Archive for ‘Community Services’

June 2, 2013

Community heros lifting above their weight: The story of a community hub in Hamilton

Don MacVicar once broke three world records, lifting 10 times his weight combined in a single competition. Now, he’s doing bigger things. He’s lifting a community on his shoulders.

The familiar hallways of a school now open into community resource rooms.

The familiar hallways of a school now open into community resource rooms.

For the past eight years, McVicar has led a renewal project in the industrial north end of Hamilton, Ontario, creating a hub in the  Robert Land school when it was faced with closure. Re-named the Eva Rothwell Centre, the former school now hosts a job resource centre, recreation programs, youth drop-in, summer camps, community health programs, police services (staffed by chatty volunteers, with handouts on everything from crime prevention to bed bugs), and a clothing bank.  It’s also one of the sites of Pathways to Education (the strange rumour in the community being that the tuition bursary may be abolished). There is even a miniature railroader club in the school’s basement, art out of metal, rails and wiring and a full-size railway car on delivery, to be a new literacy centre. And, yes, of course, there is a weight room.

This is, like many stories of community change, the story of heroes — how often local improvement is made by the determined efforts of a small group of people. (In fact, that Margaret Mead reference is on the home page of their website.)

When the school faced closure, MacVicar and a group of community member approached the Hamilton school board and proposed to buy it. Private donors stepped in with some quick funding to pony up close to $350,000, giving the community association time to incorporate as a non-profit corporation.

Two weeks ago, the centre hosted five bus loads of elementary students from the Toronto District School Board to attend the ribbon-cutting for a new draw: Team Canada 72 room filled with hockey memorabilia and team players.  It’s part of MacVicar’s plan to make the centre a destination where people want to visit. Next fall, he hopes to bring in the Stanley Cup.

Heroic as these efforts were, the visit to this re-purposed school highlighted two key lessons, at the micro-level and the macro-levels.

At the micro-level is the importance of taking action. Asked how he had accomplished this, MacVicar softly explained “If I join a committee, and they’re not doing anything within three months, I quietly move on.”

The second lesson, though, is broader. This good work needs to move beyond the efforts of small groups. Community hubs, such as these, should be supported at the system level because relying on local heroes to make this happen shouldn’t be a record-breaking event.

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October 9, 2012

Neighbourhood centres: From the history of social justice among settlement houses to community hubs’ modern place-based approach

Photograph of early settlement house, Toynbee Hall circa 1902.

Toronto’s University Settlement House, by the Grange, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

St. Chris House, in the west end, has also reached the century mark. Not far away, Central Neighbourhood House, founded by students from University of Toronto, has also celebrated 100. Also, in the downtown core, Dixon Hall is eighty and St. Stephen‘s is fifty. Reputedly named after Reverend Wood and Reverend Green, WoodGreen, where I work in the east end, has just turned 75 years old.

Each of these neighbourhood centres cluster in the centre of city, reflecting the downtown area’s history as a place where new immigrants and low-income lived. As demographics have shifted and need has spread, other neighbourhood centres – and community hubs – have emerged across the city.

Over these decades, these centres opened their doors, drawing on a model from 19th century Great Britain called a Settlement House. More than charitable service organizations that focus on individual needs, settlement houses emerged from wider ideals of social justice. Settlement referred not to, in the modern sense, of working with immigrants, but rather to a call to university-educated young people to settle in poor neighbourhoods, bring their talents to bear on local problems.

In a sense, settlement houses worked to ensure the intellectual and social capital of a neighbourhood were not stripped away. They also preserved the idea of social contract between rich and poor. Most settlement houses enjoyed the patronage of wealthy donors.

The tradition of Settlement House offer a few key touchstones to modern-day hubs and centres:

Wrap-around services: As multi-service organizations, neighbourhood centres are able to address the various needs clients have. Need a job? food? compantionship? housing? They have it all. Dixon Hall, for instance, defines itself by its multi-service approach.

On-the-ground knowledge: Neighbourhood houses have also acted as early warning systems. Some of urbanist Jane Jacob’s critique of the “towers in the park” emerged  from New York contemporary and settlement house social worker Ellen Lurie, who tracked what happened to her clients who were being moved into this newer form of public housing from their old neighbourhoods. Even now, seeing the changes in its neighbourhood, St Chris House sparked the research into how gentrification was changing their downtown neighbourhood, leading eventually to the Three Cities report by David Hulchanski. After hearing more and more stories from the sector, WoodGreen supported a fight for permanent funding to control bed bugs.

