Child Advocacy Consultant, Marvin M. Bernstein spoke in Port Hawkesbury last Thursday in favour of establishing a standalone, independent child advocate office in Nova Scotia.

Not just because everyone else has done it, there are many other good reasons why Nova Scotia needs to establish a child advocate office.

On October 26, the Strait Region Society for Children, Youth, and Families hosted an information session with child advocacy consultant, Marvin M. Bernstein, who was in Port Hawkesbury to raise awareness about the importance of establishing a stand-alone, independent child advocate office in Nova Scotia. The office would advance the well-being, best interests and the rights of children and young people who are receiving different kinds of services from the provincial government.

According to Bernstein, the child advocacy office would focus exclusively on the needs of young people. The advocate’s role would include ensuring youth have a say in decisions that affect them, and holding government agencies to account. The office would be able to conduct independent investigations, and would report directly to the Nova Scotia Legislature.

Out of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, 11 have independent offices dedicated to the rights of children, Bernstein explained, noting that nine of these offices are self-standing. In Nova Scotia, this role is currently undertaken by the Youth and Senior Services Division of the Ombudsman’s Office.

While Bernstein acknowledged the work that has been done by Ombudsman, he said it is time to consider a new model to serve youth in the province. He said the independent office would have the authority to engage proactively with issues that affect youth, whereas the Office of the Ombudsman currently responds to formal complaints.

Bernstein served as Saskatchewan’s Children’s Advocate from 2005–2010. During that time, his office prompted government action on a number of issues, including the overcrowding of foster homes, and the over-representation of Indigenous children in government care.

Bernstein pointed out that Nova Scotia has the third highest rate of child poverty in Canada, and in Cape Breton, the child poverty level is even higher.

On October 25, Bernstein met with the deputy ministers of Community Services, Education and Early Childhood Development, and Health and Wellness, along with representatives from local child advocacy groups, to discuss the potential office. He said provincial officials expressed a “willingness and a receptivity to listen, and to consider some other alternatives.” Bernstein told the deputy ministers he would be willing to provide consultation on the issue.

Armed with the testimony of Bernstein, cases and statistics showing the necessity of this office in Nova Scotia, information from groups and officials on the ground, and the fact that every other jurisdiction in Canada has done something to this effect, this is a no-brainer for the provincial government.

Whatever the cost, and looking past the complications in establishing policies and procedures, and the time it will take to find qualified personnel, it can and must be done.

The children of Nova Scotia need this office.