Youth Connectedness & Vital Signs

coverThe theme for the Victoria Foundation’s 2016 Vital Signs report (launched today!) is Belonging.

The report focuses on 4 profiles of belonging:

  1. Aboriginal Peoples;
  2. Newcomer;
  3. Youth; &
  4. Seniors.

Unsurprisingly, we had something to say when it came to youth belonging and connectedness. The following is an excerpt from the report:

As social animals, humans evolved to grow up and live in community. All the evidence points to increasing connectedness for youth as resulting in improved outcomes in all the important areas of life. “Youth who feel more connected to their community have lower rates of stress, feel less despair and are less likely to have self-harmed or attempted suicide,” says Petra ChambersSinclair, coordinator of the Child and Youth Health Network (CYHN) of the Capital Region.

Getting youth connected to place and community bolsters that sense of belonging, confers advantages in terms of educational outcomes and carries over long into their adult lives. But not all our children and youth experience that beneficial sense of social connectedness. “The experience of belonging varies enormously for children and youth in the Capital Region,” says Chambers-Sinclair. “All people need to feel that they belong, but there are enormous disparities in the degree of healthy social supports available to youth in our region.”

Young people need mentorship from adults, she asserts, because the health and resilience of the entire community depends on successful transition to adulthood by its young people. Chambers-Sinclair states, however, that nowadays mentors are scarce for many children and youth—and in many communities, the mentors they do have are overworked and burning out.

“Ultimately, we all need to work together to support the successful transition to adulthood for the next generation, and I believe creating resilient networks of social connectedness for young people is one of the best ways to approach that.” Adults increasingly feel that they don’t know how to support young people through the process of becoming successful adults, says Chambers-Sinclair. “We end up with a situation where adults feel alienated from youth, youth feel disconnected and abandoned by adults, and the successful transition to adulthood remains incomplete for many young people through their 20s, 30s and even longer,” she says. “All of these factors create fragmented and weak systems that lack resilience at the individual, family and community levels. At a time when we are facing some of the most complex challenges in human history. We need to wade into this space and work with young people to figure out how to help them.”

leverageThe CYHN has a mission of increasing connectedness to improve the wellbeing of young people in the Capital Region. In 2016, the CYHN began developing an Index of Connectedness as part of its shared measurement system. The index comprises a comprehensive review of indicators for measuring connectedness in young people, with the aim of creating a single composite index that will then identify gaps to be addressed as well as recommendations for using the results. 

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Connectedness & Belonging

2015 Vital Signs cover
This fall, partners in the Child & Youth Health Network are exploring ‘connectedness’ as the overarching population-level outcome to improve the mental & physical health of children & youth in our community. It turns out that connectedness & belonging is an emerging theme for others who are concerned about well-being, as it it is also the subject of the Community Foundations of Canada 2015 Vital Signs Report.

2015 Vital Signs

2015 Vital SignsAccording to the 2015 Vital Signs Report, when we feel a strong sense of belonging and connection to people around us:

  • We are healthier. Belonging to social groups and networks is as important to our health as diet and exercise. People with strong support networks tend to have a lower prevalence of mental illness and better overall physical health.
  • Extensive support networks provide better opportunities for sustained and secure employment.
  • Children learn better. Belonging is a key element in the curriculum for early childhood education across Canada.
  • Life has more purpose. When people have a stronger sense of belonging, they perceive life to be more meaningful.