Commitment to creating opportunity at the individual and system level: Recognizing that charity work and case management would not create the systemic change needed to end poverty, advocacy and community development became a core part of centres’ work. Childcare, youth programs, and adult literacy programs were all staples of early programming. University Settlement House’s Music and Art program was established in 1921. Later decades would see these social programs adopted and funded by governments at all levels. In more recent times, St. Chris House led the cross-sectoral policy table, MISWAA, which examined income supports for working age adults. In short, it’s about social justice.

Innovation: Because they are alert to changes and are able to bring a wide set of services to any social problems, neighbourhood centres also act as incubators, creating solutions to complex problems. WoodGreen, for instance, partnered with the Toronto District School Board to create the first seamless, full-day kindergarten class at Bruce Public School.

Community building: Early neighbourhood centres were the original community hubs creating links across difference, strengthening local community. St. Stephen’s Resolution program actively in neighbourhood disputes, and has trained hundreds to do dispute resolution. Multiple ages walk through their doors and learn about each other. Free, non-commercial space is increasingly precious. The community hubs springing up across the city are based on these same community development principles. Place-based approaches to problems sometimes work better than those which work with only specific client populations.

Settlement houses, neighbourhood centres, community hubs — whatever you call them — seem a tradition worth celebrating.

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May 17, 2012

Resilient neighbourhood economies in an age of austerity: No big lessons

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan (Photo credit: Kennisland)

Ten years ago or thereabouts, the U. K. government undertook an ambitious program of neighbourhood renewal focused on 2,000 British communities. A decade later, independent evaluations are “somewhat positive,” according to  Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and former CEO of the Young Foundation. Recent efforts have been trying, in a way, to put right mistakes of the ’70s and ’80s, when richer people moved into re-habituated buildings, Mulgan told a group of Toronto community funders and organizations at a meeting organized by the Metcalf Foundation earlier this month.

“Big strategies won’t work, there are no silver bullets. Lots of small initiatives work best,” Mulgan said. Instead, he elaborated, the focus should be on schools, social capital, job opportunities, and simply getting money to circulate within neighbourhoods, creating a multiplier effect, and, the current times of austerity mean agencies and funders are looking for an impact in new and interesting ways.

Mulgan also challenged old-time thinking about taking projects “to scale” (growth), saying funders and agencies would do better to look at replication (spread). While Mulgan was arguing that small is beautiful, it goes against the push from many funders for mergers.

To prove his point about the need for multiple, smaller inventions, Mulgan offered a top ten social innovations from his own work on these issues:

  1. Last year, the Young Foundation looked at Birmingham to see what makes a city resilient. It compared low-income communities with similar demographics and their social networks. Communities which were more diverse were doing better than those with two or three dominant groups — different than what researchers expected.
  2. The Young Foundation also created a program which taught resiliency to 11-year-old in schools, focusing on those who in stressed communities. Results showed lower levels of depression and better schooling. The new finding was that resiliency could be taught.
  3. Deciding that the focus on improving schools was not enough because even the best schools have high rates of truancy and drop-outs, the Foundation developed a new form of schooling, a “studio school” where learning occurred through practical team-based projects. The move away from abstract pedagogy led to better student motivation and was particularly effective with students from low-income families. Piloted in Blackpool, the government is now using the model across the country.
  4. Young, Somali female colleagues convinced Mulgan to develop the Uprising program for 18 – 25 year olds.  Participants have to run a community campaign which is then connected to national level. Three years later it is now spread in neighbourhoods across eight cities. Mulgan noted that recruiting men and White people has been a challenge. This program sounds like very much like Toronto’s Diversecity.
  5. Mulgan explained his fifth example was important as money was disappearing. His organization, NESTA is very involved in time banks. Within Toronto, Timeraisers has used this as a model for volunteering among those who want to bid on art, but Mulgan described a model that acted more as a parallel economy in low-income communities. Bartering, he explained, is useful in communities without much access to resources and money. Linking the program to local institutions, such as housing or schools, local residents earn credits which they can then “spend” among themselves.
  6. Mulgan and his colleagues became concerned about the high number of young people with advanced university degrees who were having difficulty access jobs.  So they set up “finishing schools” which offered intensive training in everything from voice coaching to self-knowledge. Employment rates doubled. While this might not work in Toronto which has less of class stratification, the approach to explicit teaching of social/cultural skills and mentoring are valuable, Mulgan explained.
  7. NESTA  found that buildings and physical plants are not enough for non-profits, but that they needed media platforms as well. In contrast to “big media,” hyper-local media platforms emerged, attached to community organizations or secondary schools (where youth supported the work) within communities, creating hubs for economic and social exchange. Mulgan predicted these would be widespread within ten years.
  8. Urban farming, connected to local schools offers opportunities for apprenticeships and entrepreneurialism. Mulgan gave the example of one Australian school where students raised fish, learning biology, and then sold them door-to-door. Mulgan described pockets of land transformed from “boring grass” to fruit trees.
  9. In their work with Muslim youth, the youth identified the need for advice on daily matters that was Koranically-correct. So the website Maslaha, meaning”Public Interest,” was created. A group of Imams offers this “real-world” advice, helping youth straddle between secularism and Islamists, offering on-line advice on issues ranging from speed-dating to diabetes.
  10. Attempts at measuring resiliency through the development of a new tool: Wellbeing and Resilient Measurement (WARM). Community and individual levels, covering a range of topics from employment, happiness and readiness for the future. Started in Birmingham, this is being piloted in a few other European countries as well. The tool creates space for discussions about local priorities.

