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Children’s Aid Society of Toronto employees celebrating the resilience of young people in care on ‘Children and Youth in Care Day’.Provided

Like many other organizations, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAS of Toronto) was challenged during the pandemic to offer employees as much hands-on training and career development as the agency would have liked. These days, the agency is making up for lost time.

Over the past year alone, CAS of Toronto has introduced new peer learning groups, orientation training for supervisors and an internship program aimed at sharpening the skill sets of senior child protection workers.

At the same time, the organization continues to advance new mentoring opportunities, including an Indigenous and racialized mentorship program that aims to increase the diversity of CAS of Toronto supervisors and managers.

In all, the agency has introduced 45 new courses, bringing the total of training and development programs to nearly 200. Almost half of the new offerings include a strong focus on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

“If employees feel they are being nurtured and supported, it increases their engagement and satisfaction,” says Colin Hill, interim chief human resources officer for CAS of Toronto. “It also enables them to be successful in their current role, achieve their goals and pursue their career aspirations.”

Because of the frequently stressful nature of that work, employee learning and development programs are also increasingly focused on issues of mental health and well-being.

“You may experience many tough situations in this line of work and often, out of care and concern, you can’t help but take it home with you,” says Hill. “So we take every opportunity to encourage our people to come forward and utilize our support, resources and confidential services.”

In light of the challenges and rewarding experiences, CAS of Toronto has an enviable retention rate: the average tenure for employees is over 14 years.

One of those long-term employees is Satnam Dhillon, who has been with the agency for some 20 years, much of it as a front-line child protection worker.

Dhillon, who was recently promoted to intake supervisor, cites the support of peers and supervisors as a key reason for her longevity.

Prior to taking her latest job, Dhillon participated in the agency’s new internship program, a six-month initiative that brings together a small group of senior child protection workers to strengthen their practice and leadership skills.

One key focus for the internship program is to better apply the ‘Signs of Safety’ assessment framework, a client-centred and child-focused approach the agency uses in delivering child protection service.

The internship program also stresses the importance of incorporating EDI, including an anti-Black racism lens, into child protection work.

Moving away from some older and more paternalistic models of child protection, CAS of Toronto’s primary goal is to keep children and youth with their families and in their communities whenever possible. Placing children and youth in foster homes is considered a last resort; the clear preference is to work with parents to provide a place of safety within their families and extended networks.

For both Dhillon and Hill, this approach is what makes their work so meaningful.

“For those of us in the field, the ability to make a positive difference is what keeps us going,” says Dhillon. “We know that every interaction we have with a child or family member can help strengthen existing safety and validate their experiences.”

Hill, a 36-year veteran of the human resources field, joined CAS of Toronto in 2022. He, too, welcomes the chance to make a difference.

“I love being able to help people who help people,” he says. “I feel very blessed to have found this opportunity later in my career.”

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