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   Literature Review



"A Community Where All Kids Belong" (10 minutes)

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Sudbury: "A Community Where All Kids Belong!"

In Sudbury, the focus of the SEII Project is to make the city a "community where all kids belong". A Community Visioning session in November 2002, about forty community leaders revealed particular concerns about the exclusion of Francophone, Aboriginal, and children living in poverty in neighbourhoods and schools. They decided, however, that focusing on all children would enable the project to bring together a wider base of community leaders and organizations in support of the initiative. Whatever the differences in culture, identity, or socio-economic status, everyone shared a common commitment to the future of children.

Project leadership was also determined to give Sudbury's children their own voice in their neighbourhoods and schools, which were environments controlled by adult decision-makers. Storytelling techniques and graphic arts portrayals of children's own stories were used to facilitate group discussions among children. Safe spaces were created for children to express how they were unheard or felt left out, but also for what would make them feel included and how that could happen.

The Project first tested out its approach in summer municipal recreation programs in 2003 in which 80 children participated. There was concern, however, about getting access to school classrooms. The week before the school year started, the project organized a media conference where children from the summer sessions presented their pictures and stories of a "community where all kids belong". The media exposure helped open the school doors to the project in the fall term. By the end of the 2003-04 school year 420 children from five schools and 14 elementary school classrooms participated in the process.

Teachers, principals, and board of education officials became enthusiastically engaged in the Project. The Project supported school officials in thinking about how to take action to help create more inclusive schools and classrooms. Further, discussions were initiated with the Director of the Faculty of Education at Laurentian University on how to incorporate the project's approach to empowering the voices of children into teacher education.

The Sudbury experience is being shared with other parts of the province via a colourful brochure of children's images of an inclusive Sudbury, a ten-minute videotape, and conference presentations including the participation from school officials and even the Mayor of Sudbury. A delegation from Sudbury made up of the Mayor, a Band Council Chief, a student, school principal, school Board superintendent, a school teacher and Sudbury SPC project staff attended the Closing the Distance Provincial Conference in Toronto in March 2004 to tell their story to more than 160 participants from across the province.

(See Case Studies for information on how to get the full story on the Closing the Distance Project in Sudbury)

Going Forward

An Ideal Neighbourhood where all Families Belong Would Look Like . . .
"Everyone would be friendly, pick up garbage, shake your hand, offer help, spends time with you." Youth Participant

In the 2004/05 school year the Project continues to give Sudbury's children a voice through social inclusion workshops where children are active participants in creating murals. Having more children participate in this workshop deepens the understanding of what social inclusion is to children in Sudbury. The project will continue to talk to children and youth aged 8-18 in selected neighbourhoods in the Greater Sudbury communities in order to add to the critical mass of experience and knowledge.

As part of "closing the distance" the Sudbury project has formed a group of 12 youth (aged 14-19) to create a marketing strategy with, by and for young people. This group of young marketing strategists will meet every two weeks to develop a creative method of delivering the message about what it is like to be a young person in Greater Sudbury.

Photos and Videos

Janet Gasparini, launching Sudbury Project
December 2002

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High Res (4 MB) Lise Denis, reporting on planning for Sudbury Project
March 2003

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The Sudbury Closing the Distance Project produced a colourful booklet highlighting the stories of exclusion and inclusion expressed by children and youth in group sessions

Sudbury Project Community Worker Caroline Recollet and SPC Executive Director Janet Gasparini at All-Region Workshop, November 2003

Sudbury Mayor David Courtemanche speaking at
Provincial Conference on Closing the Distance in Toronto, March 23, 2004

Sudbury Project Community Worker Lise Denis speaking at
Provincial Conference on Closing the Distance in Toronto, March 23, 2004

Community Vision (November 2002)

(In November, 2002, about forty community leaders in Sudbury came together to think about a Social and Economic Inclusion project for their community. Their vision focused on children in Sudbury and the following narrative summarizes their discussion as captured in several wall-size graphic murals also reproduced here. This community vision was the starting point for the Sudbury Closing the Distance project).

We care about the experiences of children in the Sudbury area. We believe that the early life experiences of children have a huge impact on their future health and on the health of the communities that they will live in.

We care about the children who grow up in the native communities in and around Sudbury; and children who grow up in families that are in conflict and families that have only one primary parent; or teenagers who find themselves in some middle world lost between being a child and an adult; and children who grow up being seen as "different", whether that is because they are identified as being disabled, or their racial and ethnic background sets them apart from the dominant local cultures, or their families have only recently immigrated to Canada, or they are the sons and daughters of gay and lesbian parents.

In many cases the health impacts of these early experiences are immediately identifiable, in others the path to exclusion is set and the impact on the child's health will show up down the road.

When we look at the experiences of native children we see the dramatic effects of racism and poverty. Shame has been tied to the status of being "Indian". We see children ashamed of being native because they have been seen as "the poor little Indian kids". They have seen the anger and resentment on the faces of people around them in strangers and public servants. In one case we hear of a young girl who tries to wash her skin off in the hope that she can be white.

