By Karla Bernard, MLA District 12 Charlottetown-Victoria Park
Official Opposition Critic for Education and Lifelong Learning
Last evening, I read a CBC news article that said the Kids Help Line has seen a 70% increase in calls from Prince Edward Island during the COVID-19 pandemic. The top issues of these calls were sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, emotional abuse, and self-harming. This speaks to the increased vulnerability of our children and youth during a pandemic. It also highlights the need for a Child and Youth Advocate (CYA).
Role of the Child and Youth Advocate
The CYA applies a child and youth lens to government policy and programs. During this pandemic and government’s response, a CYA would ensure there are no possible negative ripple effects putting children and youth at risk by restrictions being put in place. The CYA would ensure the rights, protection, and needs of children and youth are considered in the creation and implementation of all policies and programs.
Imagine you are planning a beach day with a good friend. You get everyone’s bathing suits ready, towels, some sunscreen, water bottles and a good book for yourself. The kids are excited and you are all waiting for your friend to pick you up. But, when they arrive, you realize they have forgotten the car seat – all of a sudden a day at the beach is not going to happen.
While this illustration does not reflect the severity of the problem, it is an example of the importance of using an appropriate lens when making decisions or planning. Parents and primary caregivers often know and understand what their children need. However, policy makers, or people with different lived experiences, don’t often think of what children require.
We do not yet have a CYA overseeing and ensuring the protection, rights, and needs of children and youth on PEI. While we have recently passed the Child and Youth Advocate Act, it has not yet been proclaimed. Appointment of a CYA is waiting for the opening of the Legislative Assembly.
It was back in the fall of 2019 that all MLAs voted unanimously for the Child and Youth Advocate Act, but we have yet to appoint our first independent advocate. In the spirit of that vote, and in the absence of the appointment we still have a responsibility to the children and youth of this province. In the meantime, between now and when the Legislature sits and the Act can be proclaimed, we must build a bridge.
The Official Opposition has been working on what this could look like – for example, who should be involved – and we are ready to roll. We have approached the Premier about creating a Child and Youth Table, with specifics on how it would work. He has expressed interest in doing this.
The children and youth of this province matter. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and stand with, and for, the children and youth of Prince Edward Island.