About Us and Advocacy

Meet the Child and Youth Advocate / PEI

Marvin Bernstein, B.A., J.D., LL.M (ADR)

First of all, I am delighted and honored to have been appointed as the first independent Child and Youth Advocate for Prince Edward Island. More importantly, this is an historic and momentous occasion for Islander children and youth, who for the first time have an independent office dedicated to advancing their rights, interests and viewpoints.


I am passionate about child advocacy. It isn’t just a job to me. It is a lifestyle and a driving force in my life. I also have a strong sense of social justice and believe that we can all be agents of positive social change if we are optimistic, principled and prepared to speak out where we see unfairness or discrimination in any shape or form, particularly where it affects our most vulnerable and marginalized youngest citizens.


I am a lawyer by profession with decades of professional experience, having served in a variety of roles over the course of my career. This has provided me with the opportunity to advocate for improved government services to children and youth in many different provinces and territories, as well as at the federal level. I have worked both within and outside of the public sector and am able to view the impacts upon children and youth through different lenses and through the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.


During my time as the Children’s Advocate for Saskatchewan, I had one of the broadest mandates in the country. My Office engaged in individual and systemic advocacy, individual and systemic investigations (including child deaths and serious injuries), early complaints resolution, public education and research, monitoring and recommendation tracking, and placed a strong reliance on amplifying and promoting the voices of children and youth. I also advocated for more equitable funding and services to Indigenous children and youth and actively opposed the over-representation of Indigenous children in child welfare care and in the youth criminal justice system.


It is important for young people to see my Office as one that empowers them and reduces stigma. It is part of my Office’s responsibility to raise public awareness and see children and youth as individuals with human rights and voices to be heard. This means that we state clearly that young people cannot be reduced to categories of offenders, victims or the property of others and cannot be defined by their experience of past adversity. They are individuals who are full of promise and potential capable of writing their own successful life story.

 
I am a substantial sports fan too! Just a few summers ago, I was actually in Toronto on a hot and jovial day when the Raptors were celebrating with a parade for becoming the NBA Champions! It was a day when millions of people filled the streets.  I was pleased to share the experience with my wife, son, and son-in-law, who all joined in. I found that the Raptors playoff run and win took the country by storm, bonded our diverse community, and gave us a shared goal - a rallying point. One of my other favourite sports experiences was being in the stadium for ALL of the Blue Jays World Series games in the early 1990s. Now THAT was a thrill! I firmly believe we all need the Right to Play and Recreation! It brings us together and brings us joy in our lives.

Also available, Marvin M. Bernstein, formal professional biography.  

 

Meet Rona Smith, B.A., B.S.W., M.S.W., R.S.W

Deputy Child and Youth Advocate

It continues to my privilege to serve Island children, youth and their families; a privilege entrusted to me throughout my forty years of public service in PEI; in areas of child abuse and family violence.

As a social worker, my personal and professional worldview, continues to be influenced by my family upbringing and my professional values, both of which are founded on pillars of social justice and advocacy on behalf of vulnerable persons. This helped me choose a professional career devoted to my passion for child advocacy, in the promotion and protection, of all children and youth as human rights holders. 

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to grow and learn. Children, youth and their families have trusted me to listen carefully and respectfully to their life journeys, often filled with pain, isolation and vulnerability.  Throughout my career, I have carried the privilege of these shared personal stories with me in my different jobs, so that I never forget whom I am trying to help, both at an individual level and at a broader systemic and societal level.

As a very young child, my family taught me about the power and influence of unconditional love, respect, humility, and service to others above self.  My career, as an adult, has helped me connect with other amazing children, youth and adults, from around the world, who share these same values; both in my paid work with government and my volunteer work in the community.  In both government and the community, my contributions in working as a team member with other amazing, kind and caring people, are reflected with different awards and recognitions that I have been humbled to receive.

