By Gerald V. Paul
Ontario is investing $55 million over three years under the enhanced Youth Action Plan to support more high-risk and additional high-needs communities across the province.
“With the hard work and dedication of our community partners, the Ontario Youth Action Plan has had tremendous success in making a real difference in the lives of countless at-risk youth in communities across the province,” Minister of Children and Youth Services Tracy MacCharles said at the media launch at the Boys and Girls Club East Scarborough recently.
She noted the amount is a near doubling of the investment in at-risk youth and is one of the largest investments in at-risk youth in the province’s history.
“This will build successes on the Youth Action Plan, reaching more at-risk youth in more high-needs communities, giving them greater opportunity to reach their full potential and succeed.”
MacCharles said “the 2012 Ontario Youth Action Plan was released in response to incidents of gun-violence.
“It was developed to give young people the supports and opportunities they need to succeed, help prevent youth violence and foster safe communities.”
The plan was based on the review of the Roots of Youth Violence report and centred on supporting the needs of at-risk youth in the GTA, with investments also in Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Ottawa and Windsor.
Guyana-born Howard Moriah, manager of Youth and Community Outreach Services, told The Camera earlier, “There is the need for innovative programs outside of the existing services.”
Moriah, who has degrees in psychology and a masters in theology, credited his parents Lionel and Jenell for being there for him when he was younger to serve as his role models and mentors.
Mitzie Hunter, associate minister of finance (Ontario Retirement Pension Plan) and MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood, also thanked the staff for their continued dedication in serving the community.
According to MacCharles, the enhanced plan is based on five pillars:
Best Start, Right Start providing early and ongoing support to help young people make better choices and successfully transition into their teen years with initiatives like Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) and the development of a middle years strategy. The latter will help bridge existing government strategies to complete a single coordinated approach to supporting children and youth from birth to age 25.
It includes a family-focused intervention program for high-risk children aged 6-12 who are engaging in aggressive, anti-social behavior and / or who have come into contact with police.
Safe Communities laying the foundation for keeping youth and communities safe in programs like Youth Justice Family Workers. Family workers provide supports to families of youth in conflict with the law to support rehabilitation and address situations that put youth at risk of re-offending.
There’s also the new Restorative Justice and Conflict Mediation Program for students to manage school conflict through peer mediation while strengthening pro-social skills and Gang Prevention / Intervention Programs that support youth who are gang-affiliated or at risk of affiliation to leave or avoid gangs and hold pro-social skills through intensive one-on-one supports, with a focus on education, employment and training.
Youth Well-Being aimed at decreasing risk factors such as disengagement with school, unemployment and antisocial activity through initiatives like the Youth Outreach Worker Program and the province wide expansion of the Youth Opportunities Fund.
Youth Engagement addresses barriers to social inclusion to create more positive opportunities for newcomer and Aboriginal youth. Measures include a new Youth Sector Jobs and Mentorship Initiative.
Youth Mentorship Programs, a new approach that will support locally developed mentoring activities for high-risk youth. Mentorship initiatives will focus on at least one of three outcome areas: employment and entrepreneurship, educational achievement; and civic engagement and leadership.
There are also plans to expand the summer employment program to new high-needs communities and extend the program during the school year, providing more high-risk youth with job experience.