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Township youth have a more positive sense of well-being

The youth impact survey drew feedback from young people in the townships. [Leah Gerber]

Youth from the region’s townships are reporting a higher sense of wellbeing compared to some of their more urban counterparts.

The Children and Youth Planning Table of Waterloo Region recently released findings from their second Youth Impact Survey. Respondents, aged nine to 18, reported on their sense of wellbeing across nine categories including health, sense of security and connection to the environment, among others.  

The survey was carried out between April and June 2021, and released in December. Last week, the Children and Youth Planning Table released the data analyzed according to location of the respondents.  

The survey included 1,074 youth ages nine to 18. Geographically, the data is broken down into respondents from Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and the townships, including North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich.

Altogether, township respondents accounted for 11.4 per cent of the survey’s respondents and were not broken down further due to small sample size.

Goranka Vukelich, the organization’s co-chair, says she sees the survey as a good starting point and hopes to see more data collected in future.

“We had a significant number of responses, but it doesn’t represent all responses and all youth in the community,” she said.

“We are excited, and we see this process as a bit of a starting point to better understanding the diverse needs of children and youth in our region and the individual communities.

“We’re also excited to have some ongoing discussions with the young people because we want to hear about what their thoughts are for some of the solutions and moving forward.”

Youth from the townships reported more positive outcomes compared to some of their counterparts, being the most likely to report a high sense of belonging to their community, have a high sense of positive physical health and have a high sense of support from family and friends, among other indicators.

Across all municipalities, youth were divided on whether they felt positive or negative overall about their mental health, ranging from 50.9 per cent in Kitchener to 65 per cent in the townships.

“I think that, you know, our young people in our communities are sharing with us that it has been a struggle over the last two years for them,” said Vukelich, citing the survey’s results around a sense of loneliness, mental health self-assessments and material insecurity.

Notably, youth in the townships report the highest sense of community belonging in the region, with 73.8 per cent of respondents saying they have a very strong or somewhat strong sense of belonging to their community. That’s a 19.3 percentage point difference from the lowest levels of sense of community belonging.

Why the townships’ youth seem to have a higher sense of belonging is unclear.  

“In terms of the differences between and among the townships and in the communities, we are unpacking some of those data,” said Vukelich. “Our next step is to look at disaggregating the data even further along some other subpopulations such as age, gender identity.”

Erin Dej is an assistant professor of criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University who studies homelessness in young people, particularly young women.

“Feelings of belonging and feelings of inclusion are integral to all other facets of young people’s lives,” said Dej. “It affects how people can live or struggle.”

Dej says a sense of belonging impacts a person’s ability to access and maintain housing, succeed in educational and employment pursuits and to be able to raise families.

So how can a community build up the sense of belonging for its youth?

“That’s the million dollar question that I am asking myself right now and continue to ask myself,” she said.

Dej posits that belonging needs to be baked into a community at the policy level and that communities must prioritize creating spaces of inclusion accessible by youth at any ability or income level, where they feel truly welcomed.

Other highlights from the geography snapshot of the youth impact survey include:

Waterloo and the township respondents were the most likely to describe their physical health positively:  84.5 per cent of the township respondents described their physical health positively.

Township youth were the least likely to report having experienced explicit or hidden homelessness. Hidden homelessness is described as having to temporarily live with family, friends, in their car or anywhere else because they had nowhere else to live.

Township youth were the most likely to feel a sense of personal responsibility to protect the environment at 74.8 per cent.

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