By Bruna Redoschi, Our Kids Network Research Associate
It was a slow night, and I was near the end of my shift. I had started volunteering in emotional support services during the COVID-19 pandemic, using my background in mental health care. It was late, and I was tired. It was the last shift of the day and someone had reached out online at the very last minute. I considered redirecting them to connect the following day, but I saw that it was a young person. I decided to stay a bit longer and listen to them. I am glad I did that. This youth needed to talk.
Most of us have been dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, however, youth were experiencing the greatest decline in self-reported mental health since the pandemic began (Statistics Canada, 2020). In 2019, six in 10 young people in Canada rated their mental health as very good or excellent, while in 2020 amidst the pandemic, this number dropped to four in 10. How were these numbers for youth in Halton? The Halton Youth Impact Survey (HYIS), completed in 2021, shows a somewhat similar picture: only three out of 10 participants aged 13 to 18 rated their mental health as very good or excellent.
Youth Struggle to Share their Mental Health Concerns
Young people have a lot going on in their lives. Growing up has its perks, but it also has its pains and challenges. With the blink of an eye, the child turns into a teenager who needs to make decisions about their studies, career path, and finding their way into adulthood. To top this, came the COVID-19 pandemic with its adapted schedules and constant changes.
There is resiliency and solidarity amongst young people in Halton and there is also a lot of stress and worry. Three out of 10 young persons participating in the HYIS considered most days in their lives to be quite a bit or extremely stressful. Three out of 10 reported feeling low (depressed), irritable, nervous, or having difficulties getting to sleep every day for about six months.
Mental health is a hot topic for youth in Halton. About a quarter of all open comments in the HYIS were on mental health. That was also one of the topics selected by participants at the Youth Data Party. Youth in Halton want to talk about mental health, and they want to be heard without being judged or dismissed. Much has improved over the years, but stigma on mental health is still part of our lives. Some young persons worry that their families would see and treat them differently if they were getting mental health treatment. Even though adults could be a source of support and connection to services and resources, youth feared some of the adults in their lives would not show understanding or take the matter seriously. Talking about mental health and seeking care for a mental health concern should be no different than seeking care for a physical one:
“The first step is to normalize speaking about your mental health. It should be equivalent to talking about a headache.”
– Youth Data Party Participant
Our Duty to Reach out to Youth
What would help? Youth want to know and want their friends to know that there are services they can seek on their own. They want all youth to be able to access youth-friendly mental health services when needed.
Addressing youth mental health is crucial and requires a coordinated effort on the programmatic level. Communities, organizations, schools, parents, and youth are all part of the solution. We can also be part of the solution in our day-to-day approach too. For example, every one of us can ask a young person how they are doing, and then listen, really listen without defaulting to problem-solving for a moment. Young people who feel supported by the people in their lives do better. When you foster connection, you become part of their support network and a bridge to services and resources.
By Elisabeth Wells, PhD, Our Kids Network Research and Knowledge Mobilization Manager
The Halton Youth Impact Survey is our opportunity to understand how our young people are doing, and how decision-makers can support young people in our communities.
Halton was invited to participate in the UNICEF Canada Child & Youth Wellbeing Survey (Halton Youth Impact Survey), supported by UNICEF Canada, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Medivae Foundation, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Halton is one of four communities participating in this project, which will be used to develop a national index of child and youth wellbeing. OKN is leading the implementation of the survey here in Halton and helping UNICEF build a survey that will be used across Canada.
Important NEW data
Our community has been facing a gap in comprehensive, local data about child and youth wellbeing. The Halton Youth Impact Survey provides an opportunity for OKN and Halton to collect and share new, quality, local data and evidence to support the delivery of programs, services, policies and initiatives that are critical to the wellbeing of children, youth and families in Halton.
The survey is for children between 9 and 18 years-old. It measures key factors related to child and youth development and wellbeing, such as connection to family, schools, community and peers, physical and mental health, participation in extracurricular activities, safety and leisure, and risk behaviours such as smoking and drug use.
