How YWCA Toronto Helps Newcomer Women

As Toronto welcomes refugees, YWCA Toronto helps newcomer women make a strong start. We interviewed Beverly Justin, Coordinator of our Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program, to gain insights into the program’s impact and the work that remains to support refugee resettlement, and build welcoming communities.

What makes you passionate about your role as Coordinator of YWCA Toronto’s LINC program?

The diversity of the women we serve is incredible. A typical LINC class has approximately 6 countries and 5 languages represented out of every 10 students! I am passionate about creating a supportive learning environment for newcomer women who may be uncomfortable or nervous about their level of English proficiency. Our daily lesson plans are taught by TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) instructors. We have a computer lab with interactive language programs. We also organize local outings to the bank, library and grocery store to help women adjust to life in Canada. We strive to make a big impact in women’s lives.

What makes the LINC program unique?

We offer one of few all-women LINC programs in Toronto. I am proud of the work our team is doing because it puts women at the centre of the curriculum. We create a space for women to share their experiences – from discussions about family responsibilities to workplace culture to power dynamics. Women are informed about their rights in Canada, and connected with local services. Also unique is that we provide free TTC tokens and on-site child minding services – staffed with trained educators – for eligible participants. There is also a school-age program in summer months. These supports break down barriers to women’s participation.

As English proficiency increases, so too does self-confidence, cultural awareness and job-readiness. I am always enthusiastic about celebrating the success stories of our students.

What common themes do you see amongst the newcomer women with whom you work?

Settling into a new country and learning English are huge challenges. Many women remain isolated because they do not know enough English to do daily tasks. Some women spend their first few years in Canada without leaving their local community, or venturing downtown. And without English, it is difficult to navigate social service systems and ask for help – this puts women’s safety at risk. The LINC program helps women move from social isolation to integration. As English proficiency increases, so too does self-confidence, cultural awareness and job-readiness. I am always enthusiastic about celebrating the success stories of our students.

What additional supports should be available for refugee women that currently are not?

Newcomer women face numerous systemic barriers in accessing the labour market. For instance, it is difficult for internationally trained women to get credentials recognized. Some women are told they need “Canadian experience” to qualify for jobs, even though they may have experience in another country. Some women are forced to take on ‘survival’ jobs to make ends meet, often working nights to balance caregiving responsibilities. Women tell us that they need more bridge training opportunities, paid work placements, grant programs for credentials recognition and stronger workplace protections. Racial discrimination in Canada is also a major barrier that makes it difficult for newcomers to integrate.

Mental health support is also needed. Very few services create spaces for newcomer women to have conversations about trauma or violence. Some women are hurting silently from having been mistreated. Some feel the additional pressure of not having the support of extended family back home, experiencing depression, low self-esteem and loneliness. A recent study looked at the extraordinary toll that precarious work is taking on the physical and mental health of racialized newcomer women. Government action is needed to ensure access to affordable, trauma-informed mental health support.

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