Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 8, 2018)
Here are some of the reasons why Children's Aid Society of Toronto was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2019) and Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2019) :
- Children's Aid Society of Toronto provides exceptional family-friendly benefits, recently increasing its maternity and parental leave top-up policy from 34 to 37 weeks -- additionally, the organization offers an option for new parents to extend their leave into an unpaid leave of absence
- As part of the Children's Aid Society of Toronto's health benefits plan, the organization offers a health spending account of up to $1,000 per year, allowing employees to top up coverage according to their personal needs
- Along with supporting ongoing employee education, Children's Aid Society of Toronto partners with universities and colleges across Canada to provide student placements in a variety of fields including law, human resources, healthcare and social work
By supporting its employees, CAST supports children in need
Emotions ran high when Satnam Dhillon, a Family Service Worker with the Children's Aid Society of Toronto (CAST), sat down one afternoon with a family in their home in the north end of the city. In the throes of a tense conversation about their young child, conducted in three different languages, Dhillon knew that she would need help.
Fortunately, so did her supervisor, who had talked with Dhillon about the family's situation. "Another member of my team arrived," she says. "I didn't have to ask."
For more than 125 years, CAST has supported families to protect children and young people from abuse and neglect. Frontline workers like Dhillon spend their days visiting children's families and working with them to address challenges ranging from domestic violence to joblessness to drug addiction.
The work is sensitive and demanding, and it requires continual training and consultation to perform it well. It also requires a work environment that emphasizes teamwork.
"I love what I do," Dhillon says, "but it can be socially, psychologically and spiritually exhausting. The only way to survive is to have a supportive supervisor and team."
As a frontline worker at CAST, Dhillon talks regularly with her supervisor about each of her 16 cases and relies on the support and resources of her teammates in challenging situations. Frontline workers can also rely on a formal peer support network.
To find candidates who thrive on the challenges, CAST administers about 60 student placements per year. "This gives us an opportunity to check out potential employees," says CEO Paul Rosebush.
In addition, through CAST's Child Welfare Institute, the organization partners with universities and colleges to enhance clinical skills in working with at-risk children and families. In the process, students become aware of career opportunities at CAST.
CAST's Anti-Black Racism initiative and similar progressive policies help to attract potential employees, as well. "Being proactive especially appeals to social justice activists," says Rosebush, "who make this a stimulating place to work. We also provide a good work environment for people with families."
CAST accommodates flexible schedules, for example, off-site facilities for working from home and paid personal days for parents who need to attend to their children.
Now in her fifteenth year with the organization, Dhillon has followed her own path through the organization. From her initial role as an intake worker, screening referrals by telephone, she has joined teams focusing on domestic violence and emergency response. Now, as a Family Service Worker, she provides families with advice, guidance and support on applicable therapies and interventions specific to each case.
"CAST is really good at understanding the strengths and interests of its employees," she says. "With my supervisor we often focus on my interest in domestic violence, dealing specifically with the abuser, for example, and how I might engage with them. Our supervisors are always motivating and encouraging us when they see our strengths.
"Working here, you get to deal with so many different social challenges," Dhillon continues, "from mental health to addiction to poverty, and things change at a fast pace. Since I joined we've placed much more emphasis on kinship, finding someone in a family who can meet the needs of a child. There's been a huge push for permanency for the child.
"There are also great opportunities for leadership in areas like kinship, adoption, children and youth, and the Child Welfare Institute for research. There are so many different departments, and so much mobility. And we're always finding creative ways to engage with and support the families we work with."
Children's Aid Society of Toronto fosters engagement
When Aimee Worrell first encountered the Children's Aid Society of Toronto (CAST), she never expected to go to work for the organization.
"I was caring for a little girl in my son's class at his school in East York," she recalls, "working with the agency until she could return to her home. I really enjoyed the experience, so I decided to become a foster parent."
Foster parents play an integral role in furthering the objectives of CAST, which has supported families for more than 125 years to protect children from abuse and neglect. The organization places children with foster parents for periods ranging from a few days to several months and, in some cases, several years.
CAST also provides counselling and support to the children's parents with the objective of returning each child to his or her home.
"The legal responsibility for the young person remains with CAST," says CEO Paul Rosebush, "but foster families play an essential role in the child's daily life. The stable and caring home environment that foster families provide helps encourage healthy growth and development."
As a foster parent, Worrell has welcomed 14 children into her home. "One was ultimately adopted," she says, "and all the others were reunited with their families."
Although she had never envisioned such a development in her life until it happened, Worrell didn't hesitate to accept CAST's offer to become one of three Foster Parent Support Workers employed by the organization.
"It's an unusual role," she says. "If I hadn't been fostering, I wouldn't have been qualified for this job."
Beginning her work with CAST, Worrell first completed a six-month mandatory training program to prepare her for supporting foster families throughout the city. She also meets once a month with her supervisor, which enables them to exchange information to ensure that the fostering program meets the needs of children in CAST's care.