OKN is deeply committed to making data free and accessible to anyone who wants to use it. We will use the data to support the needs of all of our community partners working with young people. We expect to start sharing the results back with the community in late Fall through various learning events, reports, webinars, workshops, community presentations and in the data portal. Not only will we be sharing the results, but we will be providing tools and resources to help professionals access and use the results to support their work.
By the community, for the community
We built this survey with you and for you. The survey content, and the promotional strategy, have largely been developed by our community partners. Over the last few months, we reached out and met with numerous professionals and youth to ensure your voices are at the center of the project. Through these meetings, we heard loud and clear about how our community partners are supporting youth engagement, and how critical it is to have new data about youth wellbeing. Read about how our community partners are planning to use the results from the survey!
There are just over 76,000 youth in Halton between 9 and 18 years of age. My goal is to hear from as many of our young people as possible. We need many diverse youth voices from across Halton to participate so we can learn what life is like for youth right now. We have 27 different neighbourhoods in Halton, and we know that each community is unique. That’s why we want to hear from youth across Halton – tell us about your community and what wellbeing means to you in Acton, East Milton, South East Oakville or Aldershot, for example. We want all youth to have a strong voice in the project so that, ultimately, they will have a strong voice in the programs, services and initiatives that impact them in their communities.
To help us do that, our peer-to-peer engagement strategy was developed in partnership with the Halton Youth Initiative through youth labs, community meetings and the creation of our Halton Youth Impact Ambassador team. Youth are promoting the survey in their own networks, and our team Ambassadors are leading this campaign.
Make an IMPACT! Help us get the word out!
The campaign runs until Monday, June 14. As a professional working with children and youth in Halton, we know you want to have a positive impact on the lives of young people in our communities. You can make a difference by encouraging youth in your networks to do the survey and have a say in matters that effect them. The Community Partner Promotional Kit is full of information about the survey and resources to use in promoting it.
The Halton Youth Impact Survey is now closed. Thank you for your participation. Results will be available later this year.
By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre
As a child, I frequently watched the children’s television show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Of course, I never met Mr. Rogers, but like many children I felt that I knew him and that, somehow, he knew me. Now, as an adult, I remember his stories and advice and have a deeper appreciation for the lessons he taught. “Be kind, smile, be a helper, and look for the good in yourself and others,” he told us. These are simple and meaningful messages that stand the test of time.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”
Our shared experiences over the past year with our families, neighbours, communities, and indeed the world, have united us. This is one of the unexpected benefits that the pandemic has offered us for the taking. In this time of continued uncertainty, stress, and change, I suggest that there is no better way to respond than with Fred Rogers’ lessons of empathy, connection, and the opportunity to help others. I believe that this is the real work of humanity and that it preserves and heals the soul.
Family Day 2021: Hello Neighbour!
As we look to Family Day 2021, we can take some of these lessons to heart and act on them. We can find inspiration and inner-strength in Mr. Rogers’ example, and extend our family to include our neighbours, friends and even strangers along our path.
While we continue to maintain physical distance for everyone’s health, each of us still has the opportunity to make a difference for others. As we continue to spend most of our time with family in our own homes, let’s think about how we can become helpers and better neighbours.
Family Day 2021 Challenge!
In previous blogs, I’ve sent out a challenge to readers and here’s one for 2021! On Family Day, this Monday, February 15 (and every day), be a helper! Try some of the suggestions below and see how the people you come in contact with (either within 6 feet or virtually, of course) feel cared for and connected. I hope you’ll find these ideas useful and share them with your families as well as the ones you support in your work.
Make cards to share. With your family members, create cards. Encourage your children to join in with their own pictures and messages. Deliver the notes to your neighbours; perhaps a local senior’s residence or hospital. Hand them out to strangers you see on your travels. Imagine the lasting impact of this simple gesture.
Share in a project. Many groups are already rallying friends and neighbours to share in common projects and activities. Capture your outdoor adventures on video or in photos, create a community time capsule, or build birdhouses to keep our feathered friends sheltered from the cold February days. Connect on a virtual platform like Zoom to share your ideas and progress.
