As part of its outreach and celebration of public service, the School of Public Policy & Administration (SPPA) at York University hosted its annual spring reception on March 27. The event was held at Queen’s Park. It brought policymakers and professionals from the public and not-for-profit sectors together with York University faculty, students and alumni. The focus of this year’s reception was policy priorities in support of children and youth.
“It is well documented that the early years of our lives have a profound and long-lasting impact on all of us. While we may face different challenges, it is important to try to ensure that we all have opportunities and a chance to overcome those challenges,” said Professor Alena Kimakova, director of SPPA, in her opening remarks.
She said the work of Irwin Elman, the first Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth of Ontario, had served as an inspiration for the event’s theme. The inspiration for the event came from a student enrolled in the master of Public Policy, Administration and Law (MPPAL) program who had worked in Elman’s office.
Elman, who is currently serving his second term as the independent provincial advocate, spoke to the importance of giving children and youth a voice. In his remarks, Elman shared a moving account of a young woman who had spent many years in the child welfare system. She experienced abrupt, dramatic changes in her life and did not have the opportunity to shape decisions made on her behalf. This experience led her to give up on any long-term planning, which became a way of life and thinking. Elman emphasized that while this example of an individual not having a voice who came from the child welfare system, he had encountered similar experiences and disenfranchisement working with youth with other challenges. He highlighted that stakeholder input is an integral part of policy making and service delivery. He urged everyone present to recognize the importance of creating channels for children and youth to provide their input.
The next speaker was Sophie Kiwala, MPP for Kingston and the Islands. Kiwala is the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Children and Youth Services and the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliations. In her introduction for Kiwala, Kimakova highlighted the MPP’s significant support for the call for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women by Canada’s national Aboriginal organizations. In her remarks, Kiwala spoke about her experiences working with Indigenous children in Northern Ontario communities and with the Right to Play initiative.
The remaining two speakers at the event focused on the economic empowerment of youth by supporting successful transition to the workplace.
Aretha Constant, director of integrity operations at Employment and Social Development Canada in Service Canada, spoke to the federal government’s initiatives in support of youth. She covered the role of the federal government’s Student Work Experience Program and the Canada Student Loans Program.
Julia Deans, CEO of Futurpreneur Canada, a national non-profit organization dedicated to lending assistance with start-ups, including business skills coaching, financing and mentoring, considered the growing role of entrepreneurship in the changing world of work.