Skip to main content

Youth Development

The Issue 

Young people go through significant cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual changes as they move through adolescence. They develop a sense of identity and increase their independence. However, some youth face multiple barriers that make it difficult to gain important skills and assets. As teens mature, those skills become very important to successfully entering the workforce, or integrating with their communities. Youth from low-income households are particularly prone to experiencing barriers like food insecurity, unstable housing, unaffordable transportation, and a lack of personal, community, and educational resources. Additionally, low-income rates are higher for youth who are part of Indigenous, racialized, and immigrant groups. These adolescents are impacted by colonialism and systemic racism in our education, justice, and child welfare systems, in addition to shocking rates of poverty. These structural factors further widen the opportunity gap for youth in low-income households. 


of youth in Toronto live in low-income households – compared to 12.8% in Peel, and 12% in York


of youth feel they are not prepared to enter the workforce – and only 34% of employers feel youth are prepared for work


of adolescents in Ontario reported an increase in depression during the second wave of lockdown measures from February to March 2021

How we help

We aim to provide youth (ages 13-24) with the right support systems. We aim to close opportunity gaps and help youth realize their full potential. We support programs that demonstrate use of ‘best practices’ (e.g., strength-based, trauma-informed) and take a positive youth development approach. United Way focuses on programs designed to support positive interactions and meaningful relationships with peers and adults at home, in school, and in the neighbourhood. Our funded programs promote meaningful participation in the community, promote leadership opportunities, encourage and support youth to complete high school, and help youth develop a sense of purpose for their future. United Way is particularly interested in initiatives seeking to close the opportunity gaps for youth that face a greater risk of marginalization because of systemic barriers to equal access due to disadvantage and discrimination.

A young man in workwear standing in construction site

I’m concerned about going to work because of COVID-19. Unfortunately, in order to maintain a stable life and keep up with my bills, I have to take that risk. I do feel uncertain about my future, but I know that for the world to get through this, we have to work as a community and support each other. That’s why I think donors are so important. When we get out of this, a lot of young people are going to need United Way employment programs like the one that helped me start my career. You’re making sure they have that support.

Jermain, United Way program participant

Here’s how your local love helped youth participate fully in their communities: 

Group of teens and a program coordinator sitting together talking and laughing


Youth received support and opportunities to help them achieve their potential

Two woman are sitting in a computer lab. The order woman is helping with a computer project.


Youth participated in formal or informal pathways to education

Two people shaking hands during meeting in a office


Youth acquired direct and transferable knowledge, skills, and connections to prepare for the labour market

January 07, 2019

5 ways poverty affects youth unemployment

Being unemployed as a young person can have ramifications that last a lifetime — without work experience, formal training or a professional network, it’s hard to reach even the first rung on the corporate ladder.