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.
In May and June 2021, more than 2500 youth participated in the Halton Youth Impact Survey. The results from the survey address an important gap in comprehensive data on how young people are doing across a range of indicators, including mental health, belonging, safety, and connections with their community.
Preliminary results were shared at a Youth Data Party in November 2021 with 44 young people leading a discussion on what the data means to them and how to mobilize the information to improve wellbeing in Halton. Participants shared ideas for taking action, from the community promoting a sense of belonging by helping youth feel at ease, to schools providing additional support for homework, resources for mental health and opportunities for connecting with others through clubs.
Explore new data
Now, the data is available for everyone to access in OKN’s Data Portal. With over 50 new indicators, you can now explore this new data to inform your work with children and youth. For example, did you know that only 3 in 10 Halton youth rate their mental health as very good or excellent? And while 63% of youth report at least one positive interaction in their community, 29% feel lonely. Mental health is so important to a young person’s development and affects the way we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. How can we support young people struggling with their mental health and sense of belonging? The data will help center youth voices so that programs and services intended for young people are responsive to their specific needs and experiences.
In addition to exploring a wide range of indicators, the Data Portal allows users to make comparisons across different geographies in Halton. This can help identify gaps in services, or programs to learn from. For example, how do youth rate their school experience in North East Oakville compared to South Central Milton? In what communities do youth experience higher levels of belonging? Are there linkages between sense of belonging and access to community services such as libraries and recreation? The map below highlights the sample size of the survey for the different neighborhoods of Halton. Explore the Data Portal to make your own comparisons to better understand the gaps and opportunities for serving youth in our community.
In the coming months, the OKN team will be rolling out a knowledge translation plan to turn the new, comprehensive data into community action. Our goal is to generate awareness about how young people are doing across a range of indicators, inform evidence-based decision-making that will support young people, and mobilize community action to improve the wellbeing of youth in Halton.
Beginning in March, we will be publishing a series of data action bulletins focusing on the Halton 7. The data action bulletins will summarize key findings in an accessible format with questions to help guide discussion and action at your organization. Do the findings support your programs or policies, or identify gaps in programs or services? In what ways can we develop and foster youth connectedness? How can we work together to build strong community belonging with youth?
The Halton Youth Impact Survey collected comprehensive demographic data that will provide important information on how youth with different backgrounds, abilities, and identities understand their sense of wellbeing. What are the important differences experienced by those living with a disability or those with a gender identity other than male or female? How do newcomer, non-binary, Indigenous and white youth rate their levels of stress, family connections and community safety? And how can we ensure all youth are included in our programs, services, and policies?
The data action bulletins will be accompanied by a series of public events to share findings and facilitate discussion among young people, educators, service providers, policy-makers, and others across Halton. Everyone working with youth has a role to play and no matter your area of work, there is data to inform how to support young people.
In the second half of 2022, OKN will publish a final report, bringing together all the key findings from the survey, providing a comprehensive community profile of youth wellbeing in Halton.
We look forward to connecting with partners across Halton and working together to improve youth wellbeing in our community. To explore the data now, visit the OKN Data Portal and share on your social channels how you plan to use the data with the hashtag #HaltonYouthDataAction. To receive the latest updates on events and reports, sign up for the OKN newsletter.
Let’s work together to see all children and youth thrive!
On Tuesday November 30, 2021, several Youth Impact Ambassadors facilitated discussions with other youth in Halton regarding key elements, or ‘data sparks’, from the Halton Youth Impact Survey. During the virtual Data Party, attended by nearly 50 youth, we learned more about relationships and youth mental health in presentations shared by the Research team at Our Kids Network (OKN).
We brainstormed suggestions, shared stories, and discussed how youth and adults could take action to make Halton a better place for all. We listened to the youth as they processed the data that they had received for the first time. We heard their recommendations for tackling key challenges such as mental health and sense of belonging. These reflections will help OKN’s Research team enhance the data statistics as they prepare them to be used by Halton professionals in their work.
By Leah Minkovich, Halton Youth Impact Survey ambassador and data party guest
This was the first time since working as a Youth Impact Survey ambassador that I had a chance to see the survey results. I was both surprised and disappointed. The results were what I expected, reflecting on the feelings of isolation that I personally, along with the youth I had talked to, were feeling. But to see that I was right, and that mental health had dropped substantially among youth during the pandemic was a disappointment. The registrants in my group echoed similar thoughts. For some, this was what they were expecting, but there were quite a few who were caught completely off guard.
We were able to have an incredibly meaningful conversation about the reasons behind these results, as well as what could be done about them. Many of the registrants had similar ideas about school being the best opportunity for change. Ideas such as extra homework help, a greater variety of clubs, and being more open about mental health were discussed.
From conversation to action
By Shrena Sribalan, Halton Youth Impact Survey ambassador and data party guest
Since the pandemic started, I’ve been to a lot of online events of a similar sort. However, nothing compares to the excitement and passion that burst through my screen on the night of the OKN Halton Youth Impact Survey’s Data Party! As a Halton Youth Impact ambassador, it was so nice to see that we reached so many different young people and that hard work paid off. Seeing the data left me with mixed feelings. It showed me where we must grow as a community and what we are doing well at already.
The best part by far was when we got to deliberate our thoughts in breakout rooms. It was so nice to have meaningful conversations with people who care about issues I care about. It felt like I had known these people forever. Together, we proposed various solutions directed at various community stakeholders whether it be the municipality, the government, the school boards, and even ourselves. I hope that our thoughts get translated to the right people to ensure the voices of youth are heard and a plan of action is set.
