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Who are Ontario's Young People?

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Adolescence is recognized as a distinct developmental stage that occurs between childhood and early adulthood. There are approximately 2.47 million young people between 12 and 25 years living in Ontario.5 This represents 18.3 per cent of our province's overall population.

There are many characteristics that distinguish Ontario's youth today. Broadly, our young people are:

An ever more important share of Ontario's population: The proportion of young people in Ontario is declining. By 2036, youth aged 12 to 25 will make up 16 per cent of the population. Indeed, the share of Ontario's working age population aged 15 to 64 is shrinking (from 69.3 per cent in 2013 to 60.4 per cent in 2036). These trends mean that Ontario's prosperity rests on the shoulders of a smaller share of the population.6

Well-educated: Ontario youth have high high-school completion rates7 and very high postsecondary graduation rates – the highest among the 30 developed countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.8 Our young people also have strong skills in emerging fields such as technology, and social enterprise.

Culturally and geographically diverse: Ontario is a large province that is home to one of the most multicultural and diverse populations in the world. More than one million of the province's young people 24 years and under – and nearly 26 per cent of youth aged 13 to 24 – belong to a visible minority group.9 Approximately 19 per cent of youth aged 15 to 24 in Ontario are immigrants and 5.7 per cent have just arrived in Canada in the past five years.10

Young Ontarians also live in diverse communities across the province – including major cities, small towns, on reserves and in remote regions.

Youth aged 13 to 24 who identify as South Asian, Chinese, and African-Canadian represent the largest proportions of visible minority youth.11

Technologically connected: The way young people spend their time and connect using technology and social media is changing the way they learn and process information, the nature of the relationships they have with friends and the ways in which they participate and express their opinions.

Ninety-eight per cent of Canadian youth access the Internet and have email accounts.12 Sixty-four per cent of Ontario female students, and fifty-three per cent of male students, in grades 9-10 report spending at least two hours every day chatting online.13 Seventy per cent of 12 to 29 year olds report spending time on social networking websites.14

Looking for ways to be engaged: We know young people want to participate in decisions that will impact their lives. Overall, Ontarians aged 15 to 24 have higher rates of participation in community, cultural, recreational or school-related organizations and activities than the rest of the population.15 In 2010, 58 per cent of Ontario's youth aged 15 to 24 participated in volunteer activities, each contributing an average of 167 volunteer hours (that is an average of 127 hours more than the province's high school graduation requirement).16 At the same time, we know that there are many youth in Ontario who are disengaged from their communities. These youth may face barriers to participation or may not feel that there are enough opportunities that relate to their interests.

Preparing for challenging careers: Today's youth are likely to work many jobs in their lifetime and even have multiple careers. Increasingly, youth are developing a wider set of interpersonal and creative skills to help them succeed in the modern workplace and drive the economy.17

Youth were hard hit in the recent economic downturn. Almost 45 per cent of all Ontario job losses from the 2008-2009 recession came from youth.18 Today, Ontario's youth employment remains 96,600 jobs below the pre-recession peak in 2007 and the youth unemployment rate, at 16.9 per cent, remains considerably higher than in the pre-recession years.19

Facing health and wellness issues: Research suggests that today's young people will not necessarily be healthier than their parents. Childhood obesity rates for Canadian children between two and 17 years have increased from 15 per cent in 1979 to 26 per cent in 2004.20 Approximately one in five of Ontario's children and youth experience mental health concerns.21

Taking longer to gain independence: Research shows that, on average, the transition to adulthood has become longer and more complex than for previous generations. Many Ontario youth are staying in school longer, living at home for prolonged periods, and taking longer to marry and gain economic independence.22 For some youth, these choices may have a cultural dimension.

In 2011, 42.3 per cent of young Canadians aged 20 to 29 lived with their parents, compared to 26.9 per cent nearly two decades ago.23

Living in busy families: Changes in family structure over the past 30 years have impacted the ways that young people interact with their parents, siblings and extended families in the home. For example, single-parent families are on the rise. Families today lead busy lives, often with both parents working outside the home. For many families, finding time in their schedules to spend together is difficult.

