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FROM THE OJEN BLOG

Outreach programs for vulnerable youth

OJEN connects with a wide range of vulnerable youth audiences through partnerships with community organizations throughout Ontario.  Outreach programming focuses on experiential learning and providing the legal life skills to navigate common legal issues.  Ordinarily offered as in-person sessions, the Covid-19 pandemic made it necessary to re-design several existing programs and adapt them for remote delivery. It has been a busy year for OJEN’s Outreach department. Throughout 2021, four main programs were offered: Youth-Police Dialogues (YPD), Navigating Police Encounters (NPE), Together 180 and Family Law for Young Parents (FLYP). 

Youth-Police Dialogues (YPD) are in the final year of a 3 year program funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.  They are offered to youth in communities with historically negative relationships with the police.  Over the course of several sessions, the youth become familiar with their rights and responsibilities when stopped by the police; they learn about police procedures and the protocols followed by officers during encounters with civilians; and they practice effective communications skills. The program culminates with youth and police officers meeting to share perspectives and discuss how each can contribute to improved relations. 

The YPD program has been delivered in communities throughout Ontario to a variety of vulnerable youth audiences including: refugee youth in Kingston, youth in closed custody, young mothers in Toronto, youth on probation in Windsor, Indigenous youth in Sudbury, and racialized youth across the province.. 

Navigating Police Encounters – Ottawa (NPE) is a 2 year program funded by Crime Prevention Ottawa. Through partnerships with community organizations, the NPE program has been delivered 6 times to youth audiences throughout the National Capital Region including: Indigenous youth; youth and young adults in transition housing and racialized youth living in Ottawa priority neighbourhoods.   

The NPE program was developed in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd,and responds to numerous requests from our community partners to address youth concerns about police interactions.This two-session, online workshop shares information about police powers, discusses legal rights, and encourages safe interactions with the police. 

OJEN has also adapted this program for trusted intermediaries such as frontline workers, community leaders and other adults who work with and support youth. Before the pilot program wraps up at the end of 2021, OJEN will also deliver facilitator training sessions for lawyer volunteers in Ottawa who are interested in helping us deliver the program. 

Together 180 is a pilot program that focuses on the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of youth in custody and on probation. While maintaining an emphasis on skill building, the program shares information helpful in navigating the law-related challenges youth may encounter post-custody, such as those in securing housing and employment. Youth learn where to access reliable public legal information and assistance, and explore options for community-based support.  

Like many OJEN programs, Together 180 provides an opportunity for shared learning between youth and justice sector professionals. Connecting young people with lawyers, police and probation officers in an informal setting offers them an opportunity to learn about the law and develop connections with people who work in the justice system. At the same time, justice sector professionals learn from the young people; youth participants share their perspectives, offer their ideas about improving relationships with legal professionals, and provide recommendations for the improved rehabilitation and reintegration of young people leaving custody.

Support from the Department of Justice Canada’s Youth Justice Fund is helping OJEN develop and deliver this pilot program, as we partner with the Youth Justice division of the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services to offer Together 180 to youth custody facilities and community partners who work in youth probation throughout Ontario. 

Family Law for Young Mothers: Challenge and Change builds on the successes of OJEN’s Family Law for Young Parents (FLYP)  program in Toronto, and adapts it for young mothers in Hamilton. 

Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the program uses an interactive, dialogue-based approach to build awareness of family law procedure and processes, and helps young mothers develop and practice legal life skills. Program staff and volunteers share reliable sources of public legal information, and direct the young mothers to local legal and community-based supports. The program also aims to foster connections between the young mothers and justice sector professionals to build respect, empathy, and understanding between them.

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