Ever pushing boundaries, Mulgan lobbed a final idea when responding to questions from the audience. Too much time is taken up for non-profit staff writing reports which often don’t get read when they are sent in. If funders, want to have a real impact, and ensure truth and transparency, program reports should be done by blogging.

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April 19, 2012

TDSB budget woes: Education assistants and school superintendents as a “nice-to-have”

My young son hated school when he started it; he hated school so much he ran away frequently. One January morning, wearing no shoes, he ran out straight out the school doors having realized stopping to grab outerwear would slow his escape. His heroic kindergarten education assistant was the one who caught him again.

So when Mike Harris threatened to cut funding for education assistants, I began a long career as a parent activist. My son will graduate from high school next year, and education assistants are being cut once more. (I don’t remember a time when school funding wasn’t being cut.)

In 2012, the Toronto District School Board is looking at another yawning funding gap, one that has now grown to over $100 million a year.

School trustees might choose to face down the current Liberal government, to refuse to implement a funding formula which systematically underfunds high-cost urban areas like Toronto. But the last time the Board did that, it was put under provincial supervision. And nothing changed.

So, instead, trustees are faced with staff layoffs. (Lay-off notices went out this week to over 700 education assistants, school secretaries, high school teachers and other staff, some with almost three decades of work at the Board.)

This will get worse. The first announced wave has moved the Board less than halfway to their budget target. Board staff and committees are looking now for another $60 million to cut.

More staff will fall, and it’s going to get ugly. For instance, senior staff came under ruthless attack at the last Board meeting, the quality of their contribution to the education enterprise being debated, as they sat there behind the trustees. Superintendents are an easy target. If women who chase into a snow storm after a small angry child are a “nice-to-have,” then these senior staff have little chance of showing they are a “must have.”

Really, the debate over central service staff is a mug’s game which the non-profit sector has been playing for years. Funding for core administrative staff pays for people who run the payroll, pay bills, hire staff, keep computers running, conduct health & safety inspections or maintain harassment prevention offices. Core staff are the ones who let others do the work of the organization, whether teaching or serving clients. Yet they are not seen as “mission critical.”

Trustees will be faced with tough choices. This, now, is the time they cannot be parochial or arbitrary in their decisions.

One of the key tools they have at their disposal, then, is one they adopted a few years ago: the Learning Opportunities Index (LOI), which ranks schools according to communities’ needs. The LOI was created because the school board was looking for better criteria to drive resource allocations. Trustees chose, as the framework for its decisions, the principle of equity, the idea that those who are stronger can do with less.

Almost three decades later, during the latest revision, the Board renewed that policy commitment and strengthened it, adopting a policy which said

In order to provide a more equitable distribution of resources, the Learning Opportunities Index shall be used when resources are being allocated to school.. [going on to describe a few exceptions: those where allocations are universal (for all schools), required by legislation and collective agreements, and finally where a better measure of need can be found.]

The LOI has to be used as filter for these discussions of where budget cuts are going to hit.

This is not going to be a popular tactic, but it is in accord to the Board’s own policies and history. It is also a just and judicious approach. As they wrestle with these hard questions, that’s what trustees must hang onto.

March 13, 2012

Outside the academy: The value of solution-focused community research

This is taken from a speech I gave at a pre-conference workshop on research at the 14th National Metropolis Conference of CERIS where I was asked to speak to the capacity of community agencies to do primary research. I took it as an opportunity to address academics and policy-makers. 

