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Please note: Speakers may change and will be added as we get closer to the Forum.

Please visit our Speakers page to learn more about our invited guests. 

Forum program may change at any time without notice.


9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

 OPENING REMARKS   9:00 to 9:05 a.m.

Land Acknowledgement and Welcome

Henry Wall, Chief Administrative Officer, Kenora District Services Board

 KEYNOTE   9:05 to 9:30 a.m.

The Honourable Wanda Thomas Bernard, Senator - Nova Scotia (East Preston)

 KEYNOTE   9:30 to 10:00 a.m.

Making Human Services More Human: Why Language Matters

New systems, processes, forms, and administrative language sometimes leave human services feeling less than human for the people being served and to the people working within them. In this short session, join Bryony Shannon, writer of Rewriting Social Care, to explore how paying attention to the language we use (and don't use) can help us understand more about current attitudes, power dynamics and ways of working, and how we can all play a part in shifting the narrative. 


  • Bryony Shannon, Writer, Rewriting Social Care

KEYNOTE   10:00 to 11:15 a.m.

Explore the Trauma-Informed Wales Framework

In this session we will learn about the newly developed Trauma-Informed Wales Framework. This Framework intends to help build a coherent, consistent, all-society approach to develop and implement a trauma-informed practice across Wales. We will hear how this work will impact and influence the delivery of wider Welsh Government policies, particularly those which support vulnerable people and communities. Click here to read the Trauma-Informed Wales Framework.


  • Jen Daffin, Community Clinical Psychologist - Deputy Director of Relational Practice and Change, Platfform

  • Joanne Hopkins, Programme Director, ACES, Criminal Justice and Violence Prevention, Public Health Wales

 BREAK   11:15 to 11:30 a.m.


11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Additional Remarks

Doug Ball, Executive Director, OMSSA

Human Services, Social Care and the Importance of Healthcare Integration

The pandemic's strain on the healthcare system has shown and continues to show the essential connection between health and social care. Social care can play a role in protecting the health care system from being overwhelmed by addressing social needs before they become health needs. With municipal social services being a major component of the social care fabric that exists in Ontario, these services are fundamental to the well-being of society and our communities. And yet, social services are often only connected to the broader provincial healthcare system by the smallest of threads.

This plenary will bring together Dr. Andrew Pinto, family physician, and founder and director of the Upstream Lab at St. Michael's Hospital, and Prof. John Connolly of Glasgow Caledonian University to discuss not only why this integration is so important, but also how it can be effectively achieved.

Dr. Pinto and his colleagues at the Upstream Lab have sought to find ways to improve health outcomes by finding solutions to address social and economic issues faced by patients 'upstream.'

Prof. Connolly, meanwhile, has researched the role of leadership in the integration of health and social care at NHS Health Scotland. This unique session will bring together both medical and public policy perspectives in an discussion of central importance to OMSSA Members. 


  • Moderator: Christine MacDonald, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, County of Bruce
  • John Connolly, Head of Department of Social Sciences, Glasgow School of Business for Society, Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Dr. Andrew Pinto, Founder and Director, Upstream Lab, Family Physician, St. Michael's Hospital, and Associate Professor, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto



9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Please note that Day 2 will not feature any keynote speaker and opening remarks. Day 2 will focus on sector specific breakouts. Please see breakout information below. 


9:00 to 10:30 a.m.

 1  Moving From Temporary to Permanent: Supportive Housing Solutions in Helsinki and Houston

Many OMSSA Members have declared homelessness as a state of emergency. Factors such as the opioid and mental health crisis, rising costs of living, and the missing middle in the housing continuum have contributed to this humanitarian disaster, and unfortunately this is not a unique situation to Ontario. Fortunately, there are examples that we can look to internationally that can provide insights into how we solve this problem locally. In this session we will hear from speakers from Helsinki and Houston to learn about how they have successfully supported unhoused populations in their cities and how they are working with other jurisdictions to share their models and best practices.  


  • Moderator: Michelle Baird, Director, Housing Services Division, City of Hamilton

  • Juha Kahila, Head of International Affairs, Y-Foundation

  • Ana Rausch, Vice President of Program Operations, Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County

 2  Licensed Nature-Based Early Learning and Childcare

Ontario, like many other provinces and territories in Canada, has no system for licensing outdoor early learning and childcare. While the pandemic presented an opportunity to think differently about childcare spaces, there was a general failure to take advantage of this to build a system that included licensed nature-based care. As Ontario looks to add more affordable spaces, now may be the time to play catch-up on this missed opportunity. Could licensed nature-based early learning and childcare be part of the solution to the growing need for spaces, as well as a way of improving early learning outcomes? With examples of successful outdoor early learning now established in Washington State and Scotland, OMSSA Members are now better-equipped to evaluate the case for this approach and are more likely to be able to create a system that works effectively for both children, parents, and providers. This session will include experts with knowledge of the benefits of nature-based early learning and childcare and who have had success implementing such systems elsewhere.  