Take a walk and SMILE at everyone you see. Smiles are contagious and make everyone feel better.
“Be a helper” coupons. Handing out coupons for helping with everyday tasks like shoveling driveways, preparing a meal, or reading a story together will surely lift spirits – the coupon recipients and yours. Be creative.
Commit to regular check-in calls with those who may be alone and lonely.
Plan a virtual games night with family, friends and neighbours. There are lots of apps and ideas online for virtual all-ages fun.
Welcome to the neighbourhood! Come on in!
One of our collective tasks in raising the next generation is to create an understanding of what it feels like to have empathy, compassion, and to care for those around us – in good times and in bad. Let’s make an effort to share generously the good in ourselves and our families, and see the good in others.
By Siobhan Laverdiere, Halton Youth Initiative Coordinator, and Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset-Builder
The Halton Youth Initiative (HYI) completed its second year at the end of 2020. At this point, we wanted to share with Our Kids Network and the Halton professional community, the valuable knowledge and insight that we, and our colleagues and community partners, have gained. Practical resources, programming ideas, and approaches to engaging youth can all be found on the HYI website. And as HYI leaders, we’re both available for consultations regarding youth programming and engagement. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
As HYI begins its third year, we look forward to even more community connections and partnerships that will play a role in sustaining this important work in the future.
Siobhan and Lily
Youth Voices Matter in North Oakville!
It all started with the slogan Youth Voices Matter in North Oakville! The idea was to elevate youth voice and empower youth to have a positive impact in the neighbourhood of North Oakville.
Since 2017 those youth voices have grown louder and louder to include the Acton, Aldershot and Milton neighbourhoods. Today our 94 (and growing) youth volunteers’ thoughts, opinions, ideas and creativity can be found on the HYI website and across social media channels, HYI blogs, podcasts, YouTube , and associated Instagram pages such as @miltonactionteam@youthaldershot@sevensomebodies@northoakYDC.
Website as a Forum for Youth and a Resource for Professionals
The HYI website is packed with information about the activities of HYI over the past 2 years. It includes so many stories that reveal what youth learned and felt as they expressed their views about tough topics such as mental health, Developmental Relationships, and Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation in blogs and podcasts.
Professionals who work with youth will find the HYI website useful for information on program planning, ideas on youth engagement and leadership, as a practical community development model, and much more.
Info & Links resources on mental health and developmental assets, description of the adult ally role and the 2018 results of the Youth Voices Matter in North Oakville survey
Events archived database of community and youth events from 2017 to present.
Put Developmental Relationships at the Centre of your Work with Youth
HYI’s success with youth engagement is founded on the five elements of the Developmental Relationships (DR) framework: Expressing Care; Challenging Growth; Providing Support; Sharing Power; and Expanding Possibilities. When we center our work on relationships, all the rest seems to fall into place.
As you explore the website, we encourage you to view it through the lens of DR and consider the positive effects of youth working with adults (while the adults demonstrate one or more of the five elements of the DR framework). We believe this approach has made a significant difference in the motivation and enthusiasm of HYI young people to become actively involved in their community (currently virtually). Some even take on leadership roles. If you haven’t already, consider putting Developmental Relationships at the centre of your organization’s work.
“At the Halton Youth Initiative, we are avid participants who empathize and advocate for the empowerment of ourselves as youth and for others in the community. We are inspired by the voices we are bringing to youth around Halton and the happiness we can bring into people’s lives.”
Angela, HYI youth volunteer
Partner Support is the Key to Engaging Youth in the Community
Welcoming caring community partners into the work of HYI has also been pivotal to our success. These agencies and organizations are stakeholders in the community who want to be involved with HYI other than as adult allies. We hope to welcome even more exceptional partners in the future.
Community partners provide support to HYI youth councils by:
building connections between the youth council and their organizations (generating awareness about the youth council and related activities, advocating for youth mentorship opportunities, and increasing youth Developmental Assets).
promoting the initiative in the community.
encouraging and welcoming youth in the community.
participating on subcommittees or workgroups.
providing in-kind resources.
attending meetings as a guest occasionally, as invited by youth members.
