Do you work with youth? Learn about the Halton Youth Initiative Model!

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 siobhan@ourkidsnetwork.ca or lily@ourkidsnetwork.ca.

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.

Youth Council information descriptions of each of the four youth councils prior to transitioning to virtual teams post-COVID

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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!

Special thanks to Pat Howell-Blackmore of PHBSpark Consulting, and Josh Taylor-Detlor, Indigenous Environmental & Youth Engagement Consultant, for their dedication and ongoing support.

Footnote:
Our Kids Network provides management and administrative services to the Halton Youth Initiative which is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

2020: OKN’s Year of Resilience

By Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager

While physical distancing, masking, and staying home became typical, it was encouraging and inspiring to see Halton professionals using innovative ways to continue their work supporting children, youth and families. Our strong and resilient partnerships and communities are getting us through this! We have adapted to our new routines and not only stayed connected, but have become more interconnected over the last 10 months (and counting).

Adapting

resilience tree growing out of old trunk

In survival mode, we’ve all become experts at using Microsoft Teams, Webex, Zoom and other platforms, and used these venues well to continue to build relationships and partnerships, get work done, and even start brand new initiatives. We quickly learned that the chat feature gives everyone at the meeting a voice!

In the absence of face-to-face committee meetings, where so much information is shared, we launched the OKN Community Message in March. The intent was to keep everyone updated and linked to OKN’s key activities and news. At the time, we believed this would be a short-term solution. Here it is December and the OKN Community Message continues to serve us well, with one due out this week.

With gatherings allowed in only very limited numbers, virtual (live and recorded) is now the media of choice for OKN staff offering workshops and information sessions. Recently, Angela Bellegarde, OKN Indigenous lead, partnered with staff at the Town of Oakville and Oakville Public Library to produce videos on Indigenous literacy and territorial acknowledgements. Liz Wells, OKN Researcher & Knowledge Broker, and Eileen Palermo, OKN Program Administrator, produced a live webinar on the Early Development Instrument (EDI), and the popular Relationships First workshop went virtual with facilitator Steve Levac, Manager of Youth Services, Halton Children’s Aid Society.

The Halton Youth Initiative used social media to embark on a year-long Truth and Reconciliation journey that resulted in increased participation from the members and expanded engagement of youth across Halton.

In November, OKN called together professionals from Halton community organizations and agencies to help determine the key priorities that OKN will focus on to positively impact children, youth and families in the future. This was an interactive and thought-provoking virtual conference. The primary focus was ensuring that professionals who work with children and youth have a role in decision-making. We then have a common agenda across Halton.

Interconnecting

“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.”

Nikki Taylor
Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre

In her September blog, Nikki Taylor looked at the impact of the pandemic on Halton children as they returned to school. The longer-term impact of COVID-19 on children was also a key, common concern across professionals during the OKN Planning Conference in November.

We recognize now, while we all share this life-changing experience of the pandemic, how important we are to each other – in our families and friendships and, just as significantly, among our colleagues. At the OKN Planning Conference, participants pointed out that professionals working with families, youth and children are also members of their own families, and are in need of care themselves.

Our Kids Network leads the Asset-Building movement in Halton, a community investment in positive child and youth development. Building on this work will be paramount in the years to come.

“When this pandemic has ended, what will stand out most in our memories is how we treated each other.”

Nikki Taylor

Resilience: Change happens – what’s next?

Among many other accomplishments, OKN Executive Director, Elena DiBattista has led the OKN plan to grow and strengthen the network by introducing and implementing fundamental frameworks and strategies. In this way, she has built the platform that will launch the next generation of OKN’s work in Halton. And through 2020, she has always been at the helm helping us navigate these challenging new times.

Having announced her retirement, she is preparing (and helping us prepare) for what is next. For Elena, we know that well-deserved time to focus on family and friends is in her future and when it is safe, she will travel to the few exotic locations in the world that she has not yet visited.

We can’t thank you enough, Elena, for your dedication, passion, compassion, and visionary leadership over the past 10 years.

Especially now, it’s critically important that, as a Halton-wide collaborative, we have a view of the overall well-being of children and youth. As committee members work on identifying priorities, they are in the final phase of the restructuring of the network. This final phase represents a new direction for OKN, in aligning the work we do with our refined role and renewed mission and vision.

We are thankful to you, the countless, compassionate professionals who continue to provide essential services to your clients. To support the important work you do, OKN is continuing to focus on building capacity in the professional community, sharing knowledge, and developing resources to assist you.

OKN Resources for Information and Connection

Information on the OKN Community.
Information about OKN Champions.
Structure of Our Kids Network.
Explore the OKN Research.
Information on Asset-Building.

