The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Launches We Have Something to Say
“Growing up we both faced many challenges with systems that were not responsive to our needs or the needs of a family member. We felt dismissed and that our opinions were not considered in any decision-making. We Have Something to Say is important to us because we want to be part of creating change now so that other children and youth will not have to face so many gaps in services that made our lives and the lives of our families unnecessarily difficult.”
– Salvatore ‘Sammy’ D’Agostino and Holly Zhuang, Youth Amplifiers
Quick Fact: While it is difficult to know the exact number of children and youth with special needs in Ontario, current estimates range from 97,000 to 235,000. (pg 14)
Yesterday, the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth released the report, ‘We have something to say: Young people and their families speak out about special needs and change.’ The report responds to the significant need for our systems to better represent and respond to the needs of young people with special needs, their caregivers and their families. At the heart of the report is ensuring that the voices and experiences of young people are heard and taken into account in decision-making that affects their lives.
A BIT OF CONTEXT
The report is a product of the “I Have Something to Say” (IHSTS) initiative that the Advocate’s Office started in 2013. IHSTS was envisioned as a focused engagement process that would allow young people to share their lived experiences and ideas about what changes are needed in the system to ensure their full and holistic wellbeing. The initiative evolved to include elements such as the establishment of an advisory committee, over 170 ‘story’ submissions to the campaign, and 1:1 interviews. Eventually the name changed to “We Have Something to Say” to better reflect the community mobilization around the transformation change this report recommends.
The report is divided into four main sections that are very briefly outlined below. We encourage you to check out the report, take in the recommendations that are made throughout, and read the included stories, quotes and poems from young people and their families!
“In taking on the work of mobilizing and elevating the voices of children and youth with “special needs” (a term used in our Act) I have come to the conclusion that in spite of all the fine words, paper, process and systems there are still far too many gaps between what exists and young people’s lived experience.”
– Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
FOUR MAIN REPORT THEMES
- Family & Home
“We wish our families didn’t have to work so hard.”
Better coordination, more resources, and stronger, accessible support systems are needed to ease the burden felt by youth and their families who struggle emotionally and financially. Families often find it difficult to access resources to best support their children and are left to their own devices to create and find support systems themselves. Check out page 47 for nine recommendations on this theme.
- School & Education
“What you believe, we achieve.”
Teachers and the school system in general, need to have higher expectations of youth with special needs, and resources and supports need to reflect this. Not believing what youth with special needs can, and have the potential to achieve, is discouraging, limiting, and results in fewer life opportunities for them. At the same time, teachers and support staff often lack the training to properly support youth, and the demand is too large for the amount of resources and support available from the school system. Check out pages 78 and 79 for 10 recommendations on this theme.
- Supports & Services
“We need higher standards of care.”
More effective and efficient coordination among the supports and services available for youth with special needs is urgently needed. These supports also need to be more flexible, pro-active, and informed by the youth and families they are aimed at. Check out pages 100 and 101 of the report for 10 recommendations on this theme.
- Transitions Across the Lifespan
“Our needs don’t just magically disappear at age 18 so why do our supports?”
Youth need better support and encouragement during times of transition, whether through points in time, stages of their lives or shifts within the day. Transitions within systems that were not built or informed by youth with special needs results in unmet needs, greater uncertainty, and worry, instead of opportunity and growth. Check out pages 122 – 123 for 10 recommendations on this theme.
About the Advocate’s Office:
The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth is an independent voice for Ontario’s children and youth who are either ‘in-care’ or on the margins of government care. Their mission is to serve these youth in care through individual, systemic and policy advocacy. The Office strives, at every level of its operation to be an exemplar of youth participation.
Find out more about the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth at www.provincialadvocate.on.ca.