST Track is another comprehensive, long-term prevention program that aims to prevent chronic behavioural problems among youth from disadvantaged communities. Based on the view that anti-social and violent behaviour stems from multiple influences, the program includes the school, the family and the individual in the intervention strategy. The program spans Grades 1-6.

FAST Track has five major components: parent training, home visitations, social skills training for students, academic tutoring and classroom intervention using the PATHS curriculum discussed above.

Early evaluations of FAST Track indicate that, compared to a control group, participants scored significantly higher on parental and teacher ratings of behaviour and displayed significantly less aggressive, disruptive and oppositional behaviour in the classroom. Children in FAST Track classrooms also nominated fewer peers as being aggressive. The parents of FAST Track students were also less likely to endorse the physical punishment of their children and subsequently demonstrate more appropriate disciplinary techniques. Overall, the relationships between FAST Track students and their parents seem to be emotionally warmer and more supportive than control group samples.

The Behavioral Monitoring and Reinforcement Program is another school-based intervention that has shown positive results among juvenile populations. It targets students in the seventh and eighth grades from low-income, urban, racially mixed neighbourhoods and is designed to challenge youth cynicism about the outside world and related feelings of hopelessness and alienation.

Teachers and program staff monitor student behaviour, and students are rewarded for appropriate behaviour. Better communication among students, teachers and parents is emphasized, and staff contact parents regularly to inform them of their children’s progress. In weekly sessions, students discuss their behaviour and learn about alternatives to behaviour considered inappropriate.

Evaluations have demonstrated both short-and long-term positive outcomes. Program participants, for example, have consistently demonstrated higher grades and better attendance than control group students. Results from one-year followup studies show that BMRP students, compared with control students, have significantly lower levels of delinquency, drug abuse and school-related problems (suspensions, expulsions, absenteeism, academic failure, etc.). A five-year followup study found that, compared with control group subjects, BMRP participants were much less likely to have been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Crime Prevention Through Community Development

Crime prevention through community development is a crime prevention philosophy or orientation rather than a program. It maintains addressing crime and promoting social justice requires addressing the root causes of crime. Community development, it argues, can do this by changing negative influences within the social, economic, educational and environmental domains (Bursik and Grasmick, 1993, cited in Wortley et al., Volume 5).

According to recent research (Acosta and Chavis, 2007, cited in Wortleyet al., Volume 5):

Community development occurs when community residents establish their own organizations to support long-term community problem-solving, with the goals of improving the quality of life for all residents, reducing social inequalities such as poverty and racism, upholding democratic values, encouraging residents to reach their potential, and creating a sense of community in which people work together to accomplish goals.

Compared to individual programs, the community development philosophy provides a much more comprehensive and sustainable model for crime prevention. One comprehensive community development model is known as the “Weed and Seed” strategy, typically accomplished through four interconnected strategies:

  1. Law enforcement “weeds out” violent offenders by coordinating and integrating efforts in high-crime neighbourhoods. Special anti-violence units or guns and gangs task forces may be used.
  2. Community policing is used to repair the damage done by aggressive policing tactics. Community policing efforts are also used to increase community involvement in crime prevention and increase community confidence in the criminal justice system.
  3. Prevention, intervention and rehabilitation strategies are developed and implemented to address the risk and protective factors associated with neighbourhood crime and violence.
  4. Neighbourhood revitalization and restoration efforts are fully supported and implemented. Economic development initiatives are used to strengthen community institutions and revitalize physical, educational, economic, social and recreational conditions within specific communities (Acosta and Chavis 2007, cited in Wortley et al., Volume 5).

However, according to the evaluation literature, Weed and Seed initiatives have been only somewhat successful, often because governments heavily fund “weeding” without adequately funding “seeding.” For example, a recent analysis revealed that over two-thirds of the financial resources extended for gang reduction in Los Angeles were allocated to police suppression efforts. Less than a third was allocated to community crime prevention or community development (Justice Policy Institute, 2007, cited in Wortley et al., Volume 5). Under such circumstances, individual criminals and gang members are arrested and convicted, only to be replaced by the next generation of offenders who have experienced the same levels of economic and social marginalization as their predecessors.

Furthermore, research indicates that unless they are accompanied by strong community policing and community development initiatives, overly aggressive policing tactics can have a negative impact on community conditions, contribute to the alienation and frustration of minority youth, and ultimately contribute to violent crime. One study, for example, found that heavy-handed suppression efforts could increase gang cohesion and aggravate police-community tensions (Justice Policy Institute 2007; Decker 2007; Skogan 2006; Klein and Maxson 2006, all cited in Wortley et al., Volume 5).


The discussion above has highlighted the characteristics of proven and promising programs. Looking at the broad spectrum of programs that seem to help reduce youth violence through crime prevention, it’s clear there is no single, perfect program that will prevent violence and criminality for all youth. Rather, an individualized case management strategy may be the most promising way of dealing with individuals, and many youth may require more than one type of program to avoid violence and other negative life outcomes. We do believe, however, that it is possible to describe general principles that should be considered when developing crime prevention and violence reduction strategies. These include:

Section 2: Programs From Other Jurisdictions

We turn now to activities in other jurisdictions both to provide a context for Ontario’s activities and to glean lessons from their experience. In particular, we will look at the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, and the United Kingdom, which we visited in the spring of 2008.

Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador

We have identified poverty as an underlying root of the immediate risk factors of violence involving youth. Two provinces, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, have in recent years implemented comprehensive anti-poverty strategies. Each strategy shares certain key elements, including a broad focus on both the social and economic context of poverty, multi-year action plans, and a clear framework for administering programs and evaluating progress. Some of these are also important to the United Kingdom’s approach to poverty and racism, which we will discuss in the following section.


In 2002, Quebec’s National Assembly adopted Bill 112, An Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion. A report prepared for the Parliamentary Information and Research Service (PIRS), Poverty Reduction Strategies in Quebec and in Newfoundland and Labrador, describes the legislation as establishing “‘a national strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion’ that ‘is intended to progressively make Quebec, by 2013, one of the industrialized nations having the least number of persons living in poverty’” (Collin, 2007:2, citing An Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion, R.S.Q. L-7, c. II, s. 4).

According to the PIRS report, the Act requires the provincial government to develop a comprehensive action plan for reducing poverty with specific targets and evaluation measures and the Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity to submit an annual progress report for activities undertaken under the action plan. The Act also calls for the establishment of an advisory committee on the prevention of poverty and social exclusion, a research centre on poverty and social exclusion, and a fund to support social initiatives dedicated to combating poverty and social exclusion

To fulfil these obligations, the Quebec government allocated $2.5 billion over five years in its 2004-2005 Budget toward the anti-poverty initiatives outlined in its poverty action plan. Many of these initiatives were economic, such as adjustments to social assistance benefits, a minimum wage increase and a new refundable tax credit for low-income families with children. Other proposals focused on the social context of poverty, such as improved access to affordable housing, the settlement of immigrants and members of visible minority groups, the continued development of high-quality early learning and child care services, support programs for young parents and children, and programs to support academic success and literacy programs in underprivileged areas.

The Quebec government has continued to expand funding for anti-poverty programs. For example, its 2008-2009 Budget Plan, “... stipulates the creation of a new $400million fund over ten years for projects that foster the development of children age 5 and under living in poverty. The new fund will receive $15 million per year from the government and $25 million per year from the Fondation Lucie et André Chagnon, for a total of $400 million over the next ten years. The government’s contribution to the fund will be paid out of tobacco tax revenues” (Quebec, 2008: E. 53).

