Archive for ‘Youth’

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.

May 18, 2011

Toronto youth initiatives: Ground-level view of the stratosphere

After the “summer of the gun” in 2005, various funders and levels of government focused on the issues of youth and youth violence. The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence was produced. Funding appeared in the Priority Neighbourhood Areas through the Youth Challenge Fund (YCF). Laidlaw Foundation made youth a central focus of its work. United Way Toronto developed a “policy outcomes framework,” calling for coordinated action from the provincial government. Each summer since, through Focus on Youth, a provincially-funded program, the two largest public school boards have run programs providing youth employment and space for non-profits in Toronto schools.

So now, more

than five years later, some of that work is well established, and some of it, such as YCF, is near the end of its mandate. From the 30,000 foot level, things look good.

The provincial government’s youth policy framework is being developed, guided by “big brain science,” as one watcher called it. Literature reviews are done and developmental milestones are being firmed up. United Way Toronto has been hosting a multi-stakeholder Community of Practice for Youth and has developed evaluation frameworks with youth-serving agencies to develop a youth strategy. Consultations are underway for United Way’s development of a strategy. A city-wide Dialogue on youth violence working group is rolling along. A frontline youth workers crisis response guide has been developed. Laidlaw Foundation’s and United Way’s multiple reports and initiatives are well underway (see More below).

If youth of this city need strategies, guides, conferences and policy, the non-profit and government sectors are working it. But a recent conversation with a group of youth service-providers providers a more sobering reality check. While “capacity-building” and “skills-building” is being funded, program operating costs are scarce.

The south entrance of Dufferin Mall in Toronto...

Image via Wikipedia

One set of neighbourhood agencies have spent a year exploring after-school programming for local youth, but have stalled because they haven’t found a funder that focuses on this need. The Youth Challenge Fund, which focused on Priority Neighbourhood Areas, is in its last year. The City’s Welcome Policy is frozen – and this may be a seasonal occurrence. Youth settlement funding for newcomers is drying up. One youth worker explained he has no more funding to take youth to museums or other downtown excursions. His program cannot cover the tokens, never mind the admission costs of these attractions. Another worker lamented a summer of trips to the local park instead of places further afield, such as the Toronto Islands. The kids in these programs sometimes have never seen Lake Ontario. To raise funds for TTC costs, they are making arts & crafts to sell locally.

And community space for youth is still a crunch.

  • While LOFT has been able to open a youth social enterprise space, the Dufferin Mall space has closed.
  • Media centres have been or are opening in four Toronto libraries, but operating funding beyond three years is uncertain. What will happen to the city’s recreation centres is still to be determined.
  • Social Planning Toronto is working on a report to track how youth are able to access community space in Toronto. They are finding attitudes are as important a barrier as availability of space.
  • The provincially-funded Community Use of Schools program has opened 77 schools in the TDSB, but the hours are restricted to after 6 p.m. on week-days and week-ends. Because of the identified deficit, Board staff are actively discouraging bookings on week-ends because of the added overtime costs which eat into this budget.

A few sparks of hope continue to emerge, though. The Toronto District School Board, for instance, is playing with new ideas like delayed starts for the school day and more “schools of choice.” Even with the sluggishness of strategies or the scarcity of funding, people are being creative. However, in the end, all this thinking won’t be enough.  While we create more strategies, another generation of youth is moving through their teens.

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May 2, 2011

The habit of voting: start early, vote often

rick mercer makes a pursed point

Image by clang boom steam via Flickr

Rick Mercer has been suggesting youth take a date to the federal election today. His earlier rant, at the beginning of the campaign, sparked vote mobs on campuses across the country. His words carry the weight of research.

Being eighteen-years-old is about the worst time to introduce youth to voting, according to a University doctoral student I met recently at a farewell reception for the now-defunct Centre for Urban Health Initiatives. Likely to be at a more tumultuous time of their lives, living in a new community, eighteen-year-olds are less likely to vote than the former age-of-majority, twenty-one-year olds. And when we don’t vote, she explained to us gathered around, it becomes a habit.

So the call to drop the voting age to sixteen makes a lot of sense. Youth, normally still living in familiar surroundings, would make their first foray into voting on more stable ground.