Photo Credit: Bard Azima, Livingface Photography, The Conference Publishers

As a director of research at a large community agency, I am admittedly a bit biased on this question.

Community-based primary research is good, not because of the much-touted participatory processes it uses, nor because it fulfills some evaluation criteria of funders, or because this research is somehow more “authentic.”

Community-based research is important because it addresses material realities and it seeks real solutions.

This is not to denounce those who do the hard, theoretical thinking that some of these wicked social problems require. But, if we are committed to social change and to wider ideas of justice, then we must address the grounded (and gritty) realities faced by those around us. This is an argument made by Critical Race Theorists, a place I call my intellectual home.

I am tired of research which is simply a walk in the park, describing its surroundings, commenting on it,  and noting perhaps an “oddity” or two. Occasionally, such research deteriorates into awful-izing a situation, describing in it in gory and pornographic detail.

My charge is that community-based research can’t afford to do that. To be honest researchers, we must look for change and find solutions.

“Research fatigue” emerges, I contend, when researchers spend too much time talking, dealing with process, and missing the end game. Community members tire of too much talk.

Admittedly, the field of action research has emerged to address this folly, but the solutions can be too simplistic, missing opportunities to make a change at the individual, program, organizational, sectoral and system levels. Instead, innumerable reports descend into a few “Try harder” recommendations.

To ensure they are accountable to for the use of government and donor dollars, non-profit, community agencies track an enormous amount of data. However, this is usually either administrative data useful for ongoing monitoring or program data for evaluation. Common categories include:

• Clients identifiers (d.o.b., sex, status)
• Client location
• Client concern
• Referral/Intervention
• “Dosage” or program participation
Some follow-up is also made to get a longer term picture of the impact.
This minutiae is a big industry – In our agency, one unit has its 23 staff take every Friday afternoon to do case notes – that time clients cannot access the service but data that is required for multiple managers to check, a director to review, so that it can be sent to funding program officers who later  return to do file audits, to be rolled into — I don’t know — giving us all a strong audit trail.

Good community research has a different flavour. It is:

Inclusive: More likely to include the unusual suspects – theory of creative teams – but not so process-oriented it cannot get to an end goal.

Solution focused: Awful-izing is easy; figuring out how to implement a solution is golden.

Asset-based: Such as the reports on resiliency in children and youth by Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services and Toronto Public Health which found how strongly tied children in “disadvantaged” neighbourhoods are to their families.

Analytical at the structural level: Reports like Social Planning Toronto’s fees and fundraising in school report, David Hulchanski’s work on gentrification in neighbourhoods done in partnership with St. Chris House (often ignored), or any of John Stapleton’s policy work look at the underlying triggers.

Sensitive to complexity: Two of the best recent examples which tried to capture dynamic interplay are the reports produced for the Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force which mapped needs and service levels to determine which neighbourhoods were the most under-served; TDSB census – Grades + SES + Experiential/self-report

Unpredictable:  The recent TWIG report on the new hour-glass shaped labour force created a new frame with which to think about poverty and inequality.

Outside the box:  United Way of Toronto produced two reports within two years of each other on the topic of neighbourhood poverty. Only the keenest among you have heard about Decade of Decline. But two years later, in 2004, Poverty by Postal Code made huge waves. The difference? GIS had evolved enough that maps could be produced, showing the same data visually.

This is work that can and is done by community agencies. I am proud of the theory-driven, knowledge transfer model we used in the Toronto East LIP. Over the past two years, we were able to:

• Map local services (in details beyond 211 Toronto)
• Map staff languages
• Map the social networks among partnership members
• Map levels of agency coordination and the gaps
• Map settlement pathways for immigrants and refugees
• Develop Toolkits for English Conversation Circles
• Develop Toolkits for grant-writing
• Produce information  sheets on private career college accreditation
• Produce fact sheets on frauds/scams Canadian newcomers may face
• Report local labour market information
• Begin to test the merits of place-based delivery of services ( community hubs) vs. outreach
• Set the groundwork for child care cooperatives and other parent supports
• Collaborate with grassroots groups and agencies to launch a report measuring the scope of the local underground economy
I think we proved community research can be both solid and solution-focused.
September 28, 2011

A cohesive vision of how to measure the strength of local community services

In a timely piece of research, given the current budget debates at the municipal level, St. Michael’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health (CRICH) released a report titled Community Service System in Toronto neighbourhoods: What should the City pay attention to?