Over the past 25 years, the number of one-parent families has steadily increased to 16.3 per cent of Canadian families in 2011.24 Families are also reporting spending less time together. On a typical day in 2005, 34.8 per cent of teenagers aged 15 to 17 shared a meal with their parents, a significant drop from 63.7 per cent in 1992.25

Understanding the Needs of All Youth

The majority of Ontario's young people are thriving. At the same, we know that many youth in Ontario face multiple barriers and need some help to reach their full potential. We recognize that some groups of youth have unique circumstances, challenges and needs and we want to acknowledge the individual strengths and voice they bring to this framework. These youth may need more targeted supports and opportunities to ensure they are able to succeed.

Reflecting a holistic perspective of youth, we want to acknowledge that some of Ontario's most vulnerable youth belong to more than one of the groups discussed here – and this can result in complex challenges and identities. In addition, we also know that personal characteristics – such as gender – can impact a young person's experiences across these areas.

Racialized youth: We know that racialized youth face challenges with marginalization, racism, employment barriers, education setbacks, and social and cultural isolation that can have a negative impact on their development. Racialized youth in Ontario have lower rates of employment and higher rates of poverty than the rest of the population.26 They also face risks of racial profiling and discrimination in their daily lives, which can lead to disengagement and mistrust of public institutions.27 We know that addressing racism and improving access to culturally-appropriate services and programs can often provide support to these youth.

As the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence states, "Racialized groups are highly diverse, and the manifestations of racism affect them differently... Racism strikes at the core of self-identity, eats away the heart and casts a shadow on the soul. It is cruel and hurtful and alienating. It makes real all doubts about getting a fair chance in this society. It is a serious obstacle imposed for a reason the victim has no control over and can do nothing about."28

Newcomer youth: The needs and life experiences of immigrant, refugee and first generation youth are unique as they adapt to a new culture and environment in Canada. Youth who are new to Canada may speak English as a second language, may have past experiences with trauma, and may have extra responsibilities at home as they are often relied on to support their parents in navigating systems and services in their communities. Studies have also found that newcomers are more likely to experience discrimination when seeking employment.29 Further, we know that "undocumented" youth (youth without immigration status) living in Ontario are especially vulnerable and are without access to many of the services needed to protect health and wellbeing.30

Aboriginal youth: There is great diversity among Aboriginal peoples in Ontario – including First Nations living on and off-reserve, Métis, Inuit, and urban Aboriginal populations – each having a distinct culture, history, and experiences. Aboriginal young people represent the largest and fastest growing population of youth across Canada. Almost half of the Aboriginal population in Ontario (43 per cent) is under age 24, compared to one-third (32 per cent) of the non-Aboriginal population.31

We know that some Aboriginal youth in Ontario face complex challenges relating to issues such as poverty, housing, and barriers to education and employment. Many youth and families also face social issues often resulting from the inter-generational effects of residential schools, such as cultural disconnection, mental health issues and addictions, and parenting challenges. We also know that many Aboriginal youth are looking towards a positive future for their children and grandchildren. Services and programs that are culturally based and holistic in approach are important to ensuring these youth can feel supported and connected. Aboriginal youth are working to support local social and economic growth, and want to lead their communities into a bright and successful future.32

Ontario is developing a multi-year Aboriginal Children and Youth Strategy to transform the way services are delivered to children and youth. The strategy is being developed through engagement with First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Aboriginal partners. The strategy will seek to better meet the needs of Aboriginal children and youth by building community-driven, integrated and culturally appropriate supports. Recommendations from the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare and former Ontario Aboriginal Advisor to the Minister of Children and Youth Services, John Beaucage, will inform the development of the strategy.

