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Cambridge youth score lowest in Waterloo Region youth well-being survey

'The results are concerning right across the board when we look at what youth are telling us'

Youth in Cambridge have scored lowest in almost every category in a survey of youth well-being in Waterloo Region.

The 2021 Youth Impact Survey asked about 11 areas of well-being, including homelessness, financial security, enjoying nature, and access to recreational programs. Youth in Cambridge scored lowest on all but two of the 11 areas, and second lowest in two areas.

For four of the areas, the gap between well-being for youth in Cambridge compared to other parts of the region was more than 20 per cent.

The Youth Impact Survey is developed by the Children and Youth Planning Table, (CYPT) a community-wide partnership that includes over 800 service providers, including researchers, planning bodies, social service organizations, youth, and families in Waterloo Region.

CYPT's work is centered on equity, social inclusion, and anti-discrimination, and collects survey data in a variety of demographic and identity-based areas to provide a ‘snapshot’ of how children and youth in the region view their own sense of well-being.

“The children also don’t play with me and I’m too scared to play with them cause I’m different race and I have different religion,” said one youth in Cambridge.

“I wish there was support for kids like me who don’t have friends and feel anxious about doing things,” another Cambridge respondent said in the survey. “I want to participate but usually I’m too scared. Programs for kids with anxiety would be good too.”

But why are the results from youth in Cambridge so low?

Barb Cardow, co-chair of the Children and Youth Planning Table of Waterloo Region, says that is the big question.  

“The results are concerning right across the board when we look at what youth are telling us. It is important that we not jump to conclusions about what the root causes are and what the answers are. Let this be the first step in the discussion,” Cardow said.  

“This is an important starting point for all of us in better understanding the needs of children and youth. This is an invitation for groups and communities to talk with youth and get more information about what is behind the things they are telling us through the results of these surveys.”

There were 1,074 respondents from across Waterloo Region, aged nine to 18, who completed the survey.

“Until this survey was created, there wasn’t a way understand youth. information was very limited. It was inspiring to hear directly from children and youth about how they were doing,” Cardow said.

“We encourage community groups, whether it’s neighbourhood groups, municipalities, or recreation services, to really start to dig into this, and the way you are going to do that is by connecting with youth.”

Samantha Esmeralda, executive director at Alison Neighbourhood Community Centre, says early intervention for youth well-being is key.

“Our community centre takes an approach that came out of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, called Upstream. We believe that early intervention and having buffers within the community is essential in early childhood development, Esmeralda said. "Being able to provide those resources to underserviced or low-income families, we can then provide opportunities for food security, improved health, access to housing and quality of education.”

She believes recreation in community centres play an integral part in ensuring those successes.

"We understand that a lot of efforts are being placed on youth well-being, which really targets that 15-29 age bracket, but this is far too late to reach someone.

"We need to have interventions in place early. We’ve been fortunate enough to be funded by the City of Cambridge and we are thankful to be able to support children and youth in Cambridge and provide these opportunities.”

According to The Children and Youth Planning Table, it is also important to remember that children and youth have experienced significant barriers and challenges due to COVID-19, as well as international and local events.

“I feel that there should be more virtual community events to keep everyone engaged,” said a youth in response to the survey.

Despite the low overall Cambridge survey results, there were better results in two areas.

Just over 51 per cent of the Cambridge youth surveyed said their mental health was generally positive.

This was a marginally higher rate than the lowest rate of 50.9 per cent in Kitchener.

A rate of 66.2 per cent of Cambridge youth also said they had opportunities to enjoy nature, a number that was slightly higher than Kitchener which had the lowest rate at 65.5 per cent.

“We received 187 responses from Cambridge youth, and that is 18 per cent of the total number of responses,” Cardow said.

“This isn’t necessarily representative of all the youth in the region, but we need to remember that the demographics of respondents, do closely mirror the demographic of youth across the region.”

Cardow said the great thing about this survey is that it can be repeated over time.

“As we work together with youth and implement ideas together, we can see over time, what the trends are,” Cardow said.

In the future, CYPT will examine new ways of disaggregating data by looking at sub populations such as age, gender identities, and youth with special needs.

“This survey allows us to dig deeper, to be curious, and work closely with youth,” Cardow said.   

“This will help us to better understand what we need to do so that they can have a better sense of well-being.”

For more information about the Children and Youth Planning Table, visit here.

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Barbara Latkowski

About the Author: Barbara Latkowski

Barbara graduated with a Masters degree in Journalism from Western University and has covered politics, arts and entertainment, health, education, sports, courts, social justice, and issues that matter to the community
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