It is premature to judge the success of Quebec’s poverty and social exclusion strategy when it is still five years from its target completion date. It is true that the overall proportion of Quebec’s population living on low incomes fell steadily from 1997 to 2005, but the PIRS report cited above claims the main reason for this decrease is economic growth (Collin, 2007: 7). We believe, however, that Quebec has shown vision and leadership by making poverty reduction a provincial priority and by following through with the resources and supports to ensure that its comprehensive reforms are implemented.

Newfoundland and Labrador

As with the previous section, the following program descriptions are based on the PIRS report cited above.

The report notes that in December 2006, Newfoundland and Labrador became the second province to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, which aims to transform the province from the highest-poverty region in Canada to the lowest by 2016. In its 2005 Budget speech, even prior to official adoption of the strategy, the government said it would address “the connections between poverty and gender, education, housing, employment, health, social and financial supports, and tax measures, as well as the link between women’s poverty and their increased vulnerability to violence” (Newfoundland and Labrador, 2005, cited in Collin, 2005). The action plan flowing from the strategy set as goals improving access and coordination of services for those with low incomes, establishing a stronger social safety net, improving earned incomes, increasing emphasis on early childhood development and taking steps to improve education levels. Much as in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador has undertaken a wide variety of initiatives, ranging from local programs to systemic changes, to reach these goals. With commitments made in its 2008 Budget, the government has earmarked an annualized investment of more than $100 million to achieve its goals (Newfoundland and Labrador, Budget speech, 2008).

The United Kingdom

While the two Canadian provinces provided us with a perspective on comprehensive anti-poverty initiatives, the United Kingdom’s experience provided us with valuable perspectives on both poverty and racism.


In 1999, Britain’s then Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly committed to reduce child poverty by one-quarter by 2004, by one-half by 2010 and completely by 2020. To achieve these goals, the British government developed a broad strategy known as the National Action Plan on Social Exclusion aimed at fighting child poverty through four key strategies: helping parents to access and participate in the workforce, providing financial support for families, ensuring children have access to excellent public services and supporting parents in their parenting role.

To give effect to these strategies, the government implemented critical policy initiatives, including substantially restructuring the tax system and providing tax credits for low-income families, providing parents with subsidies for child care and continuing education, expanding the length and compensation for parental leave and increasing the programming available for children in low-income communities. Britain also incorporated a race equality agenda in all its initiatives to address the racial realities of poverty. Specific funding is set aside to ensure that programs are serving the racialized poor throughout all levels of government and within local area partnerships.

The results of this comprehensive effort have been impressive. By 2004, Britain had increased financial support for children by £10.4 billion, or 72 per cent. Other initiatives helped about 410,000 single parents enter the workforce, while the number of children in families without jobs fell by 400,000. Overall, Britain reduced the number of children in poverty by 700,000, or 17 per cent, by 2004-05, the end of the first five years of the strategy (Child Poverty Action Group, March 2006). While this fell short of the first five-year target of a 25-per-cent reduction, it was seen by many as a significant accomplishment, and as an indication of the ways in which a commitment to targets can lead to action. Perhaps even more tellingly, in March 2008, and in the face of an economic downturn, the United Kingdom government renewed its commitment to the 2010 target of a 50-per-cent reduction. In doing so, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:

Even in today’s difficult and uncertain times, we are determined that we will not be diverted from our long-term aim — to equip our country for the challenges of the future, confront climate change and to end child poverty in this generation.

(Hansard, March 12, 2008)

Although many of Britain’s anti-poverty programs are still under evaluation, these preliminary outcomes suggest that a comprehensive, long-term poverty strategy can have a direct and profound impact upon the lives and opportunities of thousands of families and their children.


In addition to the anti-poverty measures mentioned above, the United Kingdom has also been grappling with other aspects of racial inclusion. Its Black and other minority ethnic groups experience issues similar to those in Ontario, such as racial profiling, employment barriers, poor housing, marginalization, underachievement of racialised students and the overrepresentation of minorities within the criminal justice system. Britain is also dealing with neighbourhoods of poverty and with rising youth crime. Two programs that demonstrate how the United Kingdom is responding to these challenges are outlined below.

Neighbourhood Renewal

In 2001, the United Kingdom adopted its Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal: National Strategy Action Plan. This renewal strategy is based on five key factors relating to urban deprivation: unemployment, crime, education failure, health and poor housing standards.

To ensure the strategy helps those it is intended to benefit, the government agency implementing the strategy adopted a Race Equality Action Plan that requires two things: race equality must be an integral component of the strategy, and Blacks and minority ethnic groups must benefit from this strategy. This is reflected not only in high-level policies, but also at every level of the service delivery. The hallmarks of the plan are:

Home Office and Race Equality Action Plan

The Home Office, which is the United Kingdom’s government department responsible for protecting the public from terrorism, crime and anti-social behaviour and which includes policing, adopted its Race Equality Action Plan in 2002. Some of the policing initiatives include:

Collection and Use of Data

One of the features we find most interesting about the United Kingdom’s approach to both poverty and racism is its emphasis on the collection and reporting of race-based statistics. While in Ontario there has been a concern about collecting such data, Britain have been collecting data on many issues, including race, for years. It has continued to refine and develop methods for collecting this data and uses it to inform its programs, develop policy, direct expenditures and determine priorities. Ethno-racially based data is collected, monitored and shared publicly for education, the labour market, housing, health and personal social services, the criminal justice system, perceptions of community cohesion, and culture and sport.

The collection of race-based data played a key role in developing the United Kingdom’s 2001 neighbourhood renewal strategy, outlined above. Furthermore, because the data have been collected over a long period of time, it is possible to monitor progress and judge the success of the strategy’s initiatives.

For example, a recent study, Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2007) evaluated the strategy’s progress on race equality and community cohesion. In looking at the criminal justice system, it assessed disparities identified by people over the years by looking at statistics for stops and searches, arrests, prosecution and incarceration, and reports to the public of the information collected. Progress could be judged because of several key factors:

(This last point requires some clarification. Prior to April 2003, subjects were assigned to an ethno-racial group based on the perception of the person collecting the data during “stops and searches” and arrests. When it became mandatory in April 2003 for all police services to record ethnicity, a standard system of recording was introduced into all agencies. A subject now identifies his or her ethno-racial group by choosing one of 16 categories used in the 2001 census. This allows direct comparisons between criminal justice data and census data.)

The data measured a broad range of variables, including attitudes towards crime based on how Blacks and marginalized ethnics perceived criminal justice agencies; confidence in the criminal justice system; worry about crime; experiences of crime; number of homicides; racist incidents (hate crimes); experiences of suspects; numbers of stops and searches; arrests and charges; types of offences; cautions and proceedings; sentencing, including percentage tried and convicted, acquittals, pleas; statistics concerning young offenders, such as bail conditions for each ethno-racial group; the prison population; and employment in the criminal justice system (police officers, prison officers, courts and Crown prosecution service) and ethnic representation in each category.

This wealth of data provided a means for the United Kingdom to determine where it had made progress and what challenges it faced in reaching the objective of reducing race inequalities and building community cohesion. For example, the data show young Blacks are overrepresented in the offender category and in the prison population. The government, based on this finding, has charged its Youth Justice Board with implementing action plans to achieve equal treatment at local levels for comparable offences by different ethnic groups and to deliver targeted prevention activity that substantially reduces local differences by ethnicity in recorded conviction rates.

This example demonstrates the United Kingdom’s commitment to improving its data collection methods, ensuring greater consistency, ensuring the information is shared and used to enhance public service delivery and building community confidence in the process.

Section 3: An Inventory and Analysis of Ontario Programs

The Ontario government invests billions of dollars each year in programs for children and youth. Programs address child development, youth violence, youth at risk, and education and employment opportunities for young people. In our terms of reference, the Premier asked us to consider these provincial investments and programs.