OKN Website supports Your Work – Discover Online Knowledge, Resources and Tools

By Karen Majerly, Communications at Work and Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager

As we carry on into October with managing the return to school – and work for some of us – in person or virtually, you can probably use a few more trusty tools to help families as they grapple with these uncertain circumstances. Now is the perfect time to get familiar with the resources on the Our Kids Network website – all there to support your vital work with Halton children, youth, and families.

OKN homepage screenshot

Strengthening the capacity of the professional community

Let’s start with the centre of it all – the Our Kids Network community. As a collective impact network, OKN builds the capacity of community organizations that support children and their families. You are likely already familiar with OKN’s vision: All children and youth thrive! Be sure to review the full explanation of OKN’s renewed mission and role to fully understand how the network builds capacity in the professional community.

As a professional working with children and youth, you might know that OKN conducts and shares research, develops resources to help you achieve your goals, and brings people together to achieve collective impact. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among organizations means everyone across the region – including you – is supported in their work toward the Halton 7, the ideal living conditions we want for kids and families.

Using data to plan and improve programs and services

Our Kids Network collects and shares research on what children and youth need to thrive. This trusted information can support your day-to-day work and planning. Visit the Research Resources section on the website to find a range of community reports, survey results, and planning tools that include neighbourhood-level data.

Make this your first stop to learn more about your neighbourhood and municipality, as well as how to interpret and use data to best plan and deliver services.

Upgraded Data Portal

OKN website users like you report that the new Data Portal 2.0 makes it even easier to find the data you need, then customize it to make your own maps, charts, and graphs.

The DP 2.0 contains Halton data from the 2003-18 Early Development Instrument survey, Kindergarten Parent Survey, and Tell Them From Me (TTFM) / OurSCHOOL survey, and includes the most recent health and Canada Census data.

Also in the Research Resources section, you can learn about the frameworks and strategies OKN uses to guide its work and support alignment.

Relationships matter

One of these key elements is the Asset-Building Framework. And at the heart of asset-building sits meaningful relationships – the key to OKN’s and your work.

Visit the Building Relationships section to learn more about Developmental Assets and Family Assets, and definitely explore the popular Asset-Building Toolkit, full of information and inspiration to help you bring positive child and youth development into your own practice and work environment. In the Facilitator’s Library, you’ll find tools to help you present workshops such as “Everyone’s an Asset-Builder,” and conduct informative meetings to educate families.

Enhancing understanding of Indigenous Reconciliation

Explore the informative information available to help you increase your own and others’ understanding of Indigenous history and perspectives. Expand your own Indigenous literacy – an understanding of the culture, context, and rights of Indigenous people and the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – and then share what you’ve learned with your colleagues and clients.

You may be particularly interested in viewing examples of Indigenous Land Acknowledgements and learning about how to determine territorial lands.

Take advantage of the OKN community and resources

You’re part of a community of organizations, agencies, and professionals across Halton that Our Kids Network strives to connect and support. Use the diverse OKN website resources to inform and inspire yourself and other professionals as you make your many positive contributions to the lives of young people and their families.

Thank you for your efforts and please reach out with your comments, questions, and ideas.

beth@ourkidsnetwork.ca

National Indigenous Peoples Day: What does June 21 mean to you?

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.

Three Indigenous people in traditional dress are smiling and talking
Photo credit: Government of Canada – National Indigenous Peoples Day  

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.

What will you be doing?

Conversations about Racism with Children. This is personal.

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

Have you had a conversation with a child or youth about racism?

It would be difficult not to if you have a school-aged child or youth in your life. It’s a daily conversation in my home these days. While trying to encourage my 10-year-old to continue with her Grade 5 studies in order not to be a middle school drop-out adding to the number of Indigenous people who do not complete high school, I learned she has been watching Black Lives Matter demonstrations and protests on social media.  She has a hard time explaining how to add fractions, but she can show me how to signal if she needs a helmet in a demonstration or how to escape riot police.

My 14-year-old son has some pretty strong views too. I asked him how to make an Instagram post all black to show my support for the Black Lives Matter protests and he argued against it.  Not because he doesn’t support the movement, but because he feels people are jumping on a band wagon. He questions whether people are doing what seems easy or are they actively advocating in their lives every day. “Wow,” I thought, “I think I might be doing something right as a parent.”

I have a sense of what my kids are thinking about when it comes to racism, because I have these conversations with my kids regularly. To be sure, they are tough talks. As an Indigenous mother, it can be heartbreaking, but I do not have the luxury of choice. My kids are Indigenous in Canada. I have to ensure that they have the tools to deal with inevitable racism.

How do I start discussing systemic racism? 