In fact, our grad student’s own research focuses levels of voting among immigrants. She is finding that those without the culture and habit of voting are less likely to exercise their franchise when they come to Canada. 

“If  I were king of the world,” she said, “I would make voting at least once a pre-requisite for citizenship.” Her doctoral work, not yet complete, gives weight to calls to allow city residents, despite their citizenship status, to vote in municipal elections.

July 14, 2010

Racialized poverty & academic performance: A tentative exploration of the latent effects of social capital on educational achievement

The power of a strong research report is the way it changes our civil discourse. In Toronto, Poverty by Postal Code, the Strong Neighbourhoods Taskforce Report, MISWAA, and University of Toronto/St. Christopher House research reports on neighbourhood change have all played a robust part in recent public policy discussions. Such reports re-frame the way we think about our city and each other.

So, when the TDSB’s Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC) asked the board’s research staff to do a comparative analysis tracking students’ academic achievement patterns against the Neighbourhood Change CURA’s “Three Cities” report, it seemed like a good idea. The Three Cities report had splashed over the front pages of our daily newspapers and underscored the growing inequality and geographic separations within our city. ICAC expected the results would provide further insight into schools in low-income neighbourhoods.

On first analysis, however, the results were disappointing.

Several measures of educational achievement were tested, including:

  • EQAO Grade 3 Math scores
  • EQAO Grade 6 Math scores
  • Grade 9 science results
  • Grade 9-10 Academic program
  • Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT)
  • Access to Ontario post-secondary institute

Yet, the correlation between the “Three Cities” and students’ academic performance was weak — likely for two reasons: first, the Neighbourhood Change/Three Cities analysis used average incomes in its comparisons of neighbourhoods, a known, weaker predictor of academic performance; and, secondly, almost half of the TDSB’s highest-need schools are actually located outside the areas identified as the “third city” or lowest-income areas.

Nevertheless, the school board’s researcher charged with the task, Dr. Rob Brown, persevered in his analysis.

The “three cities,” described by Dr. Hulchanski et. al., break down into further categories. For instance, high income areas are comprised of Elite neighbourhoods which were rich and have remained rich and Gentrifying neighbourhoods which have become high-income in recent decades.

Poor areas of the city break out into four main areas:

  • Youngest suburbs (Lower density, homeowners, larger families, white-collar jobs, high visible minority population, higher Chinese population)
  • Older suburbs (Lower density, more seniors, lower education levels, higher White population)
  • Renters (Immigrant reception areas, highest density, apartment towers, high levels of education, low incomes, more South Asian)
  • Lowest incomes (Highrise rental and social housing, low incomes, lower education, manual labour jobs, higher Black population, more single parents)

So, when Brown looked to see whether academic achievement tracked with these categories, the patterns were more interesting. What he found gives new insight into some of the debates at the school board around race and poverty.

Predictably, the highest performing students were almost consistently the students who lived in the Elite neighbourhoods. However, in two instances they were beaten, in Grade 3 Math and Grade 9 Science — both times by students, in the “third city,” from the Youngest Suburbs. In fact, in all but two of the measures, students in the Youngest Suburbs also out-performed the Gentrifying group of students in “city one”: Taking academic program in Grade 9-10, and the OSSLT.

University admissions tracked a similar path. 53% of Elite students confirmed attendance at an Ontario university, followed by 49% of students in the Youngest Suburbs. These two groups were also the most likely to have applied to post-secondary education. Students in every other neighbourhood type lagged behind in the 33% – 36% range, except for high school students in the Lowest-income neighbourhoods, where only 25% confirmed university attendance (and where 57% did not apply to any level of higher education).

In comparison, students from the other parts of the “third city,” Older Suburbs and Renters, were often within a few percentage points of each other and approaching, or occasionally surpassing, the performance of middle-income students in “city two.” The lowest academic performers were the Lowest Income, except in the case of Grade 3 math, where they beat the Gentrifying neighbourhoods.

So, the analysis shows that while income, or the lack there-of, can be an important predictor of students’ academic performance, it is not a determinant. While Brown himself doesn’t speculate, the interesting part of this work is to imagine what protective factors might be helping some low-income students to compete.

