The communities in which children live have a significant impact on their experiences and opportunities. Children are raised by familites, but they grow up in communities. The extent to which a community is child- and youth-friendly is expressed through how it uses and develops its physical resources (for example, schools, parks, libraries and recreation facilities) and through the commitment of time and energy its adult citizens make to the children and youth who live there.

Communities are multifaceted and dynamic environments. They can be based upon either location (for example, neighbourhood communities) or affiliation (for example, faith communities). Initiatives to support the healthy development of all young people may start in many places:

  • the voluntary efforts of a service club or faith community
  • an initiative of a recreation leader, individual parent or neighborhood association
    within a professional association

  • as a project, service or program that is funded by government but implemented locally
  • as a program linked to schools
  • through efforts of the business community.

The diversity of groups involved with activities and programs for children and youth is both a strength and a challenge. Its strength is the range of opportunities for both citizens and young people. Its challenge is to ensure that the opportunities provided are available to all young people and their families, and that the resources are used for practices that are effective in promoting healthy child and youth development.

Supportive communities work with families and young people to promote asperations and opportunities, as well as to address needs and solve problems. They see young people as a resource and provide opportunities for their voices to be heard and their talents to be used in services that promote their skills and confidence. They celebrate the achievements of young people.

Communities support infants and young children by helping parents meet their developmental needs with a wide range of initiatives broadly described as family support strategies. As children get older, parents need to connect with their children’s new environments – schools, friends, parents of friends and youth groups.

Communities also support children and youth directly by providing experiences that help the child or youth mature physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually, through clubs, recreational and cultural opportunities, and individual and group mentoring programs. Most importantly, communities provide opportunities for youth to contribute in meaningful ways to community life.

Studies have shown that children in disadvantaged communities who have access to skill development activities in sports, music, scouting and other areas are less likely to engage in antisocial behaviour. (97) Yet children and youth in low-income families are less likely to participate in recreational activities that cost money. (321)

As communities attempt to become more supportive of children, youth and their families they face a number of challenges:

  • communicating the message that the healthy development of all children and youth is important to the community
  • motivating and mobilizing people across the community to take responsibility for promoting the healthy development of all children and youth
  • finding ways to build supportive partnerships with families
  • identifying families who need special support and working with them to meet their needs
  • developing coherence and synergy among diverse efforts across a community through efforts that promote a shared vision and lead to cooperation and collaboration.

Life in a disadvantaged community undermines children's opportunities to achieve their developmental potential. Both the hyperactivity and conduct disorders so frequently associated with academic failure and inadequate socialization are more than twice as common in poor children than in those who are not poor. (201). A Quebec Study of 4000 children has shown that the deeper the level of their poverty, the higher the level of violence they experience, especially for girls. (202) This likely stems from the sense of hopelessness related to feeling powerless and marginalized. In less civic societies – societies marked by an absence of shared beliefs, values, behavioural norms and by pervasive mistrust, lack of communication and of social cohesion among identifiable subgroups within the total population (Putnam, 1993) – a higher level of parent involvement and more effective monitoring and discipline are needed to socialize children successfully.

Neighbourhoods that are high in density, crime, and drug abuse but low in cohesion or a sense of control of their own destiny are likely to undermine even many committed families' attempts to raise children successfully. (337) Abusive parenting, a potent contributor to both internalizing and externalizing psychiatric disorders in children and to delinquency (245), commonly complicates the isolation so common in disadvantaged populations. This alienation insulates such families from social sanctions against abusive behaviour that, in less isolated families, could have a moderating effect. Long-standing isolation is frequently accompanied by increasing depression, resentment and hostility, all of which are associated with higher rates of abusive parenting, psychiatric disorders, school failure and drop-out, and juvenile delinquency. (245) When poverty and marginalization are superimposed upon each other, as occurs in some of our disadvantaged minorities, it may take considerable personal strength and familial support to achieve resiliency and productivity despite the unfriendly environment. Many of these factors influence the lives of Aboriginal children and youth living on reserves and in inner cities. Many such communities are multiply disadvantaged, with their inhabitants very much marginalized within our society. (271)

Children, youth and their families live, work and play in communities. Communities are the space in which the private and public lives of families meet and where policies initiated by other levels of government have an immediate and personal impact. At each stage of children’s and youth’s development, the communities in which they live make a major contribution to their health and well-being.



The importance of the first year of life has been well documented. It is a critical time for development and for establishing positive infant-parent relationships. It is also a period of considerable stress when many families could use some support. The supports that communities make available to young parents can make a difference. Some families need more support than others, just as some are more willing to seek support than others.

Communities can provide a variety of supports to new families to respond to their needs for information and skills, and for social and instrumental support. They can provide a sense of connection and reduce isolation.

