Meet the Child and Youth Advocate / PEI
Marvin M. 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.
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 Dr. Wendy Verhoek-Oftedahl, Ph.D.
I am pleased and honoured to serve as the Investigation/Research Representative for the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.
I am an injury epidemiologist with over 25 years of experience in the field of family violence prevention. Prior to moving to Prince Edward Island, I held a research faculty position at Brown University in Rhode Island in the US. My research focus was the evaluation of methods for public health surveillance of intimate partner and sexual violence, child maltreatment and elder abuse, and included analysis of incident characteristics to inform prevention efforts.
I served as the project manager for the Rhode Island component of the US National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) as well as consultant epidemiologist and coordinator for the Rhode Island Child Death Review Team that reviewed deaths to identify opportunities for prevention across the levels of the ecological model of prevention. I know firsthand the value and importance of collaborative systems review to inform work to prevent these tragic deaths and I am thrilled to be part of this foundational work in Prince Edward Island.
My dream to relocate to Prince Edward Island where my family summered for a number of years became a reality when I assumed the position of the Family Violence Prevention and Community Development Coordinator for the province. While in that position, I served as Resource for the Premier’s Action Committee on Family Prevention and chair of the provincial Child Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee. I have also been a collaborator on the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative and a member of the research hub focused on children living with domestic violence. As I first began my career, the importance of this area of prevention was brought into sharp focus for me by the Canadian film, The Crown Prince. This film, while dated, is a powerful depiction of domestic violence as shown from the perspective of the children and has continued to motivate my work to prevent family violence and improve the wellbeing of children to this day.
I also know firsthand the importance and value of engaging young people in our work. In 2007, one of the students I was teaching, was analyzing statewide data on police-reported incidents of teen dating violence when legislation was introduced mandating that school districts implement policies on dating violence, including education and prevention. The proposed legislation was in response to the homicide of a young woman by her former boyfriend. In addition to the compelling testimony by family, friends and service providers, my student, a peer of the victim, passionately presented the results of her analyses using her data to demonstrate that each component of the legislation was relevant and important. Legislators were very moved by her testimony and passed the legislation which was the first comprehensive teen dating violence prevention law in the US. Since that time more than 20 states have passed similar legislation.
I look forward to contributing my expertise and experience, and working collaboratively with others as we undertake the essential work of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate to advance the voices and wellbeing of children and youth.
Meet Wraychel Horne, Hons. B.A., M.A.
It is my life’s passion to commit to the best possible services for all children and youth. Being allotted the opportunity to research, share, create, and action advocacy strategies which fully realize best practices – which are successful locally – is what excites me about actualizing the PEI Child and Youth Advocate Act. With two decades of experience in service to children and youth including executive, not-for-profit leadership, government, and consulting roles, I am humbled and thrilled to be a part of this historic inaugural team.
Prior to returning to my five-generation Island roots, I contributed in diverse high-risk children and youth organizations: In Ontario, I led 6,000 participants and 2,000 volunteers engaged in local, provincial, national, and international programming. I was selected to pilot programs for both the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. During this time, I had the privilege to develop the first paid co-operative education program outside of the Armed Services in Canada, “Summer Revive”, and further expanded the program to run in its second year on the Oneida Reserve for Indigenous youth to gain employment in their home community while earning income and secondary school credits.
I adore the ability to build community capacity. Working at Youth Opportunities Unlimited during the timeframe in which the Cornerstone project launched was an early career highlight. This facility created 30 affordable apartments for street-engaged youth with a holistic wrap-around model of on-site staff, programs, employment training, and social enterprise, all generating international interest as a best practice model. In PEI, I conceptualized and launched The Montessori School of Charlottetown as a triple licensed private school, after school program provider, and early childhood care facility. This endeavour received accolades from across the globe as a best-practice facility.
Internationally, I have collaborated with organizations in Jamaica where I advocated in-person, with the guidance of local experts, on behalf of 70,000 children and youth to request support from the Jamaican government and the High Commissioner for Canada. I adore being part of a global initiative, LEAD Montessori, based in the Czech Republic. This group links leadership supports within the sectors committed to child-centered services, emotional intelligence, child safety, and community-building best practices. In recent years I had the thrill of co-leading a youth exchange pilot initiative between Vienna, Austria and PEI, Canada.
I am grateful my life has been filled with endless possibilities, diversity, resiliency, and love. This support enabled me to complete my Masters of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University while working full time in social services. I am currently engaged with the University of Toronto, enrolled in the work of a PhD in Adult Education and Community Development. Always my support, my husband and I were - and still are - high school sweethearts. Together now with our school-age daughter, we play, create, build, learn and adventure together. Culture, the arts, and environmentalism enrich our lives. I am honoured to bring the value that ‘every child is a whole person’ to the work of this historic Office.
Meet Dr. Erica Evans, BA, P.G.C.E., MEd, EdD.
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 began as a qualified primary school teacher in the UK. 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. I have special memories of many magical moments in the classroom and of the amazing children who directed our learning together.