We see families and extended families living in overcrowded and worn down housing; families with little money to pay for many basics that are taken for granted in school like the additional amounts for school trips, hot lunches, and photocopying for school projects.

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We see single parents trying to travel around town on the city bus with their children while public transportation costs continue to rise.

In the experiences of children of families in conflict we see children emotionally torn between two parents; children whose home lives are scheduled, where they live and with whom, and when. Children hear about the financial conflicts of child support and know that their parents are going to court over issues that are attached to them. Children grow up in the middle of tension and anger, in environments of high emotional stress.

They face other children at school who ask questions about where their Mom or Dad is, and they feel anger and sadness over the losses in their lives, or the judgments of others. But they find themselves with nowhere to go, lost and not understood.

We see children in single parent families who are poorer and once again the basics like transportation and registration fees getting in the way of children accessing supports and recreation that are available beyond their neighbourhoods.

There are children who grow up with the experience of being seen as different or as "other". Children with disabilities are often physically distanced, forced to go to special programs and to locations far from their immediate family and social world.

Children of new immigrants find themselves confronted by people intimating that their place is with "their own people". They don't see themselves and their family experience represented around them, they don't feel that they belong.

Children whose parents are gay and lesbian may appear like the other kids around them but when people find out about their parents they become "other".

All of these children seen as different hear from adults and other children around them that "there is a place for you ? and it is not with us". They experience social distancing.

The experience of "differentness" and the exclusion that follows leads many children to feel confused and angry, and often this leads children to act out, which only leads to further exclusion, through suspension, segregation, and sometimes, eventually jail.

With teens we find young people with literally no place to go. Public policies regarding centres and their programming determine who can come, when and for what purpose. There is little availability of space that is unstructured. Young people are discouraged from gathering in groups in public places such as the streets, parks and malls. In a time when they are forming an identity beyond family, with their peers, they receive the message that they don't belong and can't be trusted.

In the early childhood years there are funds for services and supports, but after 8 years of age funding for supports and services are cut back, and there is no follow through with the earlier interventions, literacy and numeracy issues arise, and frustrations and shame begin to show up. Waiting lists for francophone services grow and complicate the already difficult transitions of our children.

Young people experience being left out, forgotten, unworthy, and at fault for problems in their lives. Their efforts to seek attention are often seen as negative and further distancing occurs.

Common Distancing for all our Children

For all children and youth we notice that they inherit the impact of the practices of exclusion and distancing of the adult world around them. The dominant social views of adults around them have a direct impact on their lives.

The emotional experience of their early years becomes their identity. When children are immersed in experiences of judgment, tension, anger, and conflict, it is translated into an essential part of their identity and they become the problem.

The experience of not feeling listened to, leads to the attempt to be heard by any means possible. This often leads to behaviour that further isolates them.

Experiences of poverty always lead to distancing. Whether it is in limiting access to experiences such as organized recreation; or inadequate and unsafe housing; or simply being unable to get around a town that is spread out on a public transportation system that keeps rising in cost. Economic poverty leads to poverty of experience, and in the lives of children the experience of poverty is an experience to be ashamed of.

Overall many children and teens receive the message that they are not valued or wanted here.

Visions of a Desirable Future for Our Children

A vision of the future where we close the distances for our children will see neighbourhoods as places where people are connected. People will know who their neighbours are enough to ask "where is Joan?" when Joan is not around. Neighbours will gather together to work on projects like neighbourhood gardens, or storytelling events. Children will get the message that everyone has a place and everyone has a role to play.

Schools will be important places in our communities not only for the children and staff, but the rest of the community as well. Elders and volunteers in the community will be present always, sending the message to children that they are important, important enough that adults in the community want to spend time with them.

Elders from the variety of cultures found in our communities will be present passing on the wisdom, stories and practices of our traditions. Each culture and tradition will be seen as bringing something to the whole community. We will be stronger because of our diverse traditions.

Each person will be seen as possessing a gift to be offered to the rest of us. We will make it our priority to listen to each other, for we know that we each have something to offer each other.

Our politicians, policy makers, and business leaders will promote and enable the dignity of work. We will seek to ensure that all members of our communities have the foundation of finances that ensure the basics of housing, food, transportation, and childcare are available to all. Our communities will seek to close the gaps between rich and poor.

Connectedness will be our goal. Our service providers will make it more possible for people to connect with a wide range of services because these services will be connected to each other. These services will be voices of advocacy that make the community aware of the needs of our citizens so that we can mobilize our communities to remove barriers that are systemic.

Together we will, piece by piece, remove those practices that keep us apart. And in our growing experience of connectedness we will experience hope, and our children will know that they belong - and that we need them.

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Beyond Our Leadership

To begin to move in the direction of this desirable future we need to engage people beyond our leadership group. We need to engage:
  • Business leaders
  • Families
  • Children
  • Law enforcement leaders
  • Planners
  • School and school board leaders
  • Recreation and sports leaders
  • Francophone community leaders
  • Health practitioners
  • Leaders from the healthy community movement
  • Native elders
  • Shelter providers

We must share our experience and our vision, and invite others to join in our action.

© Social Planning Network of Ontario