In this section, we describe how we set about compiling an inventory of existing programs, some of the challenges this presented and, in general terms, what we learned about those programs. We provide some examples of Ontario programs drawn both from the inventory and our other consultations. Finally, we suggest ways of improving the effectiveness of Ontario’s programs and services.

“Consider existing provincial investments and programs related to child development, youth violence, youth at risk, and creating educational and employment opportunities for young people.

  • Assess approaches used in other jurisdictions to evaluate potential for successful application in Ontario’s context.
  • Identify further opportunities for prevention and the rehabilitation of youth.”

from the Terms of Reference of the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence

Program Inventory

To fulfil our mandate, we compiled an inventory of provincially funded programs. We were particularly interested in programs and services that

We distributed a questionnaire (a sample is found in Appendix 4) to 14 ministries, asking them to fill out one form for each program. We thank these ministries for the invaluable information that they provided through their responses.

We also asked ministries, working through their transfer payment agencies or community groups that operate programs, to identify relevant programs in the eight neighbourhoods we visited in our Neighbourhood Insight Sessions (see Volume 3, Community Perspectives).

Our mandate is to analyze the underlying factors contributing to youth violence, not the consequences of violence that has already taken place. Our objective in conducting this program inventory was to obtain a sketch of relevant programs and services and to estimate the Ontario government’s spending on them. However, it is important to note some limitations in the information we compiled.

By July 1, 2008, we had received 341 completed questionnaires. As noted above, we know this represents only a fraction of all government-funded, youth-related programs in a typical year. However, time precluded us from pursuing a more exhaustive inquiry.

The limitations notwithstanding, the program inventory exercise was a valuable one. The responses provide a valuable cross-section of the types of youth programs operating in the province. We believe that the database compiled through this review will serve as an important resource for policy-makers and researchers. The inventory also served to confirm our impression that a very large number of government-sponsored programs are seeking to address the roots of youth violence.

Types of Program Funding

Our inventory recorded government funding as falling within one of three types: institutional, granting and community. Each is described below.

Institutional Funding

We received 13 responses in this category, which captures significant, broadly based government strategies that address youth welfare and youth justice and are initiated in government departments or major organizations. As such, they reflect high-level government spending priorities. Each strategy includes numerous programs in its budget. For example, the 2007-08 budget for Child Protection Services was $1.3 billion, and the budget for youth justice secure custody for the same year was $105.3 million. Both strategies include multiple programs, but individual program details (including information about evaluations) were not provided.

Granting Programs

Fifty responses came from foundations, councils or other agencies that receive government funds, which they then allocate to the wider community through program grants. The Ontario Trillium Foundation, for example, receives approximately $100 million each year. It reviews grant proposals and ultimately distributes funds to well over 1,000 community grants in four sectors: arts and culture, the environment, human and social services, and sports and recreation. As with the institutional funding strategies responses, granting program responses did not capture specific programs.

Table 1 shows how the 50 granting programs distribute their funds.

Table 1: Grant Distribution by Program Type
Supporting Sports, Recreation, Arts or Cultural Programs (includes 13 that support only arts and culture programs) 27
Increasing Community Safety 5
Supporting General Youth Development through Mentorship, Counselling or Training 5
Assisting Suspended or Expelled Students 3
Supporting Anti-Bullying Initiatives 3
Supporting Youth Employment or Training Programs 3
Capital Grants Programs 2
Increasing Community Use of Schools 1
Supporting Early Childhood Development 1

The 2007-08 budgets for these granting programs ranged from $30,300 for Thunder Bay’s Safer and Vital Communities Grant Program to over $1 billion for the Ministry of Children and Youth Service’s Early Childhood Development programs.

Young people were involved in program design or delivery in nine (18 per cent) of these programs and in program administration in seven (14 per cent) of them. More than half of the 50 granting programs did not coordinate their activities with other government agencies.

Based on information in the 50 responses, it would appear that most granting programs have not been formally evaluated. (A discussion of evaluation methodologies and criteria was presented earlier in this chapter.) Eight (16 per cent) were evaluated by program or ministry staff and 14 (28 per cent) were evaluated by an outside consultant. Only seven (14 per cent) had produced a final evaluation report. Many of the evaluations focused exclusively on finances (whether grants were spent properly) or provided a general summary of program usage (e.g., the number of clients served by funded programs in a given year). The evaluations rarely examined whether the granting program had an impact on youth development, youth engagement or youth violence. Only one (two per cent) evaluation employed a pre-test/post-test design and only two (four per cent) used a control group.

Community Programs

Of the 341 responses we received, by far the largest number (278) described community programs active in the field. Some 60 per cent were offered throughout the province, with the balance offered only in specific communities.

Program Types

Table 2 shows the 278 community programs in our inventory by program type.

Table 2: Types of Community Programs Identified in the Inventory Exercise
Youth Centres 2
Sports/Recreation Programs 4
Anti-Violence Training Programs 5
Housing Assistance Programs 5
Substance Abuse Treatment 7
Health Centres/Healing Lodges 8
Anti-Bullying Programs 9
Mental Health Treatment Programs 11
Youth Justice/Diversion Programs 13
Community Education/Training 16
Arts and Culture Programs 21
Employment/Career Development 22
Early Childhood Development 29
Assistance for Crime Victims 37
Youth Development Programs 37
Family Violence Programs 52

Budget Ranges of Community Programs ( per cent of the 278 program sample)
less than $50K: 19.7 per cent
$50K-100K: 21.4 per cent
$100K-500K: 23.2 per cent
$500K-$1 million: 8.9 per cent
$1 million +: 21.8 per cent
$10 million +: 3.2 per cent

Clients and Administration in Community Programs
Range Mean
Clients served annually 10 to 60,000 1,400
Age Infants to seniors 24
Paid staff 0 to 378 56
Volunteers 0 to 275 12

Youth Involvement in Community Programs (per cent of the 278 programs)
Administration 13.5 per cent
Design 23.0 per cent
Implementation 38.5 per cent

Funding and Administration

Annual budgets for the 278 programs varied widely — from $5,750 for a public library children’s and teens’ services program to more than $394 million for the Children and Youth Mental Health Fund. Of these, 108 (38.8 per cent) had additional funding from sources other than the Ontario government.

Approximately 70 per cent had fewer than 10 paid staff. Almost half the responses received (48.0 per cent) did not specify the number of volunteers associated with the program. As with granting programs, youth involvement in community program development and implementation was quite limited.


Most programs in our inventory had multiple objectives — an average of 7.8 major objectives per program. The majority of the objectives did not deal directly with the issue of youth violence, but rather with the root causes of violent behaviour. Some of the frequently cited objectives were “improve relations between youth and adults,” “improve relations between young people,” “improve levels of youth engagement” and “provide mentorship and role models to youth.”

Coordination Among Agencies

Slightly more than half of the community programs in our inventory (54.0 per cent) indicated that they try to coordinate their activities with other agencies and organizations. The scope of this study did not allow for determining the extent of and effectiveness of coordination efforts, but this important issue could be the subject of a future study.


Table 3 summarizes our findings with respect to the evaluation of community programs. As noted above, a discussion of evaluation methodologies and criteria is provided earlier in this chapter.

Table 3: Program Evaluation
Method of evaluation percent*
• No evaluation 60
• Preliminary report 22
• Final report 17
• Evaluated by program staff 52
• Evaluated by ministry officials 31
• Evaluated by an outside consultant 21

*These numbers do not add up to 100 per cent because programs often used different combinations of evaluation processes. For example, 30 (10.8 per cent) of the 278 community programs in our inventory used a pre-test/post-test design, 24 (8.6 per cent) employed an outside researcher, and eight (2.9 per cent) used a control group in the evaluation. Six programs (2.2 per cent) were evaluated using the standard pre-test/post-test/control group design. Only three (1.1 per cent) of the 278 programs met all or most of the criteria listed earlier, using a pre-test/post-test/control group design and employing an independent consultant.

