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Children’s Aid Society of Toronto employees wear orange to honour National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.Supplied

When Brittany Gormaly started working for the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAST) as a summer intern eight years ago, she could not have imagined being able to reach her current position as the agency’s Indigenous practice integration lead. In fact, back then she couldn’t have imagined such a role even existing.

“I thought I’d have to work for an Indigenous child and family agency to do this,” says Gormaly, who is Métis and feels a personal connection to the role. “But the way our executive team and the agency as a whole have supported meaningful change, and created spaces for staff to bring things forward and have their voices heard, has been really great.”

Gormaly is the first person to occupy the position, which involves overseeing CAST services for Indigenous families, partnering with local agencies and supporting equity and trust in both the workforce and the community.

“I help build the agency’s capacity to support families by better understanding Indigenous ways of knowing and being, and how this can impact our approach and decision-making,” she says. “I think we have a responsibility to provide equitable service, and that’s not often something they’ve experienced in the past.”

Gormaly has been working with CAST staff to review all its policies and procedures through an equity lens, acknowledging painful histories and shifting old mindsets.

“Often organizations get steeped in a ‘This is the way we’ve always done it’ attitude,” she says. “What’s great is that our senior leaders are willing to disrupt that and look at where some policies have perpetuated hurt and harm, and how we’re going to meaningfully change those policies to address the disparities.”

One important change was establishing an equity-based hiring strategy to boost diversity in the CAST workforce. “Representation matters,” says Gormaly. “We need to have staff that represents the diverse population that we serve – not only our Indigenous community, but other equity-deserving groups as well.”

CAST interim CEO Lisa Tomlinson is proud of the initiative. “To my knowledge we’re the only child welfare agency to launch an equity-based hiring strategy,” she says. “It allows us to ensure we have opportunities for all identities and equity-deserving groups to move into positions of leadership. It’s led to new faces at the table, and that’s important.”

Tomlinson also stresses the importance of partnerships with agencies in various sectors. “We can’t do our work without community partners,” she says. “It’s been a long haul to get people to partner with us, but we’re building identity-focused relationships with the 2SLGBTQ+ community, particularly youth, the Black community and other equity-deserving groups.”

CAST offers extensive diversity training to its staff, and a mentorship program for Indigenous and racialized employees. “That’s so important, because there can be a struggle and a real disconnect when you don’t see people that look like you in management,” says Gormaly. “It made all the difference for me.”

Tomlinson says that increasing diversity in the workforce has had multiple benefits, bringing new perspectives and creativity to the agency, and leading to stronger relationships and improved services for the community.

“We want to be able to reflect our communities,” she says. “It’s important for families to see folks that represent them, and it also allows us to build on the expertise of those folks, whether that means their lived experience or their critical feedback, which we need to hear in order to inform our work.”

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