Youth with disabilities or special needs: Many young people in Ontario are living with disabilities and special needs – including those who have physical or developmental disabilities, those with chronic conditions, those with a learning disorder and those who have difficulty seeing, hearing or speaking.33

We know that youth living with disabilities or special needs in Ontario have a lot to offer their communities. However, we also know that they face barriers and challenges relating to accessibility and social inclusion. These young people may be more vulnerable to abuse, living in poor housing, living below the poverty line, being bullied, and being unemployed. Gaining access to disability friendly environments plays an important role in supporting youth with disabilities or special needs to thrive.

In 2006, 3.8 per cent of children and youth between 0 and 14 years of age in Ontario were reported as living with a disability that limited their daily activities.34 Approximately 24 per cent of young people aged 5 to 14 with a disability are reported as having a chronic condition, 22 per cent have a learning disability, and about 14 per cent have a speech disorder.35

Youth in and leaving care: In 2012, more than 8,300 children and youth were living in care in Ontario.36 Research shows that youth leaving care face more challenges in reaching the milestones of positive development, including completing education and gaining employment.37, 38, 39 We know that some groups of young people are over-represented in the child welfare system, including Aboriginal youth. Approximately 68 per cent of children and youth in care are diagnosed as special needs and 93 per cent have been noted to have behavioural difficulties.40 Studies have shown that the challenges that youth in care face have a profound impact on their ability to succeed in school (only 42 per cent of youth in care graduate from school by the age of 20).41

In July 2012, the Youth Leaving Care Working Group was created by the Minister of Children and Youth Services and the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. The Working Group was given the mandate to develop an action plan for improving the Ontario child welfare system. The plan, "Blueprint for Fundamental Change," was released in January 2013.

LGBTTQ youth: Ontario is home to many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer young people (LGBTTQ) who have important perspectives to offer their communities. We know that LGBTTQ youth are more likely to experience discrimination, verbal assault and physical violence than their peers. We also know that LGBTTQ youth are more likely to face challenges with mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.

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Francophone youth: One in four francophones in Ontario are under the age of 25. Almost one in two young Franco-Ontarians live in Eastern Ontario, close to the Quebec border.42 Young francophone Ontarians have expressed that they find it challenging to speak French in many situations, and that movies, television, music and the Internet can impact their language choices.43 Maintaining a francophone identity can be especially challenging as youth leave home for school and as they enter the workforce.44

Youth living in rural and remote communities: In 2006, 14 per cent of Ontarians under 25 years of age lived in rural areas.45 Rural and remote youth can face additional difficulties in accessing services, education, training and activities such as recreation due to distance and few public transportation options.46 In addition, many of Ontario's rural and remote young people face the challenging decision to leave home and move to more urban areas of Ontario to seek opportunities for school and work.47

Youth living in poverty: In 2009, households where young people under 25 are the major income earner have the second highest rates of poverty in Canada (33.8 per cent).48 In 2010, 13.8 per cent of all Ontario young people were living below the fixed Low Income Measure.49 Evidence shows that young people living in poverty are at an increased risk for a wide range of physical, behavioural and emotional problems. The chronic stress associated with living in poverty can also adversely impact a young person's memory, concentration and ability to learn.50 In a time when most young people are acquiring the skills and experiences needed for a healthy and stable future, a young person living in poverty is focused on meeting their day-to-day needs. The rising cost of basic needs, such as shelter, can make it almost impossible for many young people to save for things like tuition or pay down debt.

Youth in conflict with the law: Evidence shows that young people who have been in conflict with the law face a number of barriers and challenges as they age. Since the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into force in 2004, fewer young Ontarians are being brought into custody – but those that are tend to be the most high-risk young people. In addition, some groups of young people are over-represented in the youth justice system, including Aboriginal youth and African-Canadian youth. Youth who are or have been in custody tend to have poorer outcomes in areas such as education and employment. Recognizing the challenges these youth face can help us to better support them to live up to their potential.