A perfunctory analysis might note that the distinguishing factors between the different “cities” are the racial and ethnic compositions of them. Buttressing the weight of this is the first release of the TDSB’s Student Census which made headlines when it was published because of the analysis which how students of various ethno-cultural backgrounds were performing in school. But that initial report stopped there at these correlations, ipso facto, not looking to control other factors, such as poverty, lone parent status, low education levels and other risk factors found in each of these neighbourhoods.

I would argue a deeper, more nuanced picture emerges from Brown’s ICAC study, one which outlines the structuralist nature of educational achievement. Because the neighbourhood categories were more homogenous, it was possible to examine some of the complex interplays of income and race and, more importantly, the social capital students were able to access.

Within the context of the City of Toronto, these factors play out along a racial dimension, in other places, they may play out along other lines of identity, of accent or class or another form of “othering.” We need to think though the root cause of the barriers. For instance, racism, rather than race, per se, may be a barrier, but so is limited access to social and economic capital or access to strong, supportive social networks. Race, ethnicity and culture are the shorthand for a much more complex picture, which encapsulates access to resources and opportunities, individual and systemic racism, community expectations and a wide range of other social determinants.

So, for instance, students in the Youngest Suburbs were part of a cultural heritage that holds scholarship in esteem, where white-collar jobs were more common, and where family structures were wider. In contrast, students in the Lowest Income neighbourhoods were more likely to live in low-quality (rental, crowded) housing, with poorer job prospects, fewer family supports, and fewer role models who had attended higher education. Students in the Youngest Suburbs and the Renters have also more likely been exposed to a second language, which can improve learning.

These apparent racial divisions are the evidence of deeper divides within the city. They represent the unequal division and distribution of resources among us. These racial divides allow the easy concentration of resources within family, kinship, and friendship networks, encasing the economic and social capital that families and neighbourhoods bring to bear on its own young. The result is that those with the fewest resources are least likely to apply to university, whereas those who still have a strong sense of aspiration, positive supports, and role models are more likely to have better outcomes.

This peer effect is underscored by the work of David Harding at the University of Michigan. He found that “disadvantaged neighborhoods exhibit greater heterogeneity in college goals and that adolescents in more heterogeneous neighborhoods are more likely to change educational goals over time and are less likely to act in concert.” Essentially, more kids in richer neighbourhoods attend university because they are expected to do so.

What Brown’s research underscores is that poverty is about more than income. It’s about the inoculative supports which many lack.

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June 11, 2010

Choosing between the good, the bad and the poor schools

Many years ago, when my daughter was ready to begin school, we looked to the neighbourhood school. We attended a fun fair. I chatted with the school principal. I talked to other parents in the area. And if there had been provincial EQAO testing scores on the then-budding internet, we would have looked those up. It’s a good thing we didn’t.

The school, it turned out, was a great school, and we hit it during its heyday, when the principals valued social equity, the teachers were committed, and parents were welcomed inside.

Yet, if we had only judged this school on its provincial EQAO scores, we may never have gone.

No, it’s not that it was a bad school, but it was a poor school — a school with a large number of students from low-income families. And everyone from the C. D. Howe Institute to the Ontario Institute in Education has shown that poor kids don’t do well in standardized tests such as the EQAO.

The reality is that the richest schools have the best academic outcomes, and lock-step down the income ladder, except through feats of teaching heroics, test scores and other markers of academic success drop.

Excellence in test-taking predicts….excellence in test-taking. It has much weaker correlations with overall course grades, graduation, or later success in life. This is why tests like the SAT (Standardized Aptitude Tests) are slagged even by university admission officers as a lousy way to find academic excellence, yet it is one of the only one consistent measures available.

But, still, when new parents move into the neighbourhood, they want to know (as I did), “Is it a good school?”

It’s a fair question.

Every year, the provincial tests administered to Ontario students by the EQAO attract a ton of media coverage. We all want to know how our school do.

With the installation of provincial EQAO tests, a wealth of other websites have emerged, happy to advise the worried parents of wee ones.

The EQAO scores at my family’s local public school have improved over the past decade, so much so, that when the Premier (the “Education Premier”) visited last year, the first comment he made publicly was how well test scores had improved at the school.