Including the Reflections of Halton Youth on the Survey Data is Critical to Preparing the Data for the Community
By Elisabeth Wells, PhD, Our Kids Network research & knowledge mobilization manager
As Canada prepares to mark National Child Day on November 20, Our Kids Network (OKN) calls on the Halton community to support the vision established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, that all children be treated with dignity and respect.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to give young people the opportunity to have their voices heard and to be active participants in their communities and the decisions that affect their wellbeing. The Youth Impact Survey demonstrates the ideals of National Child Day, not only in the information it has collected and how it will be used, but also in the ways it provides opportunities for youth engagement and leadership.
Youth Ambassadors Explain Why the Survey was So Successful
A key to the success of the Halton Youth Impact Survey was its peer-to-peer approach and the enthusiasm of the youth ambassadors involved. In the video, we provide an overview of the lead up to the survey launch and two of our youth survey ambassadors give the details of how youth across Halton participated and what was happening in their communities.
The survey results will be valuable in supporting youth and this gives us a snapshot, especially during COVID-19, of how Halton youth are doing. It’s also important to note that the survey engaged some young people who may not always be heard, such as Indigenous, LGBTQ2+, and newcomer youth, and youth living with chronic illness and disability.
National Child Day has a lot to do with embracing children and their ideas. Everyone is different, and we have different cultures and backgrounds, but the thing we have in common is that we all want to make the world a better place. Tanvi, a 17 year-old Oakville resident
Sharing the Data with the Community
We want to empower our community by not only sharing the data we collect, but by providing insight, information, training, and guidance on how to understand and use it to work toward positive results. The two key strategies implemented for collecting the survey data last spring (by the community for the community and peer to peer engagement) will again form the foundation for the release of Halton Youth Impact Survey results.
Our process for preparing the data for use includes not only analysis and translation but review and feedback from the OKN Research Committee (taking place now) and an opportunity for reflection and response from youth themselves at a virtual Youth Impact Survey Data Party, on Tuesday, Nov. 30. And of course, youth will continue to have a role in the release of these results as we move forward in the next few months.
In a few weeks, these activities will be complete, and the information and insight gained will be integrated into a comprehensive Knowledge Translation strategy to share the data with professionals like yourself across Halton. We expect to implement the Halton Youth Impact Survey results strategy in early 2022. Read more about the strategy.
In May and June 2021, Our Kids Network, in collaboration with UNICEF Canada, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Medivae Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, launched the Halton Youth Impact Survey. The survey was piloted in Halton, Waterloo, Ottawa and Digby, Nova Scotia to better understand the wellbeing of youth in Canada with the aim of rolling it out across the country.
The survey provides an important opportunity for us to understand how young people are doing across a range of indicators based on OKN’s Halton 7. The survey was informed by a series of youth engagements during the design and implementation phase to ensure youth voices are centered in how the community responds to the needs of young people in Halton.
…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…
Liz Wells, Our Kids Network research and knowledge broker.
Youth Ambassadors hosted events for peers, made videos and spoke with local reporters about the importance of hearing directly from youth during these difficult times.
The results are in
Thanks to Halton youth, parents, community partners and everyone who shared the survey with young people, more than 2500 youth between 9 and 18 years of age shared their voice through the Halton Youth Impact Survey.
The results provide new, in-depth, Halton-wide data about how our young people are doing on a range of indicators including physical and mental health, food security, bullying and discrimination, connection to community, and much more. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey also provides much-needed information about how young people are coping with changes to their school, home and social lives, and insights on what Halton organizations can do to support youth.
What information do YOU need to support youth?
The comprehensive survey asked more than 30 questions, providing us with responses to questions about anxiety, safety, the environment, activism, school life, friends, bullying, substance use, housing and much more.
What are the key priorities for youth in Halton? Where are they facing challenges and where are the opportunities to support the development of healthy, connected young people?
In addition to questions about individual experiences, we also asked youth to specify their personal characteristics to help us understand how the intersections of race, gender, ability, nationality and other characteristics impact their well-being.
What do youth want us to know about their mental wellbeing? How many youth feel supported by their peers, family and community? What important differences are experienced by Indigenous or newcomer youth in our communities?
How are the youth that YOU serve doing?
Now that we have heard from the youth in Halton, what information does YOUR organization need to better support the youth in your network? And how will YOU use the data to improve programs and services for young people in Acton, Burlington, Georgetown, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville?
From research to action
Now that the results are in, we at OKN are excited to share the new, comprehensive data with community partners across Halton. In the coming months, we will be organizing youth data parties, launch events and presentations for partners in Halton. The data will also be uploaded to the OKN Data Portal so that you can explore, analyze and utilize the data to support the work of your organization.
When the survey was launched, our community partners shared how they planned to use the data. Many partners committed to better understand the needs of children and youth in order to plan and implement effective programs and services.
Social and Community Services at Halton Region are planning to compare the data with existing early years data to understand the relationship between early years and older youth in order to help local governments plan programs and services. The Oakville Public Library hopes to understand what volunteer opportunities are important to youth and how to ensure they are accessible to all. For the Halton Multicultural Centre, the survey will provide important information about how to create programs that provide a warm introduction to newcomer youth. And the Milton Community Resource Centre will use the data to understand the specific needs of girls in our community to help inform their She Can! Girls Empowerment Program.