We were humbled to meet Irwin Elman, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, and Laura Arndt, the Director of Strategic Development. When we arrived, all of the interns commented on the openness of the office space. We learned that employees consulted with youth, who determined that an open and transparent office space was important. In other words, youth linked openness to the ability to speak freely, without prejudices and/or bias. The interview structure was relaxed, whereby Mr. Elman provided a brief overview of the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth’s mandate (which is relatively new, and derived from the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, 2007). Some of the major responsibilities included: providing an independent voice for children; encouraging communication between children and families; and educating youth of their rights. Child, within the Act, is defined as: students of the provincial and demonstration schools, youth in court holding cells, children and youth with special needs, and First Nations youth. Nevertheless, the Provincial Advocate specified that he interprets the Act to include all Ontarian children.
Given that Mr. Elman established the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth from the ground up (i.e. without precedent or other provincial authorities), he thoroughly understands his mandate. We are not surprised that the Office has been successful, given that he received the Outstanding Achievement Recognition Award (2007) from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services; named a Canadian Hero by MacLean’s Magazine (2006) and received the Outstanding Youth Service Award (2003) from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. Nevertheless, Mr. Elman is extremely humble, and emphasized that government should aim to provide assistance to all Ontarian children who need it.
Mr. Elman ended our meeting by explaining the “Orange Shirt Day” campaign and why everyone working in his office was taking part in the important cause. The campaign is a day to remember the trauma Aboriginal people, including Aboriginal youth, faced and continue to face and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.
Thank you Mr. Elman for the insightful conversation! We look forward to following the work of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth as you continue to be the voice for the children within Ontario.