Section 4: Some Current Ontario Programs

In this final section of the chapter, we will highlight Ontario programs that have come to our attention through our program inventory discussed in Section 3, through our literature reviews or through our consultation processes. By mentioning programs here, we are not suggesting that they have been subject to high-quality evaluations or necessarily exhibit best practices. However, we think it is important to recognize that many funding agencies, and in particular the Ontario government, are supporting programs across the province, attempting to address the issues of concern to this review.

Poverty Reduction

We have identified poverty as one root of conditions that contribute to violence involving youth, so it is not surprising that we start this section with observations concerning Ontario government programs directed at poverty reduction.

The government is already active in this area; indeed, to demonstrate its efforts, it lists programs and services in the following areas: the Ontario Child Benefit, child care, early learning, education, health, skills training, minimum wage increases, affordable housing, social assistance and newcomers. Some of these are outlined in the appropriate sections below.

More significant, perhaps, is the fact that the government has established a Cabinet committee to develop “a focused strategy for reducing poverty, including associated indicators and targets.” The result, it says, will be “a real, measurable poverty reduction plan.” (Ontario, n.d.).

During the spring of 2008, as our review was completing its consultations, the Cabinet committee was visiting selected communities around Ontario, conducting its own set of consultations. The committee is scheduled to report by the end of 2008, and we can only hope that the plan it proposes is effective in addressing poverty, not only for its own sake, but also as a means of overcoming one of the key factors contributing to violence involving youth.


Recent Policy Changes

We have discussed our concerns with Ontario’s education system in Chapter 4, but we also acknowledge the Ministry of Education’s recent initiatives, such as amending the Education Act to ensure children stay in school until age 18, expanding early childhood learning, raising literacy and numeracy skills, and increasing overall student achievement.

We also note that the ministry is continuing to implement a bullying prevention strategy, which was launched in November 2005. For example, in February 2008 the Education Act was amended to make bullying an infraction for which a suspension must be considered, and the ministry enacted a provincial policy that requires every school board to have its own policies and procedures on bullying prevention and intervention.

In one development of particular interest to our review, the ministry, in its February 2008 amendments to the Education Act, has recognized that the Act’s original “safe schools” provisions had a disproportionate impact on racialized students and students with disabilities. Schools must now consider mitigating factors, often particularly relevant to racialized students and students with disabilities, before expelling or suspending a student. They must provide students who are expelled or placed on a long-term suspension (five days or more) with an alternative education program while they are not attending school. Parents or guardians must be notified of the length and reason for the suspension and the right of appeal, and there must be an investigation and report to the school board if expulsion is recommended. While it is too early to judge the overall effect of these changes, we believe they appear to be important steps in the right direction.

The ministry also reached an agreement with the Ontario Human Rights Commission that sets out a mutual commitment to ensuring that every student will reach the highest level of achievement that his or her ability and willingness to work hard permits. It tries to address concerns that curricula, guidance and counselling services, and teaching and administrative staffing have not been culturally sensitive or representative. For example, in accordance with the agreement, professional development for school board educators and support staff is expected to begin next spring. The training will focus on anti-racism, anti-homophobia, gender-based violence and all the grounds of prohibited discrimination in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The ministry’s equity strategy, which we understand is about to be released, is designed to help boards, schools and the ministry create an inclusive education system, and promote and provide the conditions of acceptance and respect for all. This training will supplement existing diversity-related professional development, such as ministry-funded programs and workshops offered by teacher federations connecting equity issues across the curriculum, Aboriginal perspectives, anti-homophobia and anti-racism and related topics.

Another significant development is the recent initiative of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), also as a result of an agreement with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, to collect more specific data on students. When this data collection indicated a 40-per-cent dropout rate among Black students, the TDSB announced measures to reduce the rate to 15 per cent within five years and to place extra youth workers and other staff to reach out to parents in 25 low-performing schools. We see this as a positive example demonstrating that racial data can be collected and used to effect change.

Education Funding

Ministry of Education

The provincial government spends a significant amount of money on education through operating grants to school boards and other programs designed to meet particular needs, and the amount has been increasing. For example, between 2003–04 and 2007–08, the Ministry of Education’s operating grants to school boards grew by 27 per cent, from $9.3 billion to $11.8 billion, an average increase of more than five per cent per year in those five years.

The amounts mentioned above include Ministry of Education funding for several programs of interest to this review.

Learning Opportunities Grants

Grants totalling more than $400 million (2007–08) provide funding for school board programs to help students who show an elevated risk of poor academic achievement. Services include remedial reading, breakfast/lunch programs, tutors, before-and after-school programs, counsellors, education assistants, literacy and numeracy programs, and homework clubs.

Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership

With funding of $26.5 million (2007–08), this program provides support to elementary schools whose student achievement scores are low, static or declining.

Safe Schools Strategy

This program, with an investment of more than $70 million, provides several programs to help students feel safer in school and on school grounds. It includes the bullying prevention strategy mentioned earlier and other programs to reduce incidents of youth violence. The urban and priority high schools component of this program, introduced in the 2008 Ontario Budget, provides $10 million annually for selected urban secondary schools, with $200,000–$500,000 going to some 20-50 schools annually.

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Offered through Ontario’s secondary school system, this program provides cooperative education and workplace-based experiences in the skilled trades to high school students. It encourages young people to enter apprenticeship training while in school or after graduation, stay in school to complete high school diploma requirements, and enter other post-secondary programs leading to technical occupations, including those offered by community colleges. In 2006–07, the ministry provided $8.5 million for about 24,500 participants.

Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, in addition to operating grants for colleges and universities that are expected to total about $4 billion in each of 2007–08 and 2008–09, has other programs with a bearing on our area of interest.

First Generation Projects and Bursaries Program

This program provides funding for projects run by colleges, universities and community-based organizations that encourage first generation students (i.e., those whose parents did not participate in post-secondary studies) to pursue a post-secondary education. It also provides bursaries for first generation students in financial need who are attending Ontario universities or colleges of applied arts and technology. The government invested almost $10 million in First Generation Projects and Bursaries from 2005-07, and in June 2007 announced a further $30 million over the next three years; 10 per cent of that amount is for bursaries.

Grants for Crown Wards

Included in the First Generation Projects and Bursaries Program described above are grants for current and former Crown wards. In 2007–08, the ministry started reimbursing eligible post-secondary tuition fees for Crown wards and former Crown wards in the first two years of their programs. As of 2008–09, the ministry is extending Access Grants to years three and four, and to students enrolled in programs of two years or less. All of first year tuition is covered, and up to $3,000 in eligible expenses in the following years.

Student Assistance Programs

Student support programs, such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program, provide grants and loans to students with a demonstrated need. Funding for student support is estimated to be nearly $522 million in 2008–09.

Non-Government Programs

During our consultations, we learned of many programs that support Ontario’s education system but do not fall under a provincial ministry, although they may receive some of their funding from government sources. Some provide before- and after-school activities, some are active in the classroom, and some provide mentoring. Here are three such programs, as a sample of what’s available in Ontario communities.

Frontier College

Founded in 1899, Frontier College’s first mission was to send “labourer-teachers” to work and teach in Canada’s frontier regions. These individuals provided education and training to a labour force that was mostly uneducated, illiterate and often exploited.

Frontier College expanded its mandate after the Second World War, and today, it continues to provide tutoring and literacy programs with a particular emphasis on supporting marginalized individuals and communities across the country.