  • Moderator: Christine Alden, Program Director, Lawson Foundation

  • Debbie Groff, Childcare Deputy Senior Administrator, Washington State Department of Children. Youth and Families

  • Kim Hiscott, Executive Director, Andrew Fleck Children's Services

  • Henry Mathias, Member, Board of Trustees, International Play Association Scotland

  • Janet Miller Pitt, Researcher and Consultant


 3  The Digitalization of Social Services

The shift toward technological solutions and changes has been rapid and inevitable. There is a push for a future defined by digital modernized services, and social assistance systems are not exempt. The goal to accelerate the delivery of services that are centralized, digital, and automated, while remaining open, equitable, and person-centric, is grounded in the hope that service users will be more successful in their pathways toward independence and employment readiness. OMSSA Members must work with the province and community at large to help build this new future, but what must be considered as we move forward? What are the benefits and pitfalls of digitalization? In this session we will hear from academics and experts from around the world to learn about their experiences with the digitalization of social services. There will be a focus on the short- and long-term impacts, change management, and how staff and service users cope with these changes.


  • Moderator: Stuart Beumer, Director of Ontario Works, County of Wellington
  • Kettil Nordesjö, Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, Malmö University
  • Akosua Alagaratnam, Executive Director, First Work - Ontario's Youth Employment Network
  • Mark S. Fox, Professor of Industrial Engineering and Computer Science & Founding Director, Centre for Social Services Engineering, University of Toronto
  • Alfonso Lara-Montero, Chief Executive Officer, European Social Network

 BREAK   10:30 to 10:45 a.m.


10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

 4  Rethinking and Rebuilding: Exploring Models of Indigenous Housing First and Creating Pathways Towards Collaboration

In this session we will hear from five speakers who will share perspectives about the development of culturally appropriate housing programs for Indigenous communities in Ontario, the Northwest Territories, and New Zealand. These conversations will explore Indigenous notions of "housing first" as well as what effective collaboration between Indigenous organizations and local governments looks like in the areas of health, harm reduction, and wellness. In particular, this session will consider the broad structural and systemic changes that are required, and how Indigenous concepts of ‘home’ can be integrated into local housing strategies, programs, and policies. 


  • Moderator: Rebecca Carman, Northumberland County Housing Services Manager and
    Northumberland County Housing Corporation General Manager
  • Julia Christensen, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, Queens University
  • Ali Hamlin-Paenga, Chairperson, Mataphihi, Māori Housing Support, Growth and Resources
  • Mandy Tait-Martens, Assistant Director, Ontario Native Women's Association
  • Arthur Tobac, Director, Ka'sho Got'ine Housing Society

 5  Expanding Access to Childcare Equitably

As Ontario continues to expand its system of municipal childcare, a key question that emerges is around how to effectively ensure that this system can become more accessible and equitable. What practical steps can be taken in order to build a childcare system that works effectively for all community members? What role should OMSSA Members play in moving towards this objective? This panel will bring together experts with a diversity of backgrounds who have all believe in importance of municipal role in expanding access the childcare equitably.


  • Moderator: Nakiema Palmer, Director, Early Years and Child Care Services, Region of Peel
  • Martha Friendly, Executive Director and Founder, Childcare Resource and Research Unit
  • Jane Beach, Child Care Research and Policy Consultant
  • Gregory Querel, Education Policy Analyst, Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres


 6  Casework in a Post-Pandemic Digital Era

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed social service delivery globally and brought to light challenges that have become the new normal for OMSSA Members. The acceleration of virtual service delivery due to social distancing and work from home measures and the increase in service users with more complex needs are changes that have demanded new skills, resources, and supports. Three years later, we are still experiencing new surprises and learning opportunities. We must stop and reflect on how this transformation has changed the nature of social services and our interactions with service users. As we plan for the future, what practices do we continue and what must we let go of? In this session we will hear from social workers and academics from around the world who will discuss the post-pandemic social services landscape, and who will share strategies to maintain a high quality, person-centric approach in casework while avoiding personal burnout and fatigue.  


  • Moderator: Kirby Steinhoff, Facilitator, OMSSA

  • Gloria Kirwan, Senior Lecturer, Royal College of Surgeons, Adjunct Assistant Professor in Social Work, Trinity College Dublin

  • Rachelle Ashcroft, Associate Professor, Cross Appointed to the Department of Family and Community Medicine, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto

  • Ida Bring Løberg, Researcher, Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV)

 7  Rethinking Emergency Social Services in Ontario: Lessons from BC and Alberta

OMSSA Members have a legal responsibility to manage necessary services in the event an emergency is declared. And while most members have dealt with emergencies of varying sizes, there is also a need to prepare for more frequent climate-related challenges. In thinking about ways we might move forward, the lack of integration and formal agreements within Ontario's current emergency management response has often been evident during times of need. But do other provinces cope with the same difficulties? If not, how have other provinces in Canada transformed their emergency social services response procedures in light of their experiences with regular climate-related disasters? This session will pay close attention to both B.C. and Alberta to understand what lessons we might learn from the way they approach such emergencies. Whereas B.C.'s approach is centralized through a new provincial ministry, in Alberta, the approach is much focused on the roles of municipalities. With the help of experts from both these provinces, OMSSA Members will learn fresh approaches to emergency social services management knowing full well that climate-related emergencies are likely to become the norm rather than the exception. 


  • Moderator: Valerie Colasanti, General Manager, Social Services Division, County of Lambton

  • Bonnie Lewin, Registered Social Worker and Emergency Social Services Consultant

  • Laurie Pearce, Professor, School of Public Safety, Justice Institute of British Columbia and Associate Faculty, Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management, Royal Roads University

  • Jim MacDonald, Preparedness and Recovery Team Leader, First Nations' Emergency Services Society of British Columbia