Young Parents in Toronto Speak Out About Work, Community Services and Family Life

A Report of the Prospects for Young Families in Toronto Project

By: Community Social Planning Council of Toronto and Family Service Association of Toronto
Published: July 2004
Report Author: Beth Wilson, Community Social Planning Council of Toronto
Full Report Download: PDF Format

About the Prospects for Young Families in Toronto Project

Prospects for Young Families in Toronto is a collaborative research project of the Family Service Association of Toronto and the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto. The goal of this project was to investigate how social and economic circumstances are having an impact on young families and to build support for public policies that can assist them. Our project focused on young families whose head was under the age of 35.s.


The year-long project worked with young families, staff from community agencies, academics and others in generating strategies and solutions that can help young families in Toronto. This project built on findings of previous research about young families conducted in 1994-95 by the Family Service Association of Toronto, the (then) Social Planning Council of Metropolitan Toronto and the Child Poverty Action Group.

There were three phases to this project. In phase one, we held eight focus groups with young families throughout Toronto to explore their economic circumstances, the range of available social supports, and the impacts on family life. In phase two, the project held three roundtables (Toronto, Scarborough and North York) with a range of front-line and community workers, administrators from social agencies, policy makers, foundations and academics working in a range of areas related to young families. These roundtables contributed significantly to gaining a deeper understanding of what is happening to young families in Toronto and helped to define the policy directions that can address their needs and aspirations. In the final phase of the project, we produced two reports stemming from our work. This report is the result of our focus groups with a wide range of young families throughout Toronto. An accompanying report entitled, Falling Fortunes: A Report on the Status of Young Families in Toronto, examines the main economic
and social trends that young families are facing and compares them to younger families over the past two decades. It also sets out recommendations for action based on our policy roundtables.

Funding support for this project is provided by the United Way of Greater Toronto and the Atkinson Charitable Foundation.

Highlights of the Report

Toronto's young families face serious roadblocks in making a good life for themselves and their children. The rise in non-standard work with its characteristic low wages and poor benefits, coupled with declining support for our cherished social programs, has left young parents and their children at a disadvantage compared to families of generations past. Single mothers and parents who are immigrants, members of racialized communities and teenagers, encounter the greatest challenges to landing a good job, accessing needed social supports and achieving a decent standard of living. Based on focus group research, this report gives voice to the experiences behind the downward trends, and parents' ideas for change to improve the quality of life of young families in Toronto.

Work, Education and Training: Opportunities Out of Reach

Among study participants, 11.5% had full-time jobs, 19.2% had part-time or casual employment, 13.5% were attending school full-time, and 44.2% of participants were unemployed, with the remainder on maternity leave, caring for children and ill relatives in the home, or living with disabilities that restrict their ability to work. Among the unemployed, 8.7% were receiving Employment Insurance. Participants shared many insights about their experience in the labour market, searching for work and making ends meet.

Toronto Families: A Diversity of Communities

Parents from a diversity of communities participated in this project. While many common issues emerged, Aboriginal, LGBT, immigrant and younger parents, raised issues specific to their diverse experiences. The following community snapshots convey some of the distinct issues raised by each group.

High Quality, Regulated, Affordable Child Care: Hard to Get, Hard to Keep

Lone parents, two-parent families, and parents across diverse communities and income groups, strongly support and identify the need for more high quality, regulated and affordable child care. In a previous section, child care was mentioned as a critical support to enable parents to enter the workforce. Parents also value child care centres as places outside of the home that provide children with educational and creative stimulation and opportunities for socialization with other children. Parents shared with us many issues regarding access to child care and ideas for change.

Social Assistance: Paying the Rent and Feeding the Kids?

The Ontario government has two main income assistance programs: the Ontario Works program (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The provincial government sets the policies including the rates for social assistance. Municipal governments administer the programs. OW provides financial and employment assistance and is intended as a temporary support for Ontarians. With its low benefit levels, OW is the social assistance program of last resort. ODSP offers income and employment assistance as well but is intended as a long-term
support to Ontarians with

Among study participants, 45.5% received OW and 7.3% received ODSP. One in five OW recipients was also employed. Young parents had a lot to say about living on social assistance and many ideas for improving the system.

The Long Wait for Safe and Affordable Housing

Housing arose as a critical issue for young families throughout this project. Parents face many hurdles in their search (and wait) for safe and affordable housing.

  • $884: Average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Toronto, a 21.1% increase over 5 years
  • $1,040: Average monthly rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Toronto, an 18.3% increase over 5 years
  • 73,697: Number of Toronto households on the waiting list for social housing in 2003
  • 37.7: Percentage of families paying more than 30% of their income on rent in Toronto Census Metropolitan Area
  • 2,300: Number of one-parent families that used Toronto shelters during 2002, a 51% increase since 1990

Young Families on Health, Public Education and Recreation

Parents spoke about health care issues and expense, the public education system and access to recreation programs. Young families felt the day-to-day effects of declining support for social program

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