Among these programs are several focused on supporting vulnerable youth. For example, Beat the Street offers literacy upgrading, a General Educational Development (GED) preparation course and computer skills training to street youth in Toronto. Its objectives include providing the skills and knowledge that will:

Frontier College also runs Aboriginal Literacy Summer Camps for children and youth ages 6–16 in First Nation communities in northern Ontario. Each three-week camp provides various literacy-based activities, such as reading, writing and singing, that incorporate and celebrate the traditions and cultures of each community. Parents, elders and other community members all participate in the camps.

The college works with community-based groups and organizations to set up Homework Clubs for children and teenagers. At Homework Clubs, students meet with volunteer tutors to read books, write stories, do homework, play word games — anything that will improve their reading and writing abilities. Tutors and students meet at least weekly. These relationships both improve the students’ literacy skills and, critically, provide them with a positive attachment to an older mentor.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the Cycle ( is a youth gang exit and leadership project developed by the Canadian Training Institute, a Toronto-based not-for-profit organization that undertakes research, provides training and develops projects involving the criminal justice system and related disciplines. It recruits youth ages 15 to 23 who are or have been involved in youth gang activity, and who are unemployed or not attending school. Still in the pilot stage, the project gives priority to residents of Toronto’s North Etobicoke neighbourhood.

Participants receive two weeks of intensive training and one week of followup sessions designed to make it more likely that they will leave or remain away from gangs, resist using alcohol or other drugs, make more pro-social lifestyle choices and resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. Overall, the program aims to improve participants’ chances of success in school, training or employment.

Following the initial sessions, participants may choose to return to school or seek employment. Others, however, have the opportunity of participating in a further 25-week program with additional training and peer support. Called the Youth Ambassador Employment Preparation Project, this second phase of Breaking the Cycle allows youth to develop their leadership skills while working in the community at a variety of anti-youth gang initiatives, including making presentations or being part of planning groups.

Roots of Empathy

Roots of Empathy works toward reducing bullying and aggression among school children by raising their social and emotional competence and increasing empathy. It is run primarily in kindergarten to Grade 8 at participating schools. Rather than targeting the victims of bullying, the program focuses on helping all children gain insight into how others feel and develop a sense of social responsibility. It has resulted in a dramatic decrease in bullying in participating schools.

A neighbourhood parent visits a classroom with an infant every three weeks during the school year. An instructor coaches the students in observing the baby’s development and identifying the baby’s feelings, thus using the baby’s actions and emotions to help children develop “emotional literacy.” Social inclusion and consensus-building are also built into the discussions. To encourage awareness of cultural and ethnic diversity, the baby and parent are often of different ethnicities from the students. The children also have the opportunity to observe responsible and loving parenting.


The Ontario government delivers health programs primarily through two ministries, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and the Ministry of Health Promotion. Health is the largest single category of spending for the government.

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Public Health Units

The ministry provides more than $527 million for Ontario’s 36 public health units. These services include programs related to children and youth, such as healthy lifestyles, communicable disease control (including education ranging from West Nile virus to sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS), immunization and healthy growth and development (including parenting education). They also offer health education for all age groups.

Community Health Centres

There are 54 Community Health Centres across the province. Their programs address the risks associated with poverty through prenatal/postnatal support programs. Other programs include sponsorship of community kitchens and food-buying cooperatives, self-help groups related to family violence, drop-ins for street youth and support to find employment and family counselling. The ministry’s total spending in 2006–07 for all Community Health Centres was over $193 million. The centres may also apply for funding from other sources.

Ministry of Health Promotion

Dental Care for Low-Income Families

The ministry has four programs providing dental care for low-income families and their children, with total spending of over $220 million.

Healthy Eating and Active Living Strategy

This ministry program provides $10 million annually to fund programs intended to reduce child obesity. The ministry’s Communities in Action Fund provides grants totalling $7.5 million annually to non-government organizations that seek to increase participation in community sport, recreation and physical activity.

Mental Health

Ministry of Children and Youth

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services has been steadily increasing its budget related to the mental health of children and youth. In 2008–09, the estimate increased by more than $20 million to about $444 million.

Mental Health Centres

The ministry operates two centres directly (the Child and Parent Resource Institute in London and Thistletown Regional Centre in Toronto) for children and youth up to age 18 who have social, emotional, behavioural or psychiatric problems. The ministry also provides funding to numerous centres and hospital-based outpatient programs for assessment; counselling; individual, group and family treatment; and parent education and support.

Non-Government Programs

As noted earlier under Education, we often learned about programs that support youth activities that do not fall under a provincial ministry, although they may receive some government funding. Here are two more in that category.

Stop Now and Plan (SNAP)

SNAP addresses angry, aggressive, and anti-social behaviour in children. It also targets children at risk of entering the youth justice system and thus fills a gap in the availability of mental health services for young children in conflict with the law. Both conditions are being seen in children at increasingly earlier ages. The program teaches children to think before they act and to identify and control their behaviour. It also helps parents to learn to apply appropriate and helpful discipline.

SNAP is one component of a three-stage approach to help children who are showing aggressive and anti-social behaviours. The components are:

The evaluation of SNAP has been favourable. It has been recognized as an exemplary program and is being used internationally. However, it is not yet widely available in Ontario.

CAMH Substance Abuse Program

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto offers the Substance Abuse Program for African-Canadian and Caribbean Youth. It offers culturally sensitive supports for Black youth ages 13-24 and their families, including assessment, family support, community-based youth groups, presentations on alcohol and other drugs, mental health services and youth advocacy. All program staff are of African or Caribbean heritage and are trained to address substance abuse and mental health issues specific to Black youth and their families. A Program Advisory Committee (university professors, doctors, directors, consultants, parents, youth workers and lawyers) representing the African-Canadian and Caribbean community guides the program.

Youth Justice

Three Ontario ministries fund different parts of the youth criminal justice system in Ontario: the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services oversees policing in Ontario. However, costs concerning youth-related programs, including those of the Ontario Provincial Police and municipal police, are not aggregated at the provincial level. We do know, however, that according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the total cost of policing in Ontario in 2006 was $3.4 billion. Some elements of the youth justice system attribute about 10 per cent of their total costs to youth programs, while others suggest estimates of up to 25 per cent. On that basis, we have chosen a middle ground and are choosing to estimate the cost of youth-related police activities in Ontario at $500 million. We must emphasize that this is only an approximation.

Based on data from the other two ministries, we were able to identify an additional $355 million in funding associated with youth justice. Details are provided in the following table.

Table 4: Government of Ontario Justice System Funding Associated With Youth
Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
Policing Costs (estimated) $500 million
Ministry of the Attorney General:
Court Services $28 million
Prosecutions $30 million
Legal Aid $17 million
Youth Justice Committees $4 million
Ministry of Children and Youth Services:
Custody* $163 million
Probation $40 million
Diversion $22 million
Alternatives to Custody $28 million
Community Programs $22 million
African Canadian Youth Justice program $0.7 million
*Includes cost of open and secure custody and pretrial detention
Estimated Total Spending $854.7 million

The following are a few of the programs that contribute to this amount.

Alternatives to Custody, Community Intervention and Reintegration Programs

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services operates 156 programs related to alternatives to custody and community interventions, including restorative justice, extrajudicial measures, attendance centres and reintegration programs. In 2007–08, there were 184 programs with an estimated budget of more than $28 million. Diversion programs in 2007–08 accounted for a further $22 million.

The ministry funds other community programs and services, such as youth mental health court workers, community service orders and other reintegration programs. After serving more than 14,000 youth in 2006–07, the ministry reorganized the programs for 2007–08, resulting in 194 programs and an estimated budget of nearly $22 million.

