TORONTO, Oct. 21, 2016 /CNW/ - More than 120 Black youth who receive services from the child welfare, youth criminal justice, special needs, mental health and Provincial and Demonstration schools systems will mobilize to speak out on the issue of over-representation and other systemic barriers they face to government, child welfare providers, educators and various other service providers.
Youth delegates between the ages of 13 and 25 from across the province's care systems are attending the "HairStory: Black Youth Unite for A Right to Speak" youth forum in Toronto from October 20-24, 2016.
"For many years, Black youth in Ontario's systems of care have spoken about their belief that systemic racism exists, and that there is a lack of culturally-anchored services," said Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. "The evidence of that systemic racism is embodied in the overrepresentation of Black children and families connected to the child welfare and youth justice systems. It is time to listen to what young people have to say about their realities across the province's care systems, and hear their ideas for change."
The HairStory project was initiated by the Advocate's Office to elevate the voices of Black youth from across the province's care systems, and provide a safe platform for them to speak about their experiences.
During the forum, delegates will share their lived experiences and address the systemic barriers they face in Ontario's various care systems through facilitated group discussions and works of art (e.g. photography, music, visual arts, creative writing) that express their solutions for change, which will later be captured in a report. On the final day of the forum, young people will speak to a group of decision-makers at a "listening table" attended by government officials and representatives from child welfare service providers, youth justice, education, special needs, mental health care systems and community organizations.
"Black youth are not asking for 'special treatment,'" said Richard Marcano, a Youth Amplifier with the HairStory initiative. "They simply want the same opportunities and services afforded to other segments of the population so they are treated respectfully and fairly, feel connected to their culture and community, and contribute positively to society."
"HairStory provides an important, safe platform where black youth can express their experiences and make recommendations – holding those who have our lives in their hands accountable for change," said Shantel Hyndman, another Youth Amplifier.
About the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
The Office of the Provincial Advocate reports directly to the Legislature and provides an independent voice for children and youth, including children with special needs and First Nations children. The advocates receive and respond to concerns from children, youth and families who are seeking or receiving services under the Child and Family Services Act and the Education Act (Provincial and Demonstration Schools).
"You are the expert voices we need to listen to. You know first-hand the damage that can happen when systems – and service providers – discriminate. Childhoods are not lived incrementally. Targeted action to end systemic discrimination is needed now." - Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission
"After numerous community consultations across Ontario, including with youth, we were struck by the consistency of stories of how systemic racism impacts the lives of African Canadian youth and their families. Having heard their stories, we are compelled to work toward sustained systemic and structural change, and to continue to be informed by the voices of youth. We look forward to gaining even more insight from the HairStory project." – Kike Ojo, Project Manager, One Voice One Vision
"Black youth in Toronto possess tremendous skills, gifts, beauty and creativity. However, these assets are often buried under a system and structure that is very oppressive for many of these youth: racism in areas like education, policing and child welfare – as well as the constant oppressive and negative experiences they face in our society – create a lot of distress, trauma and even mental illness with many young people." – Nene Kwasi Kafele, Chair of Tabono Institute and a youth mental health advocate
SOURCE Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
Image with caption: "More than 120 Black youth who receive services from the child welfare, youth criminal justice, special needs, mental health and Provincial and Demonstration schools systems will mobilize to speak out on the issue of over-representation and other systemic barriers they face to government, child welfare providers, educators and various other service providers. (CNW Group/Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20161021_C2607_PHOTO_EN_801171.jpg
For further information: Media Contact: Akihiko Tse, Communications, Media relations Coordinator, Tel: 416-325-5994 or Cell: 647-458-1204, [email protected]