Stopping youth violence starts before a kid decides to pick up a gun. Through early intervention into the lives of at-risk and newcomer kids, a peer mentor
can help steer kids away from making the wrong decisions.
“As a community we can help prevent our kids from dying from violence by investing in what has proven to work,” says Sally Spencer, CEO of The Peer Project.
Reducing Crime Rate, but Rising Youth Violence
According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s crime rate has been on a downward trend since a peak in 1991, reaching in 2013 its lowest level since 1969. As well, Toronto is the third lowest of all Canadian metropolitan cities on the Police-reported Crime Severity Index, which “measures the volume and severity of crime.”
Nevertheless, communities in and around Toronto are home to gangs and incidents of youth violence that are a plague on our region. According to the 2008 Roots of Youth Violence Ontario government report, during the 1970s, less than a quarter of victims were under 25, now it is over 40 per cent; gun charges for youth have increased by one-third since 2002; and, the homicide rate for Toronto’s Black community during 1992 and 2003 was almost five times greater than the average.
Peer Mentoring Helps Save Lives
A recommendation in the Roots of Youth Violence report calls for the increased support of peer mentoring. Research reveals peer mentoring can help kids not only stay away from violence, but also live healthier lives, improve school performance, and reduce instances of bullying. A meta-analysis of 73 papers found peer-mentoring helped improve outcomes for youth “across behavioral, social, emotional and academic domains.”
Charlie Lo, a Peer Project mentee turned mentor, saw some of his peers get caught up with the wrong crowd.
“There was this kid…that kind of hung out with the wrong crowd and he got shot and he lost his life,” says Charlie. “It’s a shame because he was actually on the list to become a mentee.”
The positive role model isn’t a one-way street, The Peer Project CEO Sally Spencer recounts the impact of mentoring had on a Peer Project mentor.
“One of our mentors Billy, living in a low-income neighbourhood, had a choice to make one morning, he could either pick-up a gun with his friends that night or live the positive lifestyle he advocated to his mentee. He decided to stay home and his friends were arrested – being a mentor saved his life,” says Spencer. “We have a 98 per cent success rate keeping kids in school and away from the criminal justice system, but with over 400 kids on the waiting list to get a mentor, the need in this city is high – too high.”