And yes, teachers have tried harder, new programs have been introduced, and scores have risen. What McGuinty didn’t say, but was just as important, was that the average income in the neighbourhood has also been steadily rising. And so predictably, our scores have risen.

Parents who are hunting for the best school might as well ignore the scores. A lot more than what can be captured in a provincial test goes into an effective schools.

In my more mischievous moments, when people ask me what makes a good school, I want to advise them to ask how students were suspended (data that is hard to find again) or, in high school, how many students committed suicide in the past year (never published, of course).

Instead, go see how many parents show up to help for the pizza lunch, see how many school clubs are run, and see how the principal welcomes parents. Think about the value of knowing other families in the local community.

Most of us are happy with our schools. It’s why such a high proportion of Canadians still send their children to publicly-funded schools.

And this is not to say that there are not bad schools in the system, places where principals suspend inordinate numbers of their students or impose bans on parents entering playgrounds when faced with their sharp criticism, places where the physical plant has deteriorated to embarrassing levels.

But the value of a neighbourhood school is best known by those closest to it. As  the OISE Survey of Public Attitudes towards Education in Ontario continues to find, those who are closest to the school system are the happiest with it.

The research bodes well for any worried parent.

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March 9, 2010

Back again at the Board on the achievement gap

Given the pace of many meetings, I find it’s therapeutic to make dishcloths because, at least, by the end I have done something concrete.

So, last Saturday, I packed up my yarn and went to the public hearings of the TDSB’s Achievement Gap Taskforce, Breaking the Cycle. I wasn’t optimistic that it would be more than some self-congratulatory self-effacing exercise, the kind the Board does every few years but, still, I wanted to listen.

About 25 presenters came to talk to the Taskforce. Others who weren’t quick enough to sign up also sat sprinkled in the audience. A few trustees, the Board Chair, and the Director rotated through during the day.

As should be expected, many deputants appealed for additional resources, calling for more tutors, smaller classes, mentorship programs, and more interpreters.

But the arguments were also more nuanced. Students talked about the disengagement of their fellow students, the lack of responsibility, the lack of motivation.  Staff talked about ensuring the “academic dignity” of their students. Community agencies reminded panelists that if student are having a problem, their families are having a problem – yet they often treated separately. Community members raised the need to understand “lateral violence.”

Others recognized that identified needs would always outstrip available resources, so called for better coordination and a sustained commitment of program resources. Support programs come and go, and the lack of consistency and rapid turnover means that word-of-mouth referrals may often be out of date. Parents are left, not knowing where to turn.

Grade 8/9 transitions were identified as challenging because students are suddenly thrust into a larger environment, with higher expectations and less monitoring. Others called for a shift towards learning to learn.

The strongest theme, among the students who presented, was the need for connection to their schools. Their stories and those of their classmates were about the need to belong and the cost when students are not engaged. Their words underlined what we already know about the importance of building relations to students and community.

Students also described the importance of role models; one young Black student, upon seeing the meeting chair was also Black male, said that made him want to be the one who “rang the bell,” too, to signal time was up. A youth worker veered off his comments when he saw a former teacher and coach in the room, saying that this man in the corner had made the difference between the life he now led as a college-educated community worker and one where he may well have ended up in jail or worse. The room melted at the end of the presentation, when they hugged, student towering over teacher.

Lloyd McKell, the Chair, pressed respondents further for solutions.

The network of Aboriginal and Metis Educators highlighted the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Aboriginal Education Strategy, a concrete framework ready for implementation. They reported that the Toronto Catholic school board already offers Aboriginal Grade 11 English and Grade 9 Visual Arts as core courses rather than as options. Pens scribbled when the network pointed out that enhanced funding is offered to school boards for offering these courses. The network also underscored that these learnings are important to students of all cultures.

Mirroring the Director’s call for a parent academy in his Vision of Hope, a presenter from Hispanic community spoke about a weekly, Spanish-language community-based program for parents which addressed issues such as mental health or multiple intelligences. The need to create supportive social networks was identified as a need for parents as well as students. [At my own daughter’s high school, we once tried to facilitate linguistic groupings at parent information nights, allowing people to find a space where they could network more easily.]