Youth Justice Committees

The Ministry of the Attorney General funds youth justice committees in an effort to reduce repeat offences. The committees are made up of volunteers in the community who work with local agencies and participants in the criminal justice system.

Youth justice committees may become involved when a young person, aged 12-17, is alleged to have committed a low-risk offence. Police may refer the young person to a committee before, or the Crown may refer after, a charge is laid. The youth must be willing to participate in the program, be aware of his or her rights and options and be prepared to accept accountability.

Regardless of the source of the referral, the youth justice committee will bring together the youth, his or her parent or parents, the victim and trained members of the community. In each case, they negotiate an appropriate way for the young person to make amends. This can include an apology, community service, a written project, paying back or doing tasks for the victim, and/or voluntary participation in counselling programs such as anger-management.

There are 57 youth justice committees in Ontario. Each is eligible for up to $70,000 per year, with a total program expenditure of more than $4 million annually. In 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, there were almost 3,200 referrals to these committees.

Community Policing and Crime Prevention

Although, as stated earlier, our estimate for youth-related policing costs is only an approximation, we know that police services do devote substantial resources to youth programs.

For example, through its $30-million Community Policing and Crime Prevention Grants program, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services provides a large number of small grants, which fund counselling, drug awareness and other programs. The amount of funding for youth programming under this initiative varies from year to year.

Other Police Programs

Project PEACE

Project PEACE (Public Education And Crime Eradication) is an initiative of the Toronto Police Service to keep guns out of the hands of youth and youth out of the reach of gangs. Police officers work at the community level with young people, schools and community groups to develop strategies to keep youth away from guns and gangs and make communities safer. Launched in 2005 with funding from the provincial government, Project PEACE now has funding from other partners, including the National Crime Prevention Centre.

One of its early initiatives was a gun amnesty in November 2005, which sought to remove illegal firearms from the streets. Police collected 261 guns and 1,554 rounds of ammunition.

Working with youth, Project PEACE has developed videos, education programs and workshops that address violence. It promotes alternatives to gun violence and demonstrates peaceful conflict resolution. It encourages youth to contribute their ideas, time and energy to work with police and community leaders to help create positive change in their neighbourhoods.


The Ontario Provincial Police has developed several strategies to help protect youth from Internet predators. For example, the OPP’s Youth Issues Unit has a website, (, with tip sheets and other information for children and their parents.

OPP staff also played an active role in bringing a B.C.-based interactive software program called CyberCops to Ontario. CyberCops uses games to educate children in grades 7 and 8 about the techniques that criminals use to entice and entrap children and youth into dangerous situations. The games challenge children to solve a crime based on a real-life situation. Teachers guide the classroom discussion about Internet safety, including the dangers of cyber-stalking, child pornography, fraud and bullying.

The OPP helped develop content for CyberCops in Ontario and, in partnership with the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association, delivered training to teachers on its use. The Ontario government provided financial support for development of CyberCops and distribution across the province to schools, OPP detachments and municipal police services.

Non-Government Programs

Legal Assistance

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) receives funding from the Ontario government (and other sources) to provide legal assistance to low-income people. There are several different ways of accessing legal aid services.

However, most Legal Aid Ontario funds are used in a program that provides persons who qualify for legal aid with a certificate that allows them to retain a lawyer from the private bar. Of the $98 million provided for legal assistance through criminal case certificates in 2007-08, $12.8 million related to 9,798 certificates for young offenders.

Also in 2007-08, Legal Aid Ontario provided approximately $600,000 for the Justice for Children and Youth specialty clinic.

African Canadian Legal Clinic

The African Canadian Youth Justice Program serves African-Canadian youth, aged 12-17, who are involved in the justice system in the Greater Toronto Area. Launched in 2006 and delivered by the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the program helps youth understand their rights and responsibilities and connects them and their families with community resources and supports. Youth justice workers help young people navigate the court process, and social workers assist in their successful reintegration into the community. The program receives provincial and federal funding.

The Toronto-based African Canadian Legal Clinic was established in 1994 and is funded by Legal Aid Ontario. It takes on test cases involving racial discrimination that will have a broad impact on the African-Canadian community. It also advocates on behalf of the community, often in partnership with social justice organizations, and provides legal education. The clinic is a not-for-profit organization governed by an independent board of directors chosen from the community.

Early Childhood

Ministry of Children and Youth Services

As documented elsewhere in this report, influences on youth behaviour occur well before the school years. The Ministry of Children and Youth Services funds child care in partnership with the federal government, and provides child care subsidies ($841 million in 2007–08) and other income supports. Of interest to our review, it funds several early childhood development programs for a total of nearly $170 million (2007–08).

Healthy Babies, Healthy Children

Babies and mothers are screened to detect problems that could limit a child’s abilities later in life, allowing early interventions. The program is delivered through public health units, and the cost is shared with municipalities. Other early years initiatives include programs involving preschool speech and language, infant hearing, blindness/low vision early intervention and infant development.

Early Years Centres

The ministry funds 105 Early Years Centres, some with satellite or mobile facilities, across the province for children up to age six and their parents or caregivers. Centres provide early learning activities, information about child development and referrals to other services; promote public awareness of the importance of the early years; and provide targeted programs to meet the needs of their at-risk communities.

Each centre receives about $500,000 in funding; program spending totals $65.3 million.

Families First (Peel Region)

Families First helps single, sole-support parents who are receiving welfare through Ontario Works to improve their financial position and reduce their reliance on health care and social assistance services. The program provides health and employment services and child care services to parents, and recreational opportunities for children. The program promotes healthy lifestyle activities, mental health, physical fitness, cognitive functioning and self-esteem for the children and youth. To date, over 3,000 parents who have received assistance through Ontario Works have been referred to Families First. Since July 2007, over 3,000 children have participated.

Child and Youth Protection

Ministry of Children and Youth Services

Children’s Aid Societies

Through child welfare services, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services funds 53 children’s aid societies across the province at an estimated cost of $1.38 billion in 2008–09. Children’s aid societies have a broad mandate to investigate allegations of neglect and physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and to protect children living at home or in out-of-home placements through a variety of programs. They also place children for adoption.

Extended Care and Maintenance Program

Children’s aid societies may provide care and maintenance for former Crown wards between the ages of 18 and 21 in the form of extended care and management programs. These programs provide financial and housing support, personal counselling, preparation for independence programs and access to aftercare workers based on assessment by a society. The cost of these programs are included in the overall children’s aid society funding mentioned above.

Recognizing that youth leaving care have a difficult transition to make, the government announced new funding in June 2008 to help children and youth in the care of children’s aid societies participate in learning and recreational programs that support their healthy development. The new funding, $11.5 million in 2008–09 increasing to $16.2 million in 2011–12, is the first step in a broader strategy to improve outcomes for children and youth in care. Supports will include tutoring, skills-building and recreational activities. When fully implemented, the program will provide youth ages 15-17 with savings of up to $3,300, to be held in bank accounts they can access when they leave care. They will also receive money management training to give them the skills necessary to handle their savings responsibly.

Training and Employment

The Ontario government provides many training and employment programs through its ministries. The following are examples of the larger programs.

Learning, Earning and Parenting (LEAP)

A component of the Ontario Works program (administered by the Ministry of Community and Social Services), LEAP is designed for parents ages 16-21 who are on social assistance. LEAP helps young parents complete their education, improve their parenting skills and search for employment. It includes literacy screening and training, community participation to build skills, on-the-job experience, basic education and training, job skills training and employment placement services. Financial support is available for school-related expenses. Participants in LEAP can receive additional funding for child care, transportation, tutoring, school supplies, school clothing, field trips, recreational activities and graduation fees. The program also offers a cash incentive of $500, upon graduation, toward future educational pursuits. Participation in LEAP is mandatory for 16-and 17-year-old parents and voluntary for 18-21-year-old parents who have not completed high school. LEAP works closely with public health units and the Ontario Early Years Centres.