The report concluded “Torontonians want the Community Service System to offer programs that are accessible, available and well funded.”

The CRICH research centre asked Torontonians to respond to the question

“If the City of Toronto wants to know if the Community Service System is working well in a neighbourhood, one thing it should pay attention to is…”

Eight key areas were identified as important to take into consideration when measuring if community services were working well at a local level:

  • Accessibility & Availability (9 ideas)
  • Supporting Civic & Social Engagement (ideas)
  • Collaboration & Evaluation (ideas)
  • Funding (ideas)
  • Meeting Residents’ Needs (ideas)
  • Improving Social Outcomes (ideas)
  • Resident  Involvement (ideas)
  • Staff and Volunteers (ideas)

Sessions were held across the city. Funders and non-profits were also asked to provide input in separate sessions from city residents. Groups for additional languages and youth were also set up.

In follow-up sessions, the researchers asked participants to rank the importance of the identified areas.

Locally available services came out on top (only being beaten out by funding when community organizations responded).

Comparisons of the results across groups are interesting. The researchers did further analysis of the responses and found little difference in the responses between men  and women, between native English speakers and those who speak it as a foreign language, residents and staff at community agencies, people who use community services and those who don’t.

However, depending on one’s connection to community agencies, some interesting differences emerged when identifying what’s important to measuring the health of the community service system. So while residents, community organizations, and funders each identified the same issues as priorities, they placed them in different orders.

City residents identified the most important ideas as Accessibility & Availability, Funding, and Resident Involvement (almost tied to Collaboration and Evaluation); The top three ideas identified by community organizations were Funding, Accessibility & Availability, and Collaboration & Evaluation (almost tied with Resident Involvement; Funders identified Accessibility & Availability, Resident Involvement and Collaboration & Evaluation as their top three areas.

Still the cohesion and strength of the research results affirm the importance Torontonians attach to community services that are available and stable.

Now that the CRICH report has been done, city staff will use it to build a strong neighbourhood-level measurement system.

(Disclaimer: I participated on the advisory committee for this workgroup, doing training in the methodology used.)

 

June 29, 2011

Wellbeing Toronto

Long awaited, Wellbeing Toronto is launching this morning through the City of Toronto website.

Keep hitting refresh! It will be here soon.

The Toronto Star has given a sneak peek in today’s edition. The site lets users select and map , across the City’s 140 social planning neighbourhoods, from a menu of indicators, ranging from one of Toronto’s top ten languages, applications to universities, or robberies. It also maps locations of various civic sites, community hubs, rate payers associations and other neighbourhood features.

While it’s bound to have some bugs as it launches (I couldn’t see a legend), this is a significant contribution to the civic dialogue of the city – as long as more than real estate agents use it! (My conflict-of-interest? I sat in on two advisory panels during its development.)

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June 13, 2011

InsideToronto Article: City deciding fate of local pools

Monarch Park Collegiate

Image via Wikipedia

A small news article in the local paper flagged another round of cuts threaten school pools, yet again.It seems the City’s lease on pools expires this year on December 31, 2011. InsideToronto Article: City deciding fate of local pools. However, it may not be so dire as portrayed.

If the school pools can demonstrate “continued community use,” the funds will flow through the Toronto Lands Corporation.

Monarch Park High School’s pool is one of the few accessible pools in the city. Not only is the equipment available for people who use wheelchairs, the water is kept warmer as well. Monarch Park Community Aquatics is now offering a Recreational Community Swim on Fridays from 6:30 -7:30 pm. Enter through the doors marked #2, which are the first set west of Coxwell. Admission:  $1 per person or $5 per family For more info contact:  monarchparkaquatics@gmail.com

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June 10, 2011

City of Toronto Recreation Service Plan Consultations show high usage in surprising places

The City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) division is optimistically developing a five-year plan. Consultations are underway. A recent consultation for local agencies on the Recreation Service Plan was well attended, while PFR staff facilitated and recorded participants’ comments. The table discussions were passionate and loud. In fact, because the small meeting room was made of concrete building blocks, people sitting at the same table could not hear each other.

The session began with a summary presentation of current programs.

A city ward map describing where PFR program registrants live showed some surprising patterns. Central Etobicoke and the Beach (ward 32) showed the highest levels of participation, where as the downtown wards showed the lowest. Those outside the city core are more likely to be higher users of community recreation centres than those who live downtown.