Among the day’s presentations were also some disheartening moments.

Speakers from the Somali community reminded taskforce members that twenty years ago, they had forwarded a similar set of recommendations. They were not implemented, so they were back.

Another presenter explained that when members of the Hispanic community met with one of the then Directors of Education, fifteen years ago, about their concerns for students in their community, they were reportedly told that if the school board did something for them, then the Board would have to “do something for everyone” too.

An final unfortunate note was that since microphones were not available, some speakers, especially women, were difficult to hear.

On the upside, I got two dishcloths done.

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November 30, 2009

A harder case to make for boys' school in the TDSB

New Toronto District School Board Director Chris Spence is showing himself fearless in the face of controversy. But he’s got a hard case to make if he is going to convince Torontonians that a boys’ school is a good way to address underachievement.

As part of the his move to open the discussion, Dr. Leonard Sax, the executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, was invited to address Toronto parents and trustees last week.

It didn’t go over well.

Perhaps most scathing was Trustee Mari Ruka’s summary of the talk (see More below). (Trustee Rutka is infamous for her arguments against the separate nature of Africentric schools, saying that if the school board proceeded, it should, by the same logic, set up schools for students who are “fat” or “red-headed.”)

Several OISE graduates have also begun a Facebook string on the topic of boy’s schools.

Pointing to the fact that both populations face underachievement, Spence used the same arguments used for the Africentric school launched earlier this year in the TDSB. Learning styles, which is what the boys’ school advocates seem to centre on, are not the same as the cultural inheritance arguments put forward for Black-focused schools. The arguments for separation are blurrier because gender identities are blurrier. (Sax’s ill-received attempts at humour probably failed because they too predictably relied on gender stereotypes.).

Black-focused/Africentric schools are also open to all students – different again from Spence and Sax’s arguments of how (some) boys may need a “girl-free” environment.

As the parent of a son, I have often argued for more “boy-friendly” learning environments. However, unlike my stance on Africentric schools, I still wait to be convinced that he, and boys like him, would be best served in a single-sex school.

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November 10, 2009

An opportunity gap – not an achievement gap

OISE’s Centre for Urban Schooling packed them in for a lecture tonight by Linda Nathan called Grappling with the Hardest Questions: Why Must Schools Talk Openly About Race and Achievement and What Happens When They Do.

Nathan is co-headmaster of Boston’s Arts Academy (BAA), a small public high school located across from Fenway Park, where kids from all economic and racial backgrounds can take advantage of the kind of specialized education institution to which upper and middle class parents often send their children.

In a school with such diversity, BAA has worked to ensure all students achieve. In the No Child Left Behind ethos, this means making sure students achieve. As Nathan writes in her new book, The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test:

For the majority of educators of good will who are teaching in urban schools—many of them, though obviously not all, white women—the achievement gap is a hugely personal issue. The notion that today’s schools are not helping to equalize opportunity in the way American schools are supposed to do is not just a frustration. It haunts us.

If schools are going to ensure the achievement gap is closed, she writes, it will take more than the piles binders of disaggregated data which simply reiterate the problem.

Instead, Nathan argues schools need to

  • frame the problem as an opportunity gap, recognizing the challenged and unequal backgrounds some students come from. Address inequality. So, for instance, admission to BAA is not based on skill, developed through years of private lessons, but on a student’s passion for the opportunity before them.
  • address how race affects learning, rather than test scores. This means, for example, instead trying to close the gap by teaching testing skills, that teachers have the training and time to think through complex learning issues as a school team.
  • plan explicitly to raise the performance of African American boys. For instance, when honour roll assemblies are held, she underlines the importance of Black male achievement, not to the detriment of other students, but to emphasize what they can all do.
  • Find a common vision – BAA developed an ethos called R.I.C.O., which stands for Refine, Invent, Connect, and Own. These are values applied to all of school life.

Teachers and students became involved in the difficult conversation about race and opportunity at BAA.

“If we don’t speak the truth we all see,” she explained to the audience, “we won’t make sustainable change.”

Nathan urges us to think about the structures that create opportunity.

More than artistry, BAA teaches citizenry.