The Halton Youth Initiative partners below have made a world of difference to the youth members over the past 2 years. Thank you!
By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre
In the middle of March, as I was closing my office up for what I thought would be a couple of weeks, I saved this picture as my screensaver.
Little did I know at the time, that six months later, we would still be living in this seemingly alternate universe. It feels like a lifetime ago. The picture of this little girl and her chick is still on my computer and each day when I look at it, I am reminded of what is really important during this time of stress and uncertainty.
As children, families, and teachers contemplate the return to school and academic learning, I have been listening closely to parents about what they both feel – and fear. For many, finding nuggets of hope and optimism strengthens their resiliency and ability to carry on. For others, the worry and fear overwhelms them and the reptilian brain takes control creating a propensity for instinctive fight, flight, or freeze responses. Fear and anxiety want comfort and certainty, and we know when it comes to COVID-19 there is no certainty. We can, however, find comfort and support in each other, maintain our sense of optimism, take hold of what we can control, and attempt to let go of what does not aid us.
So how do we take back our sense of control? How do we find our courage, our creativity, and soft hearts in order to protect and guide our children?
First and foremost, we cannot project adult fears and mindsets that negatively influence our children’s view of the world and their healthy growth and development. We must avoid righteous indignation and judgment and find a way to work together with compassion, tolerance, and a collaborative spirit. Our children need us to do this. And they need to watch us do this.
I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Hiam Ginott, teacher, child psychologist, psychotherapist, author, and parent educator.
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
Every day parents and teachers have the opportunity to get up, take a few breaths, find gratitude, and make a conscious choice to create a healthy and nurturing environment for the children in their lives; to create a warm, sunny day out of the rain and cold.
I believe that this school year will not be about academics. I believe that it will be about the chance to strengthen our resiliency and relationships, and build deep, nurturing interdependence. Now more than ever, we understand how interconnected and reliant we are on each other – in our families, in our communities, and on a global level.
Finally, as I look for the silver lining in all this, I hope it will be the opportunity for parents and professionals to realign their relationships with children in the way nature intended. To restore the adult’s rightful place – in charge and with the responsibility and wisdom to lead our children through this pandemic. Now is the time to show them that they can depend on us and trust us to do what is best for them.
Collectively we can do this. When this pandemic has ended, what will stand out most in our memories is how we treated each other.
By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
On Sunday, many of us will be celebrating Father’s Day. Some of you will be enjoying a beautiful day reading a great book, by an Indigenous author, of course (#Indigenousreads). For Indigenous people in Canada, June 21 is a very special day: National Indigenous Peoples Day.
National Indigenous Peoples Day has been a long time coming and is now a day devoted to celebrating the unique and distinct culture and heritage of Indigenous people all across Canada. June 21 is also the Summer Solstice and, as such, is a traditional day of spiritual ceremony and celebration for Indigenous peoples.
This year coming together to celebrate will look very different for us. Rather than feeling the beat of the pow wow drum deep in my heart, I will have to celebrate with virtual and televised events. For me, it will also be a day of reflection on how far National Indigenous Peoples Day has come as a significant day of observance and celebration in Canadian culture.
I look back fondly to the late 1990s, when my sister and her husband were living in a very non-Indigenous suburb of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan! This particular neighbourhood was newly developed and had expensive homes backing onto a large lake with walking trails. It was the central gathering spot for the community.
My brother-in-law decided that June 21 would be a great day to introduce his family to the neighbours. He arranged to have a tipi erected by the lake and ensured there was bannock and jam for us to share. He welcomed their non-Indigenous neighbours, and we relaxed and talked together all evening. It was wonderful! Everyone was so inquisitive and grateful for the opportunity to enter an actual tipi, and the questions were respectful and genuine.
I never let this special day go by without a celebration (even a quiet one) of some kind. This year, in addition to all the events happening on the internet, I intend to take a walk (physically distancing of course), on the Moccasin Trail in the Town of Oakville and give thanks for being Indigenous.