Supporting the improvement of early childhood education and care, I worked as a development officer for the government in the Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership in Brighton and Hove, England. My commitment to ensuring the youngest children had access to high quality, child centered provision was a focus for my work.
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 in Education 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. During my time at the University of Brighton I was fortunate enough to engage in the European Erasums exchange program with a colleague from Karlstad University in Sweden. This experience broadened my understanding of rights based education in differing cultural contexts.
Completing my Masters in Education, with a focus on participatory practice, I continued to study children’s rights, successfully completing the 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.
Meet Penny Woodgate
Executive Administrative Assistant
I grew up in Warren Grove, Prince Edward Island, a small, close-knit community where everyone knew their neighbours. We are a small family of mother, father, one younger brother and myself. Many hours of my childhood were spent playing out doors, over at the neighbour’s farm or bugging my younger brother.
My education started in a one-room school house in the community. During my school years, I was an avid swimmer, obtaining my Bronze Cross and teaching swimming lessons for summer employment. I also received a Duke of Edinburgh award. Following high school graduation, I attended Holland College in Charlottetown and completed the Office Studies program, followed with a Retail Management Program.
I spent a number of years in Alberta where I, both lived and, worked as a civilian on a military base. I began my administrative career as a clerk typist in the Supply Depot, CFB Cold Lake, pounding out supply requisitions on a typewriter to the overhead roar of F18 fighter jets.
Upon my return to PEI, I further expanded on my education and completed a Business Administration certificate program. Prior to obtaining ‘the best job ever’ in this office as the Executive Administrative Assistant, I spent 20 years providing administrative services to senior management in a number of departments within the PEI Provincial Government.
My volunteer experiences are closely tied to social issues that are important to me such as poverty, food security and illiteracy. I have spent time volunteering with the local soup kitchen and the StorySacks Program, a literacy project that allowed both volunteers and inmates to contribute to PEI’s cultural life and provided both children and inmates reason to take an interest in literacy.
My personal experience and understanding of the importance of advocacy came about in an unexpected way. The brother I once tormented required a double lung transplant and required a support person to accompany him on this journey. I spent six months between hospitals in Alberta and Manitoba advocating on his behalf when he could not. This experience brought us much closer than we had been. He has since recovered and is able to enjoy a second chance in life all because of the generous gift of organ donation.
I have one adult son, Cody. I currently reside in the hills of Bellevue with my husband Carl. We share our lives with our blended family of dogs – Spot, Bella and Gus, not to mention a number of chickens.
Photo Credits: Colton Curtis Photography
The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate can:
- Provide information and advice to children , youth and their families
- Represent the rights, interests and viewpoints of children and youth who are receiving or may receive a service from a government funded program or service – this is called a reviewable service
- Assist children and youth to ask for and participate in a case conference, a review of a service they are receiving, a mediation or other process in which decisions are made about a service to a child or youth and their families
- Receive and review any matter that comes to our attention about a government funded program or service provided to a child or youth or a group of children or youth
- Promote and provide education and advocacy on the rights, interests and well-being of children and youth
- Monitor implementation and compliance of recommendations included in reports made by the Child and Youth Advocate
- Promote the rights of children and youth in relation to government legislation, policies, protocols, practices and reviewable services to children and youth
- Work with individuals, families, communities, government and community organizations to support and create opportunities for the well-being of children and youth
- Undertake or collaborate in research related to improving reviewable services
The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate may:
- Receive and investigate any matter that comes to the attention of the Child and Youth Advocate from any source about:
- a child or youth who receives or is eligible to receive a reviewable service;
- a group of children or youths who receive or are eligible to receive a reviewable service; and
- a reviewable service for children and youth
- at the request of a child or youth, or based on the Child and Youth Advocate’s own initiative, assist in appealing or reviewing a decision relating to a reviewable service
- advocate on behalf of a child or youth in relation to a reviewable service
- try to resolve problems by working together
- review, investigate and report on the serious injury or death of a child or youth
- conduct or contract for research on the rights, interests and well-being of children and youth to help the Child and Youth Advocate make recommendations to improve reviewable services for children and youth
- help the Child and Youth Advocate to advise or make recommendations to government or community organizations responsible for reviewable services on any matter relating to the rights, interests and well-being of children and youth
The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate cannot:
- Change a decision made by a program or service
- Act as legal counsel for or provide legal advice to any person
- Change arrangements for children & youth in custody or access
- Exercise jurisdiction over or act with respect to the deliberations and proceedings of the Executive Council or one of its committees
- Exercise jurisdiction over or act with respect to judges, justices of the peace and functions of any court in PEI
Our Vision, Mandate, and Mission
A province where every child and youth experiences the realization of all their human rights and has every opportunity to reach their full potential.
To empower and promote the human rights of all PEI children and youth through advocacy, reviews, investigations, public education, research and child/youth engagement in accordance with the authority and responsibilities set out in the PEI Child and Youth Advocate Act.
To raise awareness and uphold the child rights principles expressed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, while amplifying the voices of children and youth, modelling dignity and respect for children, youth and their families in all aspects of our work.