Schools, she said, must be places where we want to belong. The stories she told (and others) emphasized the participatory and democratic natures of the schools where Nathan has worked. (She felt odd, she explained, telling these stories without the students with her now, but cross-border travel does present complications.)

94% of BAA’s students go on to post-secondary studies—and Nathan says there is still room for improvement.

The lesson, unnerving as it may be for Canadians, is that when race is explicitly addressed, when students are fully engaged, and when opportunity is created, there is no achievement gap.

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June 21, 2009

Community hubs recommended for young and old

The same week the Pascal Report on the implementation of full-day kindergarten in Ontario was released, the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) released a Call to Action on building age-friendly communities. Bracketing opposite ends of the life cycle, the reports shared some very similar recommendations.

Both reports emphasized the role and importance of community hubs and the integrated delivery of services. Pascal recommended that schools serve families and the broader spectrum of their needs, while the OPPI called in a series of recommendations for government services to be delivered locally and for seniors and children’s services to be co-located. Both also addressed expanded learning opportunities for each age group.

The reports underscore the point that a focus on place-based strategies aids those who are most needy and least mobile: the elderly, parents with strollers, newcomers with more limited social networks and low–income people who rely on transit.

The benefits of this strategy are also shared. As the former mayor of Bogotà, Columbia, eloquently explained about some of his innovative strategies:

“Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children we will have a successful city for all people.”

—Enrique Peñalosa to Yes Magazine


A few other praiseworthy notes on the report by Dr. Charles Pascal, the Premier’s Special Adviser to the Ontario Premier on Early Learning:

  • By addressing the entire 0—12 age range, Pascal affirmed that the introduction of full day kindergarten was not a panacea to the challenges that many children face (he cites Willms’ research estimates of up to 60% of all children are vulnerable). As, as economist James Hechman shows, early investment must be followed up to be effective [emphasis added].
  • Pascal also recognized and named the summer learning loss which occurs for most low–income kids. The opening of schools as community hubs should bridge some of that gap.

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May 31, 2009

Key factors associated with youth delinquency

A Statistics Canada analysis this spring looked at factors associated with delinquent activity among immigrant youth in Canada. Ostensibly, the report was comparing newcomer and Canadian-born youth, but what it found was more about the importance of family and friends.

The report on property-related and violent activities relied on self-reports from the 2006 International Youth Survey.

Youth were asked if they had participated in a series of risky behaviours in the previous 12 months:

  • Property delinquency was measured as youth who had damaged something on purpose (including bus shelter, window or seat), stolen a bicycle or vehicle, stolen from a store, burglary and arson
  • Violent delinquency was measured whether a youth had snatched a purse or bag, carried a weapon, threatened someone with harm, participated in a fight intentionally.

Here’s what the report found:

Rates of both property and violent delinquency vary by generational status within Canada. Native-born youth reported the highest rates of property-related delinquency, while youth who had immigrated to Canada after the age of 5 reported the lowest rates. However, factors other than generational status were found to account for differences across generational groups in rates of property-related and violent delinquency.

Having delinquent peers has the strongest effect on all youth in terms of explaining rates of self-reported delinquency. The odds of reporting property delinquency were more than three and a half times higher for youth who had delinquent peers than for those who did not. Youth who reported having peers involved in delinquent activities were almost three times more likely, as those without, to report violent delinquency.

Relationships with family also play an important role. Youth who reported a good relationship with their mother were less likely to report violent delinquency.

Youth who spent the majority of their time with friends were also more likely to report property  and/or violent delinquency. Youth who were isolated from family or friends reported higher levels of property delinquency.

If youth reporting being a victim, they also were more likely to be involved in delinquent behaviour. Those who had experienced a theft were more likely to report property-related delinquency. They were also more likely, along with those who reported having been hit violently, to report violent delinquent acts.

Finally, schools play a role as well. Youth who aspired to university were less likely to report either type of property or violent activities while youth who skipped school were more likely to do so. Youth who felt that their school was ‘unsafe’ were also more likely to report having committed acts of violent delinquency.

In sum, protective factors for youth included aspirations for university and spending time with family and/or close relationship with mothers. (Recent immigrants were most likely to enjoy these conditions, and therefore were least likely to be involved in delinquent behaviours. Stereotypes, be damned!)

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