I love to learn and go to school, and for the past many years, I have had the privilege to teach at our local university. When teaching, I believe I often take away far more learning from the students than I give back to them.  The classroom provides safe space for critical thinking, without judgement, as we discuss complex social issues affecting children, youth, families and communities. The shared world vision for peace, respect, and kindness, gives me hope and energy.

Reflecting upon a social work career of frontline and senior management public service to children, youth, families and communities, coupled with decades of collaborative public and professional efforts to give strengthened voice to vulnerable children and help make long-term changes in laws and policies to help other children and youth going forward, the work, at times, was isolating and heavy.  

Proclamation of the new PEI Child and Youth Advocate Act and establishment of the new Office of the Child and Youth Advocate brings optimism, hope and illumination of all PEI children and youth as human rights holders.  In a career spun over four decades of advocacy and public service, this is a dream come true and now I have the privilege to continue to serve children, youth and their families in my new role with this office, for which I am both humbled and honored.

 

Meet Erica Evans, B.A., P.G.C.E., Med, EdD.

Advocacy Representative

In my role as an Advocacy Representative with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, I provide individual advocacy to children and youth ages newborn to eighteen years.  Individual advocacy includes a range of voluntary support depending on the needs of an individual child, youth and their family or a group of children and youth. Individual advocacy can include education on children’s rights, navigational support to government and community resources, information on reviewable service complaint mechanisms and providing support directly to children and youth receiving, or eligible to receive, a reviewable service. 

I am a proud Canadian citizen, returning in 2021 to live on Prince Edward Island after 35 years in England. Having spent many summers with family on the stunning North Shore, I am thrilled to now be a resident of this wonderful province. It is my privilege to work with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, amplifying the rights of all children on the island.

My career in education, spanning over three decades, has included roles as a qualified primary school teacher in the UK, an Early Childhood Network Coordinator in local government and a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Care at the University of Brighton, England. I feel honored to have spent many years in the classroom, working directly with children and their families. My aim was to create a learning environment where all children felt heard and included.

My interest in children’s rights and the enactment of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has directed much of my professional work and study over the past two decades. As Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton I worked with trainee teachers and early childhood education and care practitioners, supporting the development of their practice, with particular emphasis on inclusion, equalities and rights-based education.

In 2021 I successfully completed my Professional Doctorate in Education. My thesis researched the participation rights of babies and toddlers in early childhood education and care centers. Findings highlighted the interdependence of protection and participation rights, and the importance of attuned, responsive care giving that prioritizes opportunities for the voices of the youngest children to be heard and acted upon.

I am co-author of the Amnesty International First Steps resource pack, supporting educators to introduce rights to children aged 3-5. I am a contributing author to Integrated Working with Children and Young People (edited by Dr. Nadia Edmond and Dr. Mark Price) and more recently to The Theory and Practice of Voice in Early Childhood: An International Exploration (edited by Dr Lorna Arnott and Prof. Kate Wall).

I bring my passion for social justice, inclusive practices and the honoring of children’s rights to my role as advocacy representative and a commitment to serving the children of Prince Edward Island with the highest level of respect they deserve.

 

Kathleen MacNabb, B.A., M.A.

Investigation/Research Representative

As an Investigation/ Research Representative with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, I have responsibility for child and youth serious injury or death reviews and investigations, and as appropriate, conduct research to inform recommendations for the prevention of future child and youth serious injuries or deaths. All child and youth serious injury reviews and investigations involving reviewable services are informed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and guided by principles of respect, integrity, collaboration and balance.

I was born in Saskatchewan and grew up in Alberta before moving to Nova Scotia and now Prince Edward Island. I obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Alberta and later a Master of Arts in Sociology from Dalhousie University.

I took a round-about path to my role, as I worked in epidemiological and health care research for five years after graduating. This experience gave me the opportunity to hone a variety of research skills and methodologies. It also showed me the importance of conducting research that is both rigorous and guided by social justice values. In particular, my experience with implementing a screening program for sexually transmitted and blood borne infections showed me that research can have a material, positive impact for individuals and vulnerable populations.