"We're an employee-friendly organization," says Rosebush from CAST's head office at Yonge and Bloor. "People here have lots of support and flexible work schedules. If they have to work late to meet the needs of their clients, it's up to the individual when they start and end their day and whether they work from home or come to the office. It's also a good work environment for people with families."
With a wide variety of employment opportunities, CAST administers about 60 student placements a year. The organization also partners with universities and colleges through its Child Welfare Institute to enhance clinical skills in working with at-risk children and families. In the process, students become aware of career opportunities at CAST.
CAST's Anti-Black Racism initiative and similar progressive policies help to attract potential employees, as well. "We see a lot of black families," Rosebush says, "so we have to ensure that we're doing the right work. We have programs and policies in place that help us to improve continuously the way we work not only with the black community but with communities of all cultures."
For Aimee Worrell, providing support for foster families complements her own role as a foster parent. "My life's mission is aligned with the work I do," she says. "My role is a champion's role. I foster for CAST and I work there, too. I feel very fortunate that I can work and foster at the same time."
Currently fostering a teen-aged girl and a transgender teen, Worrell has remained in contact with all of her previous foster children and their families, "even the child who was adopted," she says. "That's what attracted me to CAST: building the community, working with families, ultimately getting kids home."
As a former teacher with an MSc degree, Worrell worked extensively in the public and private sectors before she joined CAST. "The rewards here are multi-layered," she says. "But I can say without a doubt that I've never experienced such a unique work environment as this."
Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Mar 1, 2018)
Here are some of the reasons why Children's Aid Society of Toronto was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2018):
- Children's Aid Society of Toronto created a number of committees to address various topics including diversity and inclusion, anti-oppression and anti-racism, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and black education and awareness
- As part of the organization's inclusive recruitment practices, Children's Aid Society of Toronto provides hidden bias training for employees and uses World Education Services to assess immigrants' qualifications -- the organization also shares vacancies with a number of community organizations including Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Pride at Work Canada, and Nationaltalk.ca
- Children's Aid Society of Toronto has maintained the Out and Proud program for over 18 years to ensure its services are open, inclusive, safe and positive for the LGBT community as well as its employees, and also established Out and Proud Affirmation Guidelines
CAS embraces diversity with training and listening
Nicole Bonnie, Director of Diversity, Anti-Oppression and Community Development with the Toronto Children's Aid Society, puts it this way: "As an organization dedicated to child welfare, we have a responsibility to ensure that injustice and inequity do not get reproduced in the work we do."
That means embracing diversity, equity and inclusion, and, to that end, CAS has developed a comprehensive anti-oppression and anti-racism framework that applies to everyone -- from the board of directors to frontline workers. "The framework recognizes how certain groups, whether it's the poor or the LGBTQ, Indigenous and racialized communities, get marginalized from opportunities and resources," says Bonnie. "Our role is to recognize this marginalization, acknowledge it and correct it."
All new employees are required to participate in two days of anti-oppression training, which teaches new recruits about racism, sexism, classism, transphobia and homophobia, and the organization has recently added an Indigenous component. The training includes activity-based learning, viewing videos and assessing case scenarios as well as small- and large-group workshops.
"We all have biases, but we need to acknowledge them in order to become better workers," says Bianca Stewart, a Senior Child Welfare Worker and Trainer. "I train new workers and it helps them understand the journey we're on around diversity, anti-oppression and anti-racism."
The Organization's 'Out and Proud' program offers staff training around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. "We have to recognize the breadth and depth of diversity in the families and youth we support," Stewart adds.
However, communication is not a one-way street at CAS. The organization is committed to listening to employees, especially around issues of race, culture and representation. "Black-identified staff work toward building awareness and consciousness within the organization so that we can support the black community," says Bonnie. "They also help build awareness around their cultural identity."
"Where we have under-representation, groups have been set up to address the issue," she adds. "We listen to our staff so we understand the strengths of the organization as well as the gaps around how we are addressing the needs of multiple individuals."
CAS also takes advantage of opportunities to celebrate diversity within the organization and within the communities it serves. The organization holds a series of events in February to celebrate Black History Month. Last year, the black-owned radio station G98.7, which reaches over one million listeners, broadcast live during an evening that featured a dinner, a keynote address, drumming and dancing.
"The night was designed to inspire and recognize the contribution of the African-Canadian community," says Bonnie. "We had a huge turnout and the station was so impressed that we did such a large event."
Throughout the year, CAS's Black Education Association Committee meets monthly and organizes activities for children in care. "Once a year we take a group of black children and youth away for a week," says Stewart. "Last year there was a trip to Jamaica. We said, 'Let's look at the history and culture of the Jamaican people'."
CAS also organizes a number of events each June to support Pride month, culminating in a barbecue for LGBTQ employees, their families and their parents. "It's a great event," says Stewart. "The performances and program are designed by the LGBTQ staff and allies like myself. It's a night of artistic expression and, along with staff, is open to youth in care and post-care."