Job Connect

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, through Employment Ontario, provides $134 million (2007–08) for this career and employment preparation program for youth. Components of the program include employment counselling and job development. Employers who hire participating youth receive a training subsidy.

Summer Jobs Service

This program, also offered through the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, allocates more than $24 million (2007–08) for free training on how to develop job-search and self-marketing skills to help students land and keep jobs. It includes a $2-per-hour incentive for employers to hire a student.

Youth Opportunities Strategy

The Youth Opportunities Strategy of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services includes a number of programs to assist youth in obtaining employment. The largest of these is Summer Jobs for Youth, which provides pre-employment readiness, employment placements and post-employment supports for youth ages 15-18 in a variety of fields for up to eight weeks during the summer. Participants receive minimum wage plus statutory benefits. In 2007–08, this program invested more than $5 million. In the same year, the total budget for the Youth Opportunities Strategy (including a youth outreach worker, a youth-in-policing program and school-based prevention/diversion programs) was nearly $11 million.

Non-Government Programs

The Boreal Institute Youth Employment Program

This youth employment program, located at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, consists of local pilot projects and a Youth Employment Community of Practice. The first local pilot project, Quick Start, was launched in 2006 with the YMCA of Greater Toronto. The YMCA recruits and trains the youth participants and places them in jobs linked with their goals. The Boreal Institute interviews youth participants, employers, job developers and community stakeholders at regular intervals to gather data on progress and provide feedback.

The Youth Employment Community of Practice brings together youth, employers, service agencies, government, small organizations and groups, policy-makers, granting agencies, unions, educational institutions, researchers, associations and networks, and other interested participants to share information and improve practices in expanding economically sustainable employment for youth experiencing social and economic exclusion.

Partnership to Advance Youth Employment (PAYE)

PAYE, a joint initiative of the City of Toronto, private sector employers and community organizations, helps find jobs for youth up to age 29 from neighbourhoods the City of Toronto has identified as having the greatest need of economic development and social services. Businesses, organizations and individuals provide jobs and act as mentors and role models to the participants. City of Toronto staff provide support and help match youth to employment opportunities. Community-based agencies provide guidance and support for youth in acquiring and maintaining employment.

In 2007, PAYE found jobs for 39 youth at 29 employers. It provided employment advice to 100 more. Two received bursaries for further education. Numbers aren’t available for 2008, but the program has expanded and plans to hold recruitment information sessions in Flemingdon Park-Victoria Village, Crescent Town, Kingston-Galloway, Kennedy Park-Eglinton East and Scarborough Village.

Youth Employment Services (YES)

YES was founded by the Rotary Club in 1968 and claims to be Canada’s oldest youth employment service. Now, much of its funding comes from the Ontario government’s Job Connect program and other provincial grants, but it also receives funding from the federal government and the City of Toronto. It has five locations across the city offering a range of employment counselling and placement services.

Youth learn about YES through word of mouth or by being referred from a Probation and Parole Office or a social service agency. The process, which may last two to 10 weeks, starts with an assessment of the individual’s needs. From there, they could go to a “job camp,” a five-week program designed to overcome barriers to employment, or they could be teamed with a job developer to start their job search.

YES reports a better than 80-per-cent success rate at placing candidates in jobs, with almost 70 per cent of them still on the job after three months. It has helped more than 40,000 young people since it was established.

The Phoenix Print Shop

This non-profit commercial print shop and training facility is located at a Toronto shelter for youth ages 15-30. Launched in 2002, the print shop gives homeless and at-risk youth the opportunity to learn basic skills (punctuality, work ethic, etc.) and obtain hands-on training in printing. They receive a three-month introduction to the print industry and a paid work placement for a minimum of a further three months. Followup supports are provided for at least two years, including professional development workshops, eligibility for $1,000 per year from the Phoenix Scholarship Fund to assist in career development or academic study, and other personal and job-related services. The print shop’s website says that, since startup, it has “connected over 100 youth with career building opportunities in the vibrant graphic communications sector. Over 80 per cent of youth who complete Foundations of Print connect with full-time work.” (

Sports, Arts and Cultural Programs

We believe that sports, arts and cultural programs can have significant and positive impacts on the development of youth, in that they can instil a sense of community and promote mutual reliance, from which a sense of self-worth and individual responsibility develops. Sports and arts programs also provide a context for setting goals and seeing the relationship between effort and results. Success in these programs can increase confidence and self-esteem among participants.

Many of the programs described below are offered in neighbourhoods that we visited during our consultations, and all include components that the academic literature identifies as important for maximizing the benefits of sports, arts and cultural programs.

Youth Serving Agencies Network’s GROW Program

This program funds year-round recreation opportunities for children from low-income families on social assistance in Hamilton. A coordinator visits the home to assess the family’s circumstances and needs and can help the family to overcome language barriers, cover transportation costs and pay registration fees. About 60 per cent of the subsidized programs involve sports and about 40 per cent, arts.

Somali Youth Basketball League

The Somali Youth Basketball League has operated in Ottawa for seven years and now has 14 teams across the city. Its objective is to promote good relations and a sense of community among youth and young adults from Somali and non-Somali backgrounds, and between them and the surrounding community. Participation encourages social interaction, cultural integration, teamwork, cooperation, communication and a sense of accomplishment. The youth at our consultations noted the league’s importance in creating networks and providing opportunities to meet youth from other parts of the city.

Arts & Heritage for All

The Community Arts and Heritage Education Project has operated Arts & Heritage for All in Thunder Bay for two years. Each year, the program brings together six organizations to develop and implement an arts and heritage program for excluded children and youth. Participating organizations include the local Boys and Girls Club, residential treatment facilities, organizations that deal with youth in secure and open custody and agencies serving young single mothers.

Children and youth choose the projects they would like to work on, ensuring that they will be engaged in projects that best serve their needs and creative energies. The program not only increases access to the arts, but also uses the arts to assist children and youth in learning about teamwork, leadership and creative and critical thinking skills.

Regent Park School of Music

Founded in 1999, the school currently (spring 2008) has 275 students in Toronto’s Regent Park. Disadvantaged children and youth ages three to 16 study music and learn to play musical instruments. They also have a choir and several small musical ensembles. Two years ago, the program created a satellite location in the Jane-Finch area, where about 100 students are learning to play piano, violin and steel drums. The music lessons are almost totally subsidized. The school also offers bursaries and scholarships and covers the cost of Royal Conservatory of Music examinations and music books.

While the students are learning music, they are also acquiring self-discipline, taking pride in their accomplishments and having positive relationships with their adult teachers. Many of the students continue in the school for several years. Students who may not otherwise have had the opportunity have gone on to attend arts high schools and college and university music programs. About 90 per cent of the school’s graduates have gone on to post-secondary education.

Youth Engagement

Grassroots Youth Collaborative

This organization is a collective of 11 culturally and racially diverse youth-led organizations working in underserved, lower-income, at-risk communities in Toronto. Member organizations reach out to young people who are typically missed by mainstream youth programming. To become a member of the Grassroots Youth Collaborative, youth ages 13-29 must be represented in all areas of the applicant organization, including positions of authority and the board of directors. Youth must also account for at least half of the organization’s volunteers and staff.

ArtReach Toronto

ArtReach Toronto Funders Collaborative is a group of arts funding agencies that includes all three levels of government. ArtReach Toronto funds projects to engage youth in underserved areas of Toronto in the arts, supporting innovative youth projects that may not have support from elsewhere. It encourages youth to take the lead in defining what art means to them and what they need from the program to achieve their goals. Guided by the principle that funding should to be accessible to youth directly, the program places ownership of projects in their hands. Youth helped to develop the program and continue to play a significant role in the granting process.

