Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth

British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth

March 1, 2022 9:15 am
Lessons from a Pandemic: The Early Years and Lifting our Children up through Precarious Times

The early years are a sacred and critical period in a child’s life in which their immediate caregivers and the context in which they live have a profound influence on their development, health and well-being. For the past year, B.C.’s Office of the Representative for Children and Youth has been exploring and mapping the Early Years with partners from across child and family serving systems.  An emerging RCY Early Years initiative envisions a transformed system that gives families access to the social, emotional, cultural and health supports they need to thrive.

This work has confirmed the work of so many others to-date – multiple systems fail to adequately support families with young children.  This was true before the pandemic and is even more true now. Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen disruption to children’s lives on a massive scale. This has been especially pronounced for families that experience increased challenges and have been consistently under-resourced and underfunded: specifically, First Nations, Métis and Inuit families, and families whose children have additional support needs.  The upheaval created by COVID has added urgency to the need to reconstruct early years systems and services and it has also revealed a potential for creative thinking and systemic change. RCY’s intention is to “back up the bus” to focus on prevention, partnering with leaders and organizations across BC to focus on transformed ways to support families with little ones.

In this presentation, Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth will discuss the disruptions, obstacles and roadblocks families are facing as they try to raise happy, healthy children during a pandemic, with a special focus on Indigenous children and those with additional support needs. She will also explore what the RCY is learning from many wise advisors – including families, elders, knowledge keepers, practitioners and researchers – about what it will take to lift our little ones up to thrive.


Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth is British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth. She was appointed as Acting Representative effective Aug. 31, 2018 and confirmed in her appointment as B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth on Oct. 1, 2018. Dr. Charlesworth has worked in the B.C. social and health care sectors since 1977. From 1980 through 1992, she served in front-line child welfare, social policy, program management and executive roles within government, and was engaged in formative work on deinstitutionalization, community inclusion for people with disabilities, women’s and girls’ health, mental health and youth services.

Dr. Charlesworth also supported the implementation of the 1995 Gove Inquiry into Child Protection recommendations and was a member of the executive team during the formation of the Ministry for Children and Families.

She left government in 1997 to complete her PhD on the power of women’s voice in the face of adversity, teach child and youth care at the University of Victoria and grow her consulting practice.

In 2006, Dr. Charlesworth transitioned into the non-profit sector and became the Executive Director of the Federation of Community Social Services of BC. During her tenure, the Federation grew in size, scope and influence, and worked with Indigenous organizations to co-create new ways to support First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Indigenous children, youth, young adults and families. Dr. Charlesworth also co-led a comprehensive review of child and youth residential care in collaboration with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

After leaving the Federation, Dr. Charlesworth was immersed in developing the leadership, innovation and cultural awareness of the community-based social care sector. She is the founder of the Leadership 2020 program for the Federation, has served on numerous community boards and provincial advisory committees, and was a member of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In 2017, she became the Organizational Change lead at InWithForward – Canada’s first social research and development collective that integrates person-centred social science research and design to generate meaningful social innovation. Dr. Charlesworth has also worked with Chief Wedlidi Speck and many other leaders to inspire culturally safer workplaces and services for First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Indigenous  staff and people served.

Dr. Charlesworth lives in the traditional territories of the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples.

She has a PhD in Child and Youth Care from the University of Victoria, and an MBA from Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England. She is an award-winning teacher, author, activist and a parent of two vibrant young adults who remind her daily of the power and promise of young people.