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The Convergence Between Outrage and Hope

I recently had the chance to sit down with Ken Dryden. Not to name drop, but for a life-long fan of Les Canadiens, it’s surreal that the man who I held on such a high pedestal growing up is now someone I can call a friend, but I digress. We are talking about his most recent book, “Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey.” 

The book ostensibly is about the need for change in the game of hockey that would prevent concussions, but it is about so much more than that. When we meet, Ken describes, in his words, the convergence of “outrage and hope”; outrage at the ongoing, systemic problems that are terribly altering lives with no real urgency by anyone to address the problem, and hope in the ample evidence that change is possible. Soon enough, our conversation turns to how change happens and how, more often than not, fundamental change is thwarted.

It struck me that our Office lives with children and youth in the nexus of outrage and hope. Today, I think our province now lives there with us.

In Ontario, we are on verge of proclaiming a new Child, Youth and Family Services Act that the Minister of Children and Youth Services, Michael Coteau, called “ground-breaking” change when introducing it.  Certainly, the legislation, with its unprecedented commitment to child-centred practice, child participation, children’s rights, anti-racism framework and First Nations autonomy in all services offered under the Act sets the stage for what could be fundamental change.

Among some of the recent developments:

In the field of education, a new “Equity Strategy” for the education system in Ontario with the establishment of a whole new Branch to make “equity” real is an indication of this acceptance, as is the commitment to establish “educational standards” for the disabled that will set legal guidelines for what students with disabilities can expect from our school systems.

Nationally, there are also signs that fundamental change can occur. Our federal Minister of Indigenous Services described the over-representation of First Nation children in child welfare care as “a national humanitarian crisis.”

All of this, borne out of the outrage expressed by so many young people who found the strength and courage to speak about their lived experience; their voices echoed by many adults, service providers, stakeholders and natural advocates.

"We will push for processes that continue to involve children and youth and, in fact, processes that place them at the centre of decision-making"

In 2017, I heard the phrase “We need to do something” very often. Now, in 2018, we have heard many nice words and commitments to change. But let’s be clear – nice words are in and of themselves are not change. Yes, we need to “do something,” but what? “Doing something” is where the hope lies.

Back to my conversation with Ken Dryden; “I think that sometimes politicians, bureaucrats and decision-makers are overwhelmed by what they see as intractable problems,” he said. “They know they want to do something, but they don’t know what to do. Sometimes, we say ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’ but that’s not always it. Sometimes, it is ‘When there is a way, there is a will.’”

I think he is right. In 2018, our Office will work with children and youth to move past the fine words. We will push for implementation. We will push for processes that continue to involve children and youth and, in fact, processes that place them at the centre of decision making. We invite you to do the same and join us. Change will come in how we decide to take the opportunity before us. It is not just about “doing something,” but how we do it as well.

Irwin