The Pape Adolescent Resource Centre, (PARC) is a preparation for independence program serving youth in care and former youth in care of a child welfare agency, between the ages of 15-28 years. PARC works with youth to help themselves and each other through their transition to self-sufficiency, with acknowledgement and recognition of their own power.
PARC assists young people by providing access to practical RESOURCES which are necessary for a successful transition to independence. Support is offered to young people in the areas of employment, education, housing, identity, sexuality, emotional/mental health, substance abuse, life skills.
PARC encourages personal and emotional growth. By using their VOICE young people may improve relationship skills, and personal development by providing youth with the opportunity for decision making at all levels of the PARC service and in their own lives.
PARC is a safe community; a point of CONNECTION, where youth have the opportunity to develop or receive support from staff and each other. Based upon a sense of belonging, youth who initially require a good deal of support have the opportunity to give back to other members of the community by their leadership and involvement in various programs and by the supportive networks they develop outside the Centre.
PARC works to establish a pathway to independence for youth in care and former youth in care linking youth with the broader community.
The three elements of resources, voice and connection are central to the success of the PARC model of service. In the year 2000, a 12-member delegation of the Shiiseido Child Welfare Foundation met with PARC staff to study the model with a goal of replicating it in Osaka, Japan in 2001. Since then, PARC has hosted many educational delegations from Japan. In the year 2000 the Laidlaw Foundation held the PARC model of as an exemplar service and in 2006 PARC was awarded the Ruth Atkinson Hindmarch Award in recognition of our outstanding work to improve the wellbeing of children and youth.
“I was very moved by the spontaneous comments the youth made about PARC. When Elizabeth said "at PARC, they just care-no strings attached." "I thought to myself that is what every child yearns for-to be loved unconditionally and that is what all parents hope to hear from their children-they feel loved unconditionally."
- Jaqueline Smith
Circle For Children In Care
PARC is funded by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (since 1985) and receives additional funds from the Children's Aid Foundation and other government and private sourcesand is a joint program with Catholic Children’s Aid and Jewish Family and Child Services. Our mandate is to assist youth transitioning from living in the care of any child welfare agency to adulthood.
PARC is based upon a sound philosophical base which has been informed by the work of Paolo Freire among others. Freire’s concept of the "reflection –action" axis has been adopted and adapted by PARC in understanding and respecting the youth who make use of the Centre. His work has also influenced the process through which PARC operates. Freire was influenced by his literacy work in the countryside of Brazil and his theory of education is truly inspiring and liberating.
The reflection-action axis as understood by PARC suggests that to be truly independent people must master a process through which they reflect upon their lives and then take action. After taking action they then must reflect again and take action again. The process seems simple enough but for young people who feel little hope, and who often feel little control over their own lives the process is difficult to trust and master. PARC as an entity employs this process in programming, and planning as well. Staff and youth are engaged in this axis together through what Freire calls "dialogue." This process of dialogue respects the knowledge base of teacher and learner, youth and staff. It creates an environment through which all learn and all contribute. It engenders hope and possibility. As PARC grew dialogue has been reflected in the layers of learning which take place when older youth, supported by Staff, offer service to younger youth.
Certainly the philosophical base of PARC is more complicated than expressed here but it is instructive to understand that it exists. It is one of the factors, which makes PARC unique. Through refection the PARC community has been able to influence child welfare in Toronto, in the Province of Ontario, across Canada and internationally.
The philosophical base which PARC employs has evolved over time. While PARC can be understood to be organized in areas of service, it can also be understood to provide support to youth in care and former youth in care through three elements of service; resources, connection and voice.
"As a youth in care I lived with labels, with stigma, with a feeling of shame. I was an abused kid, I did not have a family. But at PARC I did not have to explain. All of a sudden, it was okay to be on my own at 18, okay not to have a family or go home for the holidays. I have seen people do things that they never thought they could, seen them push themselves forward personally and emotionally, seen myself do both, all because of a connection that was made with a person or a group of people."
- 18 year old PARC youth
In a way PARC has become a place that defies description. It is dynamic and complex expression of the needs and strengths of current and former youth in care with a culture where, even in the face of tremendous obstacles, anything is possible. PARC is a community of young people who are learning to speak with eloquence about their lives and their child welfare experience, who are accepting support and direction from youth in care alumni, who are reaching out to youth in care in other countries, who are redefining what family is to them, who are acquiring optimism about their life chances, who are returning to school to finish their matriculation, who are risking themselves by venturing into postsecondary education, who are learning the discipline of work and caring for others.
Youth arrive at PARC at various stages of readiness for independence. Service is designed to accommodate their wide range of needs. At one end of the spectrum is service, which is intensive, and staff facilitated and at the other end is service that is developed and operated by older youth who have reached a position of being able to give back to their younger peers. The essence of PARC is perhaps best described in the voice of one of its youth:
"People talk about strengthening families. Well, for youth in care and former youth in care like us, you can find family in many forms. Some of us find family in foster homes, some even with their social workers. For many of us PARC is a part of our family. This helps us move on. It gives us confidence. It lets us deal with our baggage. It helps us with practical things like finding jobs. It gives us a chance to give back and help others in our community and family."
PARC meets the needs of youth by providing a variety of group and individual services which fall generally into the categories of personal work, housing, employment, education and the development of voice.
Youth most often come to PARC for the first time seeking support to do practical things like find a job, a place to live, or find support with furthering their education. Youth meet with a PARC worker in order to request service and to establish a service plan. As a relationship develops between a young person and their PARC worker, often more personal work occurs in which a youth is able to reflect upon the factors which brought them into care and their experience as a youth in the child welfare system. This individual work is the glue that binds the PARC service together.
As one youth put it, "To be independent does not mean to be alone." PARC staff and youth strive to create a positive, empowering community, which can support youth in making gains in their lives. Often events and activities open to all youth connected to PARC can help develop the PARC community. Some events include:
- Camping trips involving PARC youth and staff in order to promote the development of a PARC community, build relationships, and develop trust.
- Holiday Party
- Thanksgiving dinner
- Pride Week Celebration
- Black History Month Celebration
- Ski/Snowboard Trips
- International Women’s Day Celebration
- Outdoor recreational/educational programs
Each PARC program has been built upon a partnership of one sort or another. PARC is in partnership with the youth employment partnerships across the Greater Toronto Area. PARC supports youth in attending jobs fairs, pre-employment training, finding employment, and assisting them with job maintenance.
PARC is located in a simple three story house at 469 Pape Avenue, near downtown Toronto. The house has become a point of connection for a large community of youth-some are regular visitors, some visit less frequently, but all feel they belong.