Young people in Cambridge have lowest wellbeing scores, survey finds

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CAMBRIDGE — Young people in Cambridge come in last on nearly every measure of a survey of young people’s well-being in Waterloo Region.

The Youth Impact Survey was developed by the Children and Youth Planning Table – a community partnership of service providers, researchers, planning organizations and funders serving children and of young people – to get an overview of the situation of children in the region.

Organizers surveyed 1,074 young people in the Waterloo region aged 9 to 18 on topics such as their sense of belonging, their mental and emotional health and their connection to the environment.

The partnership released the overall results of the 2021 survey in December, but is now digging deeper into the findings.

Its first in-depth review focuses on geography, breaking down survey data for each of the region’s cities and for the townships as a group.

This closer dive paints a disturbing picture of young people in Cambridge, struggling and feeling out of place or lacking much support.

‘Children don’t play with me either and I’m too scared to play with them because I’m a different race and have a different religion,’ a Cambridge youngster told the inquest.

The survey looked at 11 different areas of well-being, from homelessness to financial security for their families, to access to recreational programs or opportunities to enjoy nature. Cambridge youngsters had the lowest scores in all but two of the 11 areas, and second in two areas.

For four of the measures, the gap between the well-being of young people in Cambridge and other parts of the region was over 20%.

“I wish there was support for kids like me who don’t have friends and feel anxious about doing things,” said one Cambridge respondent in the survey. “I want to participate but usually I’m too scared. Programs for anxious children would also be good.

Young people in the four cantons generally had the best overall well-being scores, ranking first in most areas and second in a couple.

Cambridge scores were slightly better in two of 11 domains: 51.6% said their mental health was generally positive, a rate slightly higher than the lowest rate of 50.9% in Kitchener. And 66.2% of young people in Cambridge said they had the opportunity to enjoy nature in their neighborhood, slightly better than the lowest-ranked Kitchener at 65.5%.

Breaking the data down into different categories “means you can see stories that weren’t as obvious when you look at the high-level survey,” said Alison Pearson, manager of the Children and Youth Planning Table.

The survey clearly shows that the welfare of young people must be a priority, she added. The deeper analysis by subgroups “helps tell us where it’s probably best to start focusing.”

Organizers plan to leverage the date further, with upcoming reports focusing on data by age, gender identity, racial identity and special needs. They are working with young people to develop meaningful ways to address the issues revealed by the survey and plan to release a report on next steps later this spring, Pearson said.

The survey garnered 187 responses from Cambridge, around 18% of the total. While the survey isn’t necessarily representative of the experiences of all young people in the area, the demographics of the respondents fairly accurately reflect the demographics of young people in the area, Pearson said.

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