Ontario Young People’s Alliance

This provincial network promotes civic engagement among Ontario’s youth. The members are individual youth, youth-led organizations and adult-led organizations committed to strong youth programming and capacity-building. The alliance creates spaces for young people to share information, network and mobilize around issues that concern them. A “ProvincePak” with information about member activities is mailed to all members, and members can share information electronically through “MatchList.” The alliance provides youth workshops on topics such as developing and facilitating workshops, public speaking, moderating panel discussions, and organizing events and conferences to enhance their community initiatives.

Peel Youth Village

Engaging youth means making them feel part of their overall community, and that’s what’s happening at the Peel Youth Village Project. Located in Mississauga’s Acorn neighbourhood and opened in 2005, the village offers a new model for inclusive, mixed-use community development. It provides housing to 48 youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, and includes a full-service community centre for all local residents.

Local youth provided considerable input into the design of the facility, along with about 45 youth-serving agencies. A unique partnership of the three levels of government (including contributions from the National Homelessness Initiative and federal and provincial rental housing programs) funded the construction, and local corporate sponsors and collaborations helped to minimize development and construction costs. The local YMCA provides all on-site services to youth residents and community members.

Throughout this report, we have emphasized the importance of breaking down the feelings of isolation and hopelessness that can lead youth to violent behaviour. By linking at-risk youth with their communities and to comprehensive support mechanisms, the Peel Youth Village achieves this. There is no physical or programming separation between youth living in the village and the greater community, sending a powerful message that the youth are part of the community, and important assets to the community and its future.

Settlement Services

In many of our consultations, we heard about the particular problems of newcomers to our communities and the need for more services to help them adapt to their new homes. While there is no doubt this is true, it would be wrong to suggest that there are no such services already working in this area. The following are just a few examples.

YMCA Newcomer Youth Integration Program

This project focuses on youth ages 13-17 who have come to Canada within the last two years. The 12-hour program, offered on weekends, includes information sessions and recreational activities to help youth integrate into their new communities and make healthy choices when faced with decisions.

Multicultural Liaison Officer Program

Operated by the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization, this program helps immigrant children integrate successfully into Ottawa’s school system. Services are delivered directly in schools and other community locations. Multicultural liaison officers work with newcomer parents and students, ensuring that they understand their new school environment. They also work with school staff so that they are aware of the perspectives of newcomer parents. They can provide language and cultural interpretation at staff/parent/student meetings and referrals to settlement organizations, and they liaise with community organizations to improve access to community services for immigrant families.

Settlement Workers in Schools Project

Operating in six communities in Ontario, the Settlement Workers in Schools Project is a partnership of settlement agencies, boards of education and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. It works with newcomer families to familiarize them with the school system and community resources. Settlement workers contact all newcomer families to provide essential school information, referring families to appropriate school staff and to specific community services that can help ease their transition. Settlement workers in high schools also assist newcomer youth directly.

CultureLink’s Host Program

The CultureLink’s Host program in central Toronto matches immigrants with volunteers who can assist them with ordinary social, commercial, education and employment activities for four to six months. The time and friendship of the volunteers helps to ease the frustration and loneliness that newcomers often experience. The program includes a Newcomer Youth Centre, where youth can learn about community services and resources. Youth workers are available to talk with them and offer support, advice and information.


The Strengths of Ontario’s Current Approach

In this chapter, we have looked at the process for evaluating programs and described several that appear to be “proven” or “promising.” We also looked at approaches in several other jurisdictions, most notably the United Kingdom. Finally, we examined programs and spending in Ontario.

Combining the characteristics of successful, evaluated programs with our program inventory suggests that, in general, Ontario is supporting the types of programs that the academic literature has identified as either proven or promising. The research shows that, under the right circumstances, the following types of programs can significantly reduce youth involvement in crime and violence:

Furthermore, the Ontario government should be commended for moving away from many crime prevention measures that the literature has revealed as ineffective. For example, after a brief period of experimentation, it has withdrawn support for “boot camp” programs, and zero-tolerance policies in school boards are being amended.

Gaps in Ontario’s Approach to Program Funding

We are concerned, however, with the lack of high-quality evaluation in Ontario programs. We do not really know whether they are being implemented properly according to best practices, or whether high-quality programs are reaching all youth who need specific services.

Our analysis identified three potential gaps in Ontario’s violence prevention approach:

Lack of high-quality evaluation

Ontario has thousands of individual community programs that target youth, many of which have multiple goals or objectives in addition to reducing youth violence. Indeed, our inventory tells us that, on average, community programs have 7.8 major objectives. We also know, based on our sample, that almost 60 per cent of these programs carry out no evaluation at all, and only about two per cent are subject to an evaluation that comes close to being considered “high-quality.” Thus, despite their very laudable intentions, we have very little concrete evidence that these programs actually attain their objectives.

It is true that recipients of funding often resist thorough program evaluation. High-quality evaluation is expensive, and many program administrators argue that they would rather spend limited funds on program implementation and service delivery. Moreover, poor evaluation results could make it difficult to obtain future program funding, and funding agencies may be reluctant to press for evaluations to avoid criticism for supporting ineffective programs. We believe the latter two objections are more than outweighed by the benefit programs and funders could reap from high-quality evaluations. They should not be seen as a means of administering punishment, but rather as a tool for continuous improvement.

Inadequate coordination among agencies and programs

As noted, millions of dollars are distributed every year to hundreds of Ontario community organizations for developing and implementing programs to meet the needs of young people and their families. Our survey results indicate that only a little more than half of these agencies, 54 per cent, try to coordinate their activities with other agencies and organizations. One reason for this, we were told, is that agencies all too often see themselves as competitors for scarce resources. Funding organizations seldom do anything to require, or even encourage, collaboration and cooperation. As a result, there is little integration of programs and service delivery is often fragmented.

Our program inventory exercise also revealed the difficulty of compiling a complete list of the programs and services available to young people. Parents and youth must find it even more difficult than we did to identify and access the full range of programs that could meet their needs, as there is no single source of this information. Some community groups have compiled their own local directories of services, and we commend them for these efforts, but we believe a provincial clearing house would also be important.

Lack of a coherent program funding strategy

Lack of coordination between agencies can also lead to inefficient funding practices. We found numerous small projects that had received modest funding from several government ministries and other funding agencies. Some small programs consequently had quite large budgets. If funding agencies do not coordinate their funding decisions, there is no way of knowing whether or not programs are appropriately financed.

There appear to be two major approaches to funding decisions: the evidence-based model and the community expertise model. Under the evidence-based model, funding goes to programs evaluated as effective. “Proven” programs then become the standard to be replicated in other communities. This model holds that it is better to invest significant money in a few proven programs (or organizations) than to provide small amounts to numerous unique but unproven programs in specific communities.

According to the community expertise model, only community residents can accurately identify local needs and design effective programs for the community. This model emphasizes innovation and creativity in program development and implementation. Typically, numerous unique programs are developed and implemented locally, most with only modest, time-limited funding. Under this model, government resources are thinly spread across many types of programs in many different communities.

Both models seem to influence funding practices in Ontario, with individual ministries and agencies leaning toward one or the other. It makes sense to replicate and expand proven programs, but creativity and innovation that might lead to even more effective programs should also be encouraged. We believe both models have merit in appropriate settings; what is of paramount importance is that the various ministries and agencies develop mechanisms that allow them to ensure programs are appropriately funded and that their stated objectives and outcomes support an overall violence reduction strategy. It cannot be said with any certainty that this is the case at present.


Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews