New children’s representative has social-services background

A veteran of B.C.’s social-services sector will serve as the next representative for children and youth.

Jennifer Charlesworth, former executive director of the Federation of Community Social Services, was chosen by an all-party committee of the B.C. legislature.

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She will replace current representative Bernard Richard when he steps down at the end of August after less than two years on the job.

Richard announced in April that he plans to return to his home province of New Brunswick to be closer to family and to support an Indigenous child-welfare initiative there.

NDP MLA Nicholas Simons, who chaired the selection committee, said Charlesworth was the unanimous choice of the panellists, including deputy chairwoman Stephanie Cadieux, a minister of children and family development in the former B.C. Liberal government.

“I think her experience, her knowledge and her reputation, among other things, led the committee to conclude she’d be an excellent candidate for this position,” Simons said in an interview. “We made the recommendation on that basis — that she’d do the best to ensure that our child-serving system is sound, is science-based, is culturally centred — and I think that’s what we achieved with that appointment.”

Charlesworth, 58, said she has wanted the job since it was first envisioned by former judge Ted Hughes in his 2006 report on B.C.’s child-welfare system.

As an independent officer of the B.C. legislature, the representative advocates for children and families, investigates deaths and critical injuries, and monitors the effectiveness of government services.

“I’ve kind of defined myself and my identity as an advocate for child and youth well-being since my early days in the field,” Charlesworth said. “I’m an old child and youth care worker; that’s my background.

“And as time has gone on, and I’ve moved from front-line practice into systems and worked in various facets of the systems, I just thought there was a way to do advocacy that inspires change.

“So I’ve wanted to see what I can contribute at this point and see if I can weave in over four decades of good learning and many amazing teachers and lots of experiences to see if we can really move the needle on the dial in terms of the experience of vulnerable children and youth and their families.”

Charlesworth said one of her priorities will be tackling the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in the child-welfare system.

“For me, it’s absolutely vitally important that my eyes are open wide and looking for every opportunity to support the work to not only reduce the overrepresentation … but to really address what it is children, youth and families in communities are experiencing that is getting in the way of their cultural connections, their well-being, their growth, their development, their self-determination.”

In addition to her frontline work in child welfare, Charlesworth has held management and executive roles within government, served as secretary to three cabinet committees, and was part of the executive team during the formation of the Children’s Ministry.

A mother of two adult daughters, Charlesworth has a doctorate in child and youth care from the University of Victoria and a master’s degree in business from Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England.

Charlesworth is expected to serve in an acting role until her appointment can be confirmed by the B.C. legislature when it resumes sitting this fall.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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