My children were so excited to receive their Registered Indian cards in the mail. The fact that they are Registered Indians, as defined by the Government of Canada’s Indian Act – systemic legislation designed to assimilate and civilize the Indian – seemed like great place to start. It’s not like Mom hasn’t rained on their parade before.

So, I started with the Pass System. Notice how “system” is right there in the name. Systemic racism should be easy to spot, really. Canada’s Pass System required any Indian wanting to leave the reserve – for any reason – to ask permission of the “Indian Agent”. In fact, almost all activities required permission from the Indian Agent.  My children’s Kokhum (grandmother) had her own experience with this person.  “The Indian Agent sure was mad when your Mooshum and I got married”, she told my kids. “Your Mooshum didn’t ask for permission to marry me. Good thing we didn’t get married on the reserve. It may not have happened!”

I have also only touched on the Residential School System with my kids. These topics must be presented in small doses, and as necessary. Children can easily be overwhelmed with such heart-breaking information and need time to digest it.

Unfortunately, I have to speak to my children about the racism they will encounter at school, in sports, and with friends, and also with well-meaning non-Indigenous people in their lives.  If I had a Loonie for every time I heard “But you don’t look like an Indian. I think you mean to say you are Metis.” when I was growing up… Well I’d rather not think about that number right now. It didn’t take me long to learn that explaining the fact that I was a Registered Status Indian and band member of Peepeekisis First Nation, wouldn’t get me far with non-Indigenous parents and teachers who felt the need to set me straight on who I am. As a child, I always wondered why I was the one teaching them. They were the adults.

My son, who is very proud to be Indigenous, wears his identity on his sleeve. Literally. He recently did a peer to peer exchange with youth from Attiwapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario through Hockey Cares. You might recall hearing about Attiwapiskat in the news a few years back. The community realized a cluster of suicides and called on the Federal government to provide adequate mental health services.

The youth in Attiwapiskat gave out ball caps and hoodies with their community crest and the words “Proud to be Native” as gifts. I beam with joy to see my son wearing these items. As a kid growing up on the prairies, I knew that identifying yourself as a First Nations person could be dangerous. It still is actually, when we remember Coulton Boushie, the young Indigenous man who was killed by a white farmer in rural Saskatchewan.

Back to my son. He endured a racial incident with his friends this winter. I found him sobbing in his room one day. A visceral sob that I recognized. He was in pain. A pain that a mother’s kiss wouldn’t fix. Apparently a virtual game he was playing with friends got heated. Words were exchanged. None of them good, including my son’s. It got to the point where my son was told, “Go back to Residential School and get (insert word for sexual assault).” I never learned about Indigenous people in school, yet I went to a high school surrounded by First Nations reserves. Not one teacher, nor topic in the curriculum, was Indigenous.  I also never thought that this current generation, now learning the truth about how Indigenous people have suffered, would use this knowledge against us. It was a week of tough conversations in my home.

I recognize that this is my son’s story to tell and, traditionally, stories should really be told in winter. But I will say a prayer and ask for forgiveness because I think it is an important story that illustrates the importance of talking about racism with our children. You may be thinking, “My children are not racist. I know my kids.”  Some of you are saying, “We are first or second generation Canadians. We know racism. We are in Canada because we left that behind.”  Maybe you are saying, “This is Canada, Halton or anywhere else. Racism doesn’t happen here.” Yes, it does.

I am closing by recommending resources that I hope will help you talk about racism with children and youth. Start the conversation. It is never too early or too late. Make an effort to understand what they are thinking. Help shape their worldviews to be inclusive of all, respectful, and kind.

Take some time to explore the resources linked below and to do your own web research. The resources are there for you as to use as tools for making change.

How to change systemic racism in Canada. What does racism look like in Canada? Web series called “First Things First“, and produced by TVO, features Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She tells us the story of Jordan River Anderson and why she continues to fight the Canadian government to gain rights for Indigenous children.

What needs to change to end systemic racism in Canada towards Indigenous peoples. Anne-Marie Mediwake of CTV’s Your Morning show interviews former MKO Chief Sheila North who reacts to some Canadian politicians denying systemic racism.

How can I help? Eddy Robinson is an educator on Indigenous issues. In this TVO web series called “First Things First”, Robinson explains why asking “How Can I Help?” is not the right question.

Racism: Indigenous Perspective with Senator Murray Sinclair. How and why do the impacts of history persist? How racism is directly or indirectly manifested in our society?  What are our obligations to address racism? How do we reconcile divisions created by racism? How do we directly or indirectly reinforce racism?  How is racism holding us back? In this video Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs explores these questions with Senator Sinclair.

21 Things You May Not Have Known About the Indian Act. Activist and author, Bob Joseph, looks at some of the restrictions and impacts imposed on First Nations (some have since been removed in revisions of the Act).