Communities respond to the needs of families and infants through a mix of informal networks and supports, and formal programs and services. These strategies differ in form, but most include an intention to provide social support and increase parenting competence by building on existing strengths in the family.

The chart below lists factors that influence a child's development in the first year of life.

The headings of each column indicate a positive outcome we would like children to achieve.

Under each heading factors are listed that influence that outcome.

Clicking on an underlined influence will open a window containing a list of strategies that communities can implement.

To return to the table, close the new window.

Physically healthy

Securely attached to parents and caregivers

Developing feelings and emotional control

Getting ready for language and learning

A healthy pregnancy

Adequate nutrition

Safe physical environment

Early detection and treatment of developmental problems


Sensitive attunement and involvement of parents and caregivers

Emotional health of parents and caregivers

Parents' beliefs and expectations

Sensitive attunement and involvement of parents and caregivers

Infant's temperament

Appropriate stimulation

Positive parenting skills

Safe and varied environment



It is important that children be prepared to enter the formal education system, because early experience in school can set a course for later school-related success. A child's readiness to learn is strongly associated with initial school success. A lack of readiness to learn is associated with gaps in early learning which increase the rate of failure in the higher grades and are increasingly associated with aggressive and destructive behaviours. These behaviours are, in turn, associated with an escalating struggle with teachers, rejection by peers and declining self-esteem. (53)

Readiness to learn requires appropriate physical and intellectual stimulation, affectionate and firm guidance, and opportunities for children to play with their peers. Parents look to their communities to find quality childcare if needed, or for other opportunities for their children to learn and play with their peers if they are not in childcare each day.

Communities also provide information on child development; opportunities for parents to learn more about effective parenting and talk about the joys and challenges they have with their children; and material support; including toys, books and safe play areas.

The chart below lists factors that influence children's healthy development as they prepare for school.

The headings of each column indicate a positive outcome we would like children to achieve.

Under each heading factors are listed that influence that outcome.

Clicking on an underlined influence will open a window containing a list of strategies that communities can implement.

To return to the table, close the new window.

Physically healthy

Age-appropriate social skills

Positive emotional health

Appropriate language and learning skills

Nutrition, exercise, medical care

Protection from injuries

Safe physical environment

Adequate financial resources

Relationship with parents and caregivers

Experiences with other adults

Experiences with other children

Secure attachment

Developing sense of competence

Supportive communities

Protection from abuse



Stimulating homes

Quality childcare and preschool education

Prepared primary schools


 


The transition from child to adolescence is complicated and occurs over an extended period of time. For the transition to be successful, young people need a supportive environment that provides love, encouragement and clearly defined boundaries.

A caring community involves young people in the activities and decisions that affect them. They work closely with schools to make them an integral part of the community. They provide safe, accessible playgrounds and community meeting places, and encourage civic behaviour.

The chart below lists factors that influence children's healthy development as they enter adolescence.

The headings of each column indicate a positive outcome we would like children to achieve.

Under each heading factors are listed that influence that outcome.

Clicking on an underlined influence will open a window containing a list of strategies that communities can implement.

To return to the table, close the new window.


A secure and integrated self-identity

Strong social skills

A commitment to learning and participating in school

The ability to make healthy choices

Adaptability

Supportive home environment

Support of significant others

Supportive learning and living environments

Media

Supportive home environment

Support of significant others

Supportive learning and living environments

Media

Supportive home environment


Support of significant others

Supportive learning and living environments

Media

Supportive home environment

Role models and peer support

Supportive learning and living environments

Media

Supportive home environment

Support of significant others

Supportive learning and living environments



 


Young people who are involved in leadership and community service activities are more likely to learn the civic and social skills they need to be freely contributing members of the community as adults. Supportive communities provide a safe, equitable environment and empower residents to work with young people to enhance their neighbourhoods, find employment and enjoy meaningful use of their leisure time.

The chart below lists factors that influence youth's healthy development as they approach adulthood.

The headings of each column indicate a positive outcome we would like children to achieve.

Under each heading factors are listed that influence that outcome.

Clicking on an underlined influence will open a window containing a list of strategies that communities can implement.

To return to the table, close the new window.

Prepared for work

Prepared for intimacy and family life

Prepared to participate in community life

Prepared to manage their personal health and well-being

Educational achievement

Opportunities to work and learn work-related skills

Accessible employment opportunities

Opportunities to overcome disadvantages that lead to early school leaving

 

Opportunities to develop an integrated, stable sense of identity

Opportunities to develop positive relationships

Gender and role socialization

Opportunities to overcome circumstances that lead to troubled relationships


Opportunities to make a meaningful contribution

Opportunities to learn life skills, respect for others and civic skills

Capacity for self-care

Influence and social support of significant others

Supportive learning, living and working environments

Media


 




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