Key Definitions within the PEI Child and Youth Advocate Act
Child - “child” means (i) a person who is under 18 years of age, or (ii) a person under 21 years of age who is receiving a service under section 46 of the Child Protection Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. C-5.1;
Reviewable Service - “reviewable service” means a program or service funded by Government and provided to a child or youth or the family of a child or youth by or on behalf of a public body, including but not limited to
- (i) child protection programs and services pursuant to the Child Protection Act,
- (ii) adoption programs and services pursuant to the Adoption Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. A-4.1,
- (iii) social assistance programs and services pursuant to the Social Assistance Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. S-4.3,
- (iv) early childhood development and child care programs and services pursuant to the Early Learning and Child Care Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. E-.01,
- (v) educational programs and services pursuant to the Education Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. E-.02, the Early Learning and Child Care Act or the Private Schools Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. P-20.01,
- (vi) mental health and addiction programs or services and health programs and services pursuant to the Health Services Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. H-1.6,
- (vii) programs and services provided or administered by the Department of Justice and Public Safety pursuant to the Youth Criminal Justice Act (Canada), the Divorce Act (Canada), the Police Act, the Family Law Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. F-2.1, the Judicature Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. J-2.1, the Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. C-33, section 40 of the Mental Health Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. M-6.1 or the Victims of Family Violence Act R.S.P.E.I. 1988, Cap. V-3.2, and
- (viii) a program or service specified in the regulations;
Serious Injury - “serious injury” means an injury that (i) may result in the death of a child or youth, or (ii) may cause serious or long-term impairment to the mental or physical health of a child or youth;
The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate has responsibility to promote and provide public education and advocacy respecting the:
- Rights, interests and well-being of children and youth
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it affects children and youth
Please contact our office to request a presentation or to participate in educational opportunities.
Learn about Individual Advocacy here.
The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate has responsibility to promote the rights of children and youth in relation to Government legislation, policies, protocols, practices and reviewable services to children and youth, both at an individual level and at a systemic level.
Systemic advocacy involves working towards broad changes in policy, practice and legislation that will benefit many children and youth.
Systemic advocacy happens throughout all roles and responsibilities of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate to include systemic reviews and systemic investigations.
Systemic issues are issues that:
- Affect more than one child or youth;
- If not addressed, are likely to re-occur; and
- Typically require a change to policy, regulation or legislation to resolve.
Systemic issues come to the attention of our office in many ways, including:
- Individual advocacy casework
- Children, youth and their families
- Government departments
- Community organizations
- Members of the public
Our Office monitors trends of systemic issues identified by or brought to the attention of our office.
Individual and Systemic Reviews and Investigations
The Child and Youth Advocate may review and investigate individually or systemically any matter that is referred from any source concerning:
- a child or youth who receives or is eligible to receive a reviewable service;
- a group of children or youths who receive or are eligible to receive a reviewable service; and
- a reviewable service for children and youth
These reviews and investigations examine through a child-sensitive lens the rights, interests and well-being of children or youth who are receiving or eligible to receive reviewable services. Generally, systemic investigations will focus on identifying and analyzing a series of recurring circumstances or trends for the purpose of improving the responsiveness and effectiveness of one or more reviewable services.
Child Serious Injury or Death Reviews and Investigations
Learn about Child Serious Injury or Death Reviews and Investigations here.
Child and Youth Engagement
The voices of children and youth are of critical importance in advocacy work. We strive to engage directly with children and youth in a flexible, approachable, and child-lead manner. Our Office is available to connect one-to-one, in groups, and through the membership Child and Youth Advisory Committee of the PEI Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.
How did we get here?
Symbols matter. The Founding Members of the Child and Youth Advisory Committee of the PEI Office Child and Youth Advocate created the vision for the logo of the Office, its shape, elements, and colours:
The Ribbon Human – a ribbon is a symbol known around the world as a sign of advocacy, of support for a cause. It also transforms into a human shape. The Ribbon Human could be anyone – an infant, a child, a youth, an adult ally, an advocate. It is a radiant gold, shining our shared light and passion as it reaches for every opportunity.
The Leaves – trees and leaves are synonymous with growth. Every small seed unlocks the ability to reach the skies, seeks nurturing and an environment that supports its needs. Children and youth can grow in any direction, reach momentous heights, and have great strength.
The Colours – a community is strong when we are all included in it. Diversity matters. Differences are celebrated. There is a place for all of us. Having vibrant and unique colours reflect our respect for all children and youth. Each colour has varying tones within it – a nod to the fact that we all have shades within us as we grow and learn.
The Words – ‘Prince Edward Island’ in blue represent both the sky and sea. We adore our Island and all that it gives us. It is solid. It stands to show that decisions made here are guided by recognizing where and who we are. ‘Child and Youth’ is an action-oriented forest green. Growth and development – and action – are reflected in the text. ‘Advocate’ is fuchsia, a colour of passion. The text is sound, solid, and rooted. Advocacy takes both a fueled commitment and an underpinned knowledge.