The Toronto Foundation recently released its 2023 Toronto Vital Signs report, which gives an overview of the city’s current state and highlights key indicators that impact the well-being of its residents.* At Moorelands Kids, we strive to address the challenges faced by children and youth so that we can help empower them to realize their potential in life — despite socio-economic barriers. In 2023, the Toronto Vital Signs report highlighted the following:
Declining Social Connections
One alarming trend revealed in the report is the decline in the percentage of people with six or more close friends, dropping by 29% between 2013 and 2022. At Moorelands Kids, we recognize the significance of positive social connections in a child’s development. Isolation, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, can have detrimental effects on mental health, making it crucial for us to foster environments where children can build meaningful friendships and support networks. Last year, 91% of youth in our programs reported that they were able to make positive connections with peers during their time at Moorelands.
Mental Health Struggles
The report also examines mental health concerns among Toronto’s youth. In 2021, 38% of teenage students in Ontario reported fair or poor mental health, an increase of more than 10% since 2019. Female students in grades 7 to 12 were notably more likely to report poor mental health, elevated stress, and serious psychological distress. Our goal is to reduce risk-factors related to mental health such as loneliness, which has doubled among Toronto students after the pandemic. This emphasizes the urgency to prioritize mental health support for children and youth. Moorelands’ staff have undertaken mental health certification to ensure that we provide kids with a safe space to learn, develop social and intrapersonal skills such as communication and problem-solving, and strengthen their community ties. In turn, Moorelands aims to help increase confidence and self-esteem in youth, and in 2022, 83% of youth reported feeling more confident after participating in a Moorelands program.
With two years of consistent in-person schooling affected by the pandemic, children and youth of all ages suffered learning loss and educational gaps. These gaps were only widened for youth in marginalized groups with less access to the proper technology, home infrastructure and educational opportunities that made remote learning possible. Throughout pandemic restrictions, Moorelands adapted our traditional programs to meet the needs of our kids from a distance, shifting to virtual programming options and providing them with technology and take-home kits so that they had everything they needed to participate. Post pandemic, our programs have returned in person, and we remain committed to supporting the education and development of children and youth, bridging the gaps and helping provide the tools they need to realize their full potential.
Challenges in Access to Recreational Facilities
In the heart of the city, not all families have equal access to outdoor recreation, parks or green space. Whether it is due to distance, few transportation options, lack of facilities in the neighbourhood, or lack of funds to participate, there has been a widening gap in access to these services, particularly after the pandemic. Additionally, participation in cultural, educational and hobby groups dropped by 39% between 2018 and 2022, representing a significant decrease in community involvement among youth. Moorelands Camp, located on Kawagama Lake in Dorset, Ontario, offers children and youth the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in nature, make friends and develop their leadership skills through recreational activities in a safe and exciting environment. ALL spots qualify for a subsidy so that everyone can experience the magic of camp.
Financial Struggles and Food Insecurity
The report indicates that despite decreasing unemployment rates, financial struggles persist in Toronto. Income inequality is at an all-time high, with a rise in reported income insufficiency from 21% in 2018 to 33% in 2023. There was also a notable surge in food bank visits, surging by 295% between 2019 and 2023. A 2022 poll of Toronto residents revealed that 22% of people are reporting eating less than they should due to lack of funds and high grocery prices. Moorelands Kids assists low-income families through our free and subsidized programs, and through family programs such as Adopt-a-Family and Top Up the Pantry, which provides gifts and grocery support to families in need during the holiday season.
The 2023 Toronto Vital Signs report once again sheds light on the challenges faced by the children and families that we serve. Moorelands Kids remains steadfast in our commitment to empowering children and youth, and their families, through our camp, after-school and family programs. Our hope is that through these programs, and with the consistent and dedicated support of those in our community, we can help contribute to the well-being and success of Toronto’s youth.
*All facts and statistics are from: Toronto Vital Signs 2023 Special Report. The Toronto Foundation. Published Nov 15, 2023. Available at: https://torontofoundation.ca/powerofus