Social Planning Toronto
Our Story What We Do
History of Organization
Established in 1937, the Toronto Welfare Council was the earliestincarnation of Social Planning Toronto. The Council focused on research,identifying for the first time Toronto’s strengths and weaknesses inhealth and welfare services, and the changing needs and demographics ofits communities. In the late 1960s there were calls for morerepresentation of grassroots community groups and for people living inpoverty. This challenge came to a head in the early 1970’s whengrassroots movements formed a coalition and organized to change thedirection of the Council to make it more responsive to the community.This broader interpretation of social planning manifested itselfeffectively as landmark reports were released that challengeddecision-makers and promoted a real dialogue on the changing nature ofthe city, while identifying critical service gaps. The values of socialdevelopment and empowerment continue to inform the work of the SPT todayas it strives to “build a Civic Society: one in which diversity,equity, social and economic justice, interdependence and active citizenparticipation are central to all aspects of our lives.”
Accolades and Accomplishments
SPT has produced a number of key publications over the yearsranging from the 1980’s reports Metro’s "Suburbs in Transition andNeighbourhoods under Stress" (which drew attention to the critical needfor investment in community infrastructure, particularly in the innersuburban neighbourhoods undergoing dramatic change) to 2010’s "Policywithout Practices Barriers to Enrollment for Non-Status ImmigrantStudents in Toronto’s Catholic Schools" (the release of the reportpromoted a swift change in practice on the part of the Board). Thesereports are read by thousands of people across the city each year. Ourcommunity planners continue to play a direct role in supporting Torontoneighbourhoods. SPT has a long history of working with community groupsto establish new organizations such as the Volunteer Bureau in the1960s, and working on coalitions to create movements for change such asthe 25 in 5 Campaign for Poverty Reduction in 2008. Staff (such as JohnCampey, winner of the City of Toronto Access, Equity and Human RightsPride award) continues to be recognized for their dedication and hardwork. SPT is also the recent winner of a 2011 Vital Idea award.
Our Programs How We Do It
Through its many diverse localrelationships created over the past 70 years SPT has developed acitywide agenda and priorities and is able to mobilize communityorganizations around specific local issues and community concerns. Underits mandate to create a liveable, affordable city SPT addresses fourpriority areas through communications outreach, community engagement,policy analysis, and research activities:
1) labour markets and income security,
2) education and human development,
3) housing and community infrastructure, and
4) public finance and resource allocation.
SPT also endeavours to serve the community by acting as a centre forleadership in the arenas of disseminating community-based research anddata-sharing; providing leadership or support of local, city-wide, andprovincial/national initiatives such as the Save the Census campaign;and in communications and knowledge translation through our support ofother organizations. Building staff, student, and volunteer capacity isalso a critical component of SPT’s activities. Though our resources arelimited, through our work with students from a variety of university andcolleges across the city we are able to share knowledge and help createa new generation of change agents that will imbue Toronto’s futureleaders in the community services sector with an understanding of theimportance of creating sound policy, grounded in solid research, tostrengthen civil society.
Lost in the Shuffle: Translating Research to Action
There are approximately 4,000 homeless children living inToronto at any one time. "Lost in the Shuffle", our 2007 report, foundthat “58% of children in shelters had attended three or more schools”and school-related problems are a common result of homelessness.
Due to the duration of stay in shelters children experience disruptions intheir education. Children face stress associated with residentialinstability and upheaval in their family and school life. They changeschools, depriving them of friendships and support networks. Schoolperformance and self esteem suffer. Children’s mental health is affectedas they are stigmatized for being in a shelter. Due to the highincidence of witnessed violence among homeless children, many sufferemotional impacts and may act out in class where a teacher has not beentrained to deal with these effects.
We are translating our research into action by creating an educational resource for educators and shelter workers toincrease understanding of the multiple barriers children and theirfamilies face while living in shelters, to propose strategies to supportchildren’s emotional resilience, and to share existing promisingpractices and relevant school and shelter policies to support childrenas they strive for educational success.
Funding and Program Partners
This project provides SPT with the opportunity to work with anumber of agencies, though our main collaboration is with AislingDiscoveries Child and Family Centre. Aisling has a 15 year history ofsuccessful practice and a network of connections and expertise in thesphere of children’s mental health, making it an ideal partner for thisproject. Partnerships have been renewed and extended with schools andshelters that participated in the 2007 research project. Thisopportunity has also allow for the formation of new relationships, notonly with and between schools and shelters, but with other relevantorganizations such as the Toronto District School Board and its ModelSchools for Inner Cities department, the Wellesley Institute and theOffice of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
We have an established advisory committee comprised of two former TDSBprincipals, a former teacher, Aisling's Manager of Coomunity Support andProgram Development, and Woodgreen Community Services’ Director ofResearch and Public Policy. Each of these advisors supports our work andbrings valuable insight and direct service capacity/knowledge to assistin the dissemination of the resource.
"Lost in the Shuffle” captured best practices identified byschools and shelters; 20 presentations have been made, including onerequested by TDSB superintendents; over 500 reports have beendisseminated. There have been over 2,000 hits on the report and it hasbeen posted on The Homeless Hub website. The value of the report iswidely recognized but its recommendations must be translated into actionto alleviate the serious impact of homelessness on the educationalsuccess of these students.
With this grant SPT and Aisling is leading to the creation an accessible training resource to address thisneed and provide solutions.
Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program
"Emergency shelter use was up in 2011. The average number of bedsoccupied per night, in the third quarter of the year was up by 2.6% forsingle people and 4.5% for families, over the same period in 2010."
The 2007 research report "Lost in the Shuffle: The impact ofhomelessness on children’s education in Toronto" captured shelter andschool best practices and the voices of the parents and childrenstruggling with the realities of homelessness. This vignette wascollated from research interviews conducted at a Toronto school andshelter in 2006 and highlights the importance of having a school liaisonworker.
One liaison worker stated: “We have kids that witnessedfamily violence. Emotional issues can be everything. I see a lot of kidsthat are really scared. They need a lot of emotional support. In myoffice I do a lot of activities around feelings, being able to identifyfeelings and what do you do with feelings and what do they mean.” Achild living within a homeless shelter stated that “there is this guywho is a liaison worker who has really helped me out a lot since I havebeen living in the shelter.” A shelter staff member reported: “They, theschool liaison workers, are doing that front line work in schools andthe work they do is phenomenal, we are so lucky to have them.”
What You Can Do
Lost in the Shuffle: Translating Research to Action
Activities a donation will support
Additional resources donated to this program would enableus to implement the training program across the City of Toronto once theresource has been finalized. Training sessions provide the opportunityto share best practices for providing emotional supports and creatingwelcoming environments for children. The donations would also enable thestrengthening of connections between service providers, educators andshelter workers. It would expand organizational capacity to address adiverse range of training issues within the service sector, whilerenewing momentum that will provide capacity and opportunity to createshifts in the policy and administrative practice in schools andshelters, at the school board, and with the Province.
- For every $1000 donated SPT would be able to conduct one training session.
With financial support Social Planning Toronto will be ableto positively impact on the academic success of every one of theapproximately 4,000 school age children who spend at least one night in ashelter every year in Toronto.