Together 180 (T180) is OJEN’s first justice education initiative exclusively for youth in custody or on probation. It was developed and delivered with funding from the Department of Justice Canada’s Youth Justice Fund and in partnership with the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services (MCCSS) and other community partners. T180 completed its 3-year funding term in November, successfully delivering this multi-session program 20 times in institution and community settings throughout the province.
T180 grew from the Youth-Police Dialogue(YPD) program in which youth learn about policing practices and their rights when interacting with the police. When OJEN first delivered the program at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre (RMYC) in Brampton, the youth asked for additional information that would help with their reintegration process. With their input, OJEN designed a program that builds legal life skills, shares information about community resources , and introduces young people to areas of law relevant to their lives after release. Human Rights, Employment, Housing and Family Law are all addressed. The program also fosters connections with lawyers, police officers and other justice sector professionals.
“The goal is for the youth to develop a level of comfort so they will feel empowered if they run into a legal issue after leaving custody,” explains OJEN’s Director of Outreach Programs, Enisoné Kadiri.
T180 was launched in 2021 during the height of the pandemic. Getting it off the ground was challenging. Until social distancing restrictions were lifted, it was delivered over Zoom. The online format initially made it challenging for facilitators to establish connections and to gauge how youth were responding to the material. However, feedback from the youth was enthusiastic. Based on the positive feedback from the participants, OJEN was invited to deliver more programs. Youth were eager to attend after learning about the program from previous participants.
As with many of OJEN’s Outreach programs, T180 is delivered in a scenario and game-based format to be accessible to its audience. The material covered is relevant to the youth and includes topics they themselves have requested. It focuses on delivering practical information they can apply to day-to-day situations and builds communication and advocacy skills they can use throughout their lives.
As Enisoné emphasizes, the content is only one aspect of a successful program. Achieving buy-in from the youth is essential. “It’s the way in which you present it that determines how youth receive it. We use a collaborative approach to learning. It is built into the program plan.”
The positive response from youth is directly linked to OJEN’s non-authoritarian and youth-centered approach. OJEN’s facilitators are skilled at establishing rapport and creating an environment where participants feel respected and heard. Within this safe environment, youth are open to learning, sharing their experiences and engaging in dialogue.
The Youth Leadership Team (YLT) OJEN hired to assist develop and deliver T180 is also an important aspect of the program’s success. YLT members have similar backgrounds to the program participants, overcoming similar challenges. They understand the unique circumstances program participants face. Sharing the insights and information they have acquired through lived experience, provides youth with perspectives they can easily relate to.
Kassandra Thompson, a project leader with T180, has seen the impact the program had on the participants. She recalls how one youth who participated in a program at RMYC invited OJEN’s program facilitators to the graduation ceremony a year later. He was surprised and pleased when Kassandra attended.
“He was really proud of himself. He wanted us to know that he had used some of the life skills he had learned in the program to achieve a better result with his schooling. He was looking ahead to the time he would be released from custody and wanted to change his life”.
After delivering the program 20 times over the past 3 years, this is one of many stories of youth applying the skills, knowledge and information they gain through T180 in their lives. One of the most impactful programs OJEN has created, we look forward to opportunities to offer it again in the future.