High users Medium-High Medium Medium-Low Low Users
 Area of City Over 8% pop. 6.51% – 8% 5.01% to 6.5% 2.01% – 5% Under 2%
Etobicoke wards 4 3 3 1 0
North York & York wards 0 1 9 1 0
Toronto & East York wards 1 3 0 5 2
Scarborough wards 0 2 7 1 0

This patterns holds even where residents may have fewer places to access recreation programs, however this was not as easy to tell because not all program locations were mapped.

The summary presentation then described other program components.

The identified (and fairly vague) guiding principles for the PFR plan are equitable access, quality, inclusion, and capacity building. The new Recreation Service Plan will address how the principles can be achieved; what the appropriate program mix should be; what service gaps need to be addressed; and, what other improvements are needed. To develop this, attendees were asked the following questions:

  1. What do you think the barriers are to achieving equitable recreation opportunities across the city and how they can be overcome?
  2. Does the current mix of programs and services support the principle of equitable access to all city residents?
  3. In your opinion, what are the most important areas that the City of Toronto needs to focus on in providing high quality recreation programs and services?
  4. How can PFR engage communities and groups who do not participate in recreation programs and services?
  5. How can PFR help to strengthen communities and who can we partner with?
  6. How can PFR attract, support and retain volunteers?

Among other items, the table discussions raised the following key issues in their responses:

  • PFR is not meeting the current demand. The levels of service often mean programs fill up quickly and registrants are put on long waitlists.
  • PFR should be working in partnership with local non-profits to maximize the use of space, better outreach and local community benefit.
  • The importance of raising the bar vs. driving to the lowest common denominator, that is making sure everyone has access to good local programming
Other consultations are being held around the city.

If you are interested in providing input, the City’s survey is available on-line at www.toronto.ca/parks/serviceplan.

In order to encourage wider input, Public Interest consultants has developed a simpler version at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/accesstocommunityrecreation to submit to the City afterwards.

Responses are due June 30, 2011.

How this new PFR plan will fit with the core service review also going on now is still to be determined.

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June 6, 2011

After school children’s programming in Toronto is a scarcity

20070900 149 Orr in after school activity

Image by Eilam Gil via Flickr

When Toronto’s Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services organized summer programming in the northwest end of the city a few years ago, they took the kids on a trip to the Toronto islands. Many of them had never been there, and some didn’t know our city sat on the edge of a large lake. Doorsteps also arranged for bike donations so that the children could explore their own neighbourhood more widely.

“Children and adolescents may be especially influenced by their immediate surroundings, as they are more likely than adults to spend the majority of their time in their local surroundings,” writes Margo Jackson and Amy Hsin, then doctoral students in UCLA’s sociology department in a 2006 study.

“Neighbourhoods affect children’s opportunities, activities and achievement.” Jackson and Hsin also described how, if mothers described their neighbourhoods as safe, children were more likely to be healthy and active in their leisure time. This perception had a stronger association with children’s level of activity than the simple availability of programs, even.

Social Planning Toronto researchers worked with a coalition called Middle Years Matters a few years ago to map out the after-school opportunities grade-school aged children have in Toronto. The study found a wide gap between what’s available and what’s needed. Less than ten per cent of kids in the city are served through a formal children’s programme.

Many were appalled by these findings. According to the Coalition,

The middle childhood years are a critical period in the lives of

children.  This is the time when children develop the important skills

which help them make the transition from the early years into

adolescence.  It is a time when they begin to develop more resilience

and self-confidence and begin to move from the close supervision of

parents, teachers and other care givers towards the greater

independence that comes in their teenage years.

After school programs play a key role in helping children make these

transitions.  High quality programs give children a range of new

opportunities for play and learning that they may not have at home or

in the classroom.  Most important, quality out-of-school-time programs

provide supervised care that ensures that children are safe while out

of the home and school.

While the Social Planning study could not track what other children, outside formal programming, were doing after school, some American studies have found, in descending order, a range of other activities from informal care and social visiting; shopping and other commercial activities; government programs; and religious education.

So this summer, the Middle Years Matters Coalition is working with the Children’s Services Division of the City of Toronto to do a similar assessment of local children. To do this, they are

  • Implementing an electronic survey to parents across Toronto to find out what their needs are in this area.
  • Holding focus groups with parents to examine their needs in this area more deeply.
  • Supporting the City of Toronto to develop a database that can be used by parents and service providers to access information about such programs in Toronto.

To complete the Middle Years survey, parents may access it here.

The findings will be used to develop a Middle Childhood Strategy for the City.

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