I am honoured to work in the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, to be guided by the interests of children and youth, and to do research through a child rights lens to concretely benefit PEI children and youth.

 

Meet Merissa Mitchell, B.A., B.ScN., RN   

Advocacy Representative

In my role as an Advocacy Representative with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, I provide individual advocacy to children and youth ages newborn to eighteen years.  Individual advocacy includes a range of voluntary support depending on the needs of an individual child, youth and their family or a group of children and youth. Individual advocacy can include education on children’s rights, navigational support to government and community resources, information on reviewable service complaint mechanisms and providing support directly to children and youth receiving, or eligible to receive, a reviewable service. 

I grew up in Stratford, Prince Edward Island, with my two older brothers, my younger sister, my father who is a retired elementary school principal and my mother who is a retired elementary school teacher. I presently reside in Charlottetown with my husband Liam, three young children and two pug-mix puppies. I love learning, staying busy, and always seem to be enrolled in some sort of training course! I am currently working on a Master of Nursing Degree from Dalhousie University via distance and part-time which is keeping me and my family busy. We are fortunate to have strong support systems on both sides of the family (thank you grandparents!) which makes life manageable.

From a young age I always knew I wanted a career helping people. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree with the Psychology Honours Program, I started work at a community care facility where I found a passion providing nursing care. I was fortunate to be accepted into one of the first cohorts of the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program at the University of Prince Edward Island. I spent the first eight years of my nursing career working primarily at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Intensive Care Unit. These years built the foundation of my work ethic, first and foremost by providing patient and family centered care through open communication, active listening and being present.

I later transitioned to Public Health Nursing as the registered nurse for the PEI Provincial Hepatitis C Elimination Program. Through this work, I have found a passion advocating for members of a vulnerable population who face adversity due to poverty, lack of social support and education. I value the importance of all people participating in their own health care decisions, and this can only be achieved through informed decision making and open communication. Public participation in nursing describes the concept that all people have the right to take an active role in determining their needs and interventions.

Today, it is a privilege to be given the opportunity to be part of a team that protects the rights of children and youth, while empowering their voice. Children are the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society and have the right to be fully informed when decisions concerning their wellbeing are being made.

 

Meet Simone Waller, B.A., J.D. 

Systemic Research/Investigation Representative

In my role as Systemic Investigation/Research Representative with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, I conduct systemic investigations and research on issues impacting the rights of children and youth, receiving or eligible to receive, reviewable programs and services. Systemic issues are issues with potential to re-occur and negatively impact the rights of children and youth or groups of children and youth if not appropriately resolved through application of a child rights lens. Child rights informed solutions to identified systemic issues often require changes to legislation, regulations, policies, procedures, programs and services. All systemic reviews and investigations of reviewable services are informed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and guided by principles of respect, integrity, collaboration and balance.

I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I attended Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario for my Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Law and Justice. During my tenure at Laurentian University, I was employed by the Centre for Research in Social Justice and Policy as a Research Assistant. It was through this work that I became cognizant of the lived realities of persons experiencing homelessness and vulnerability in Northeastern Ontario.

Upon graduation from Laurentian University, I attended the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Common Law for my Juris Doctor Degree. I attended law school for two reasons: to promote access to justice for vulnerable populations and for my love of the law. My passion for legal research and analysis was developed during this time, with my course selection focusing on family law and access to justice. Simultaneously, I was employed at a boutique law firm practicing in the areas of family, real estate, estate, and corporate law. I was privileged to work for counsel employed by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer and I learned firsthand of the imperative nature of child advocacy.

It is my privilege to fulfil my professional and personal desire to be an advocate for children’s rights and I am honored to serve as Systemic Investigation/Research Representative with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. I look forward to supporting the Child and Youth Advocate and promoting the rights and best interests of all Island children and youth. I am humbled to learn from the other members of the Office and from the children and youth of Prince Edward Island.

 

 

Meet Penny Woodgate   

Office Manager – Executive Assistant