Toronto invests $300,000 in supporting non-profit youth programs

City of Toronto to redirect $300,000 fund to park board but about $50,000, or 1%, will be used for programs where no staff is under immunization restrictions

Canada’s second-largest city is giving special attention to its non-profit youth centres, recreation centres and sports programs, as the city tries to fill staff shortages resulting from immunization restrictions on staff at two city-funded organizations.

The city has $300,000 a year earmarked to create a pool of resources for organizations that would create enrichment activities and other programming that would cater to the needs of youth with specific disabilities. The latter objective will be supported by about $50,000 in funding redirected from the city’s recreation department.

A city spokesperson confirmed that $200,000 will go to the Torontonians with Autism Network and $100,000 to Camp London to support free recreational programs for children and youth with autism.

Toronto is known for its diversity – it’s the third-largest city in Canada with over two million people, about a third of whom are between the ages of 14 and 24. It’s home to more students from racialized backgrounds than any other city in the country.

At least 17.6% of young people in the Toronto area have been born to non-English-speaking immigrant parents – the highest proportion in Canada. A large proportion of these children have children of their own. Some 15.4% of Toronto residents were born outside the country, the highest share of any city in Canada.

Despite this richness in terms of population, immigrant parents make up less than half of the parents at a Toronto-area branch of the Baby & Childcare Network of Toronto.

“Some don’t have any English skills and some are new, so they don’t know how to help with the kids,” said Ashraf Khani, one of the co-founders of the network. “It’s frustrating to see that.”

The network of family childcare and daycare centres recently filed a workplace discrimination complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission over what it calls “the systemic failure” of the city to address the staffing shortage.

Staff at the group’s branch in Scarborough, Canada’s largest city, were not allowed to have children who had not received all the required immunizations. The city had commissioned one of Canada’s largest “expertise collection” clinics to determine why its work with disabled people was progressing so slowly.

“[T]here were really no definitions for the ability to do something,” said Susan Jones, a licensed clinical social worker. “To talk about an intellectual disability, someone may be competent and not be able to walk, but who’s not competent enough to do whatever? The threshold is too high.”

Staff at the branch served about 1,800 kids every year. It was shut down in February 2012 after receiving federal funding because the city insisted on only working with those whose parents had received all their vaccinations.

Young children require at least three vaccinations: one for each season; six vaccines before entering school; and three shots before graduating from junior high. The national limit for that group is six doses, but many choose to have only one dose as they get older. Ontario has one of the most liberal coverage policies in the country.

Jones says some parents who were not able to have their children fully vaccinated chose to enrol them in programs because the absence of immunization would not affect their growth. She calls that to be unethical.

After pressure from the network and the province, the city decided to change its position and allow all individuals to access the courses.

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