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 *Additional speaker details will be added as they are confirmed

Akosua Alagaratnam
Executive Director, First Work - Ontario's Youth Employment Network

Location: Ontario

Christine Alden
Program Director, Lawson Foundation

Location: Ontario

Christine Alden, M.Ed., Ph.D., has worked in the fields of early child development and education for thirty years. She began her career as an elementary teacher in Latin America which catalyzed her interest in child development. Over the last twenty years, she was worked in early child development in a variety of Canadian and international contexts involving early childhood educator training, child and family support services, government policy, network and relationship building, and philanthropy. Currently, she works for the Lawson Foundation as Program Director in the areas of early child development and outdoor play. In 2022, Christine received her Ph.D. in Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/ University of Toronto. Her doctoral dissertation explored outdoor pedagogy in three licensed childcare programs in Ontario.

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

Location: Ontario

Dr. Rachelle Ashcroft is a social worker and an Associate Professor with the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, and cross-appointed to the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. Dr. Ashcroft holds a BSW and MSW from the University of Manitoba, a PhD from Wilfrid Laurier University, and completed postdoctoral training at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Ontario. She has over 14 years of experience as a social worker in community health and tertiary care settings. Her research is focused on the integration of social work and mental health in primary care, interprofessional collaborative teams, and the integration of virtual care in health and social care. In addition, Dr. Ashcroft advocates for social workers in Ontario as a member of the Board of Directors of the Ontario Association of Social Workers.

Jane Beach
Child Care Research and Policy Consultant

Location: British Columbia

Jane Beach has been engaged in early learning and child care policy for the last four decades. Jane has worn a multitude of hats over the years from centre director to senior management in government. As an independent consultant for the last 28 years, her work ranges from local needs assessments and organizational reviews to large-scale pan-Canadian and international studies on various aspects of child care policy.

Jane has undertaken several Canada-wide studies on the ECE workforce, conducted comprehensive policy reviews for government and other stakeholders, worked on ECE policy internationally and has served on numerous advisory bodies and boards.

She is currently lead researcher on a multiyear project examining successes and challenges in building capacity and expanding child care in the public and non profit sectors in six Canadian provinces.

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

Location: Nova Scotia

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard is the first African Nova Scotian woman to be appointed to the Senate of Canada, representing the province of Nova Scotia and her hometown of East Preston. Senator Bernard champions issues impacting African Canadians and people living with disabilities. She is particularly invested in human rights, employment equity, and mental health. Through her involvement in community projects, her social work career, her time with Dalhousie School of Social Work, and now her work in the Senate, Senator Bernard has maintained a deep dedication to social justice and racial justice. Senator Bernard advocates for reparations for the historical and continued anti-Black racism impacting the lives of African Canadians. 

Julia Christensen
Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, Queen's University

John Connolly
Head of Department of Social Sciences, Glasgow School of Business for Society, Glasgow Caledonian University

Location: Scotland

Professor Connolly is Head of Department of Social Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University. He is a former public servant having worked with the National Health Service in Scotland as an evaluator of complex public health interventions. Before joining Glasgow Caledonian University, he was Professor of Public Policy at the University of the West of Scotland. He has expertise in public administration, health governance reform and crisis management and has recently been researching health and social care integration in Scotland. His research has been funded by major funding bodies including the Economic and Social and Research Council (ESRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), as well as public bodies such as NHS Education for Scotland and the Scottish Government. He advises governments on evaluation and policy design and undertakes consultancy. Professor Connolly is a former Editor in Chief of Contemporary Social Science journal (the flagship journal of the Academy of Social Sciences) and is currently Chief Editorial Adviser for Routledge Open Research (Social Sciences).

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

Location: Wales

I’m Jen. I’m a Community Clinical Psychologist and Platfform’s Deputy Director of Relational Practice and Change. 

I have a huge interest in community and liberation psychology and take a holistic and social justice approach. Holistic meaning taking a mind, body, soul and circumstances view. Understanding and embracing, rather than reducing, the complexity involved in both our mental health and us as human beings.

I have 15 years experience of working in mental health and learning disability services across the NHS and voluntary sector. I’ve experienced first-hand how we’re often getting this very wrong for people which has high costs to both the people we’re trying to support, as well as ourselves as practitioners.

It just makes sense to me, not only through my own lived experience, but from examination of the evidence base that we must consider social injustice when looking to understand mental health. It is for this reason that I am excited to be working for Platfform.

When I’m not doing Platfform things I like adventure sports such as roller derby and mountain biking. I also love heading off to the sea for a bit of surfing too.

Mark S. Fox
Professor of Industrial Engineering and Computer Science & Founding Director, Centre for Social Services Engineering, University of Toronto

Location: Ontario

Martha Friendly
Executive Director and Founder, Childcare Resource and Research Unit

Location: Ontario

Martha Friendly has been a leading member of the Canadian child care movement for 40 years, championing an equitable child care system for all. Born in New York City and raised in its suburbs, she immigrated to Canada in 1971. A social science researcher by education, she began working on early childhood education and child care research in the 1960s.

Becoming part of grassroots childcare activism in Toronto in the 1970s firmly cemented her belief that access to quality child care is central to women’s equality. In the 1980s, Martha founded the Childcare Resource and Research Unit at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies as a policy research group with a mandate to bring about a universal child care system — a role that the now-independent non-profit organization continues to play.

Martha is the author of numerous popular and academic articles, reports, chapters and two books on child care policy. She is the recipient of many awards, including an honorary doctorate from Trent University, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, inclusion in Women & Gender Equality’s (WAGE Canada) Women of Impact Gallery and the Broadbent Institute’s Charles Taylor Prize for Excellence in Policy Research (2021).

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

Location: United States

Debbie Groff has worked in the field of early learning for over 35 years.  Debbie has been a child care provider in her own home, a therapist in preschool setting, a child care center licensor, a child care licensing supervisor, an area administrator, and a member of the technical assistance training team for the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in Washington State.

Currently, Debbie is the child care deputy senior administrator for DCYF.  Within this role, Debbie oversees Outdoor Nature-Based Child Care Licensing in Washington.  Debbie started this outdoor adventure by being the program manager of the Outdoor Preschool Pilot from 2017 to 2021. In 2021, Washington State became the first state in the union to permanently license outdoor, nature-based programs for preschool and school age children. Debbie’s passion for adventure in the great outdoors, paired with her passion for quality early learning environments, enables her to promote the endless benefits for children, families, providers, and DCYF staff, in licensed outdoor, nature-based learning opportunities.

Ali Hamlin-Paenga
Chairperson, Te Mataphihi, Māori Housing Support, Growth and Resources

Location: New Zealand

Kim Hiscott
Executive Director, Andrew Fleck Children's Services

Location: Ontario

Kim Hiscott is a registered Early Childhood Educator living in Ottawa, Canada and Executive Director of Andrew Fleck Children’s Services, a large not-for-profit multi-service, multi-site organization that includes licensed early learning and care, special needs resourcing and support for parents. She is passionate about outdoor play, learning about intergenerational programming, inspired by collaborative, reflective Educators and keen to investigate non-traditional partnerships for system building that respects all children and families.

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

Location: Wales

My ambition throughout my career has been to make a difference, and to seek and take opportunities to do so. Some of my proudest achievements have also shaped my life. I developed the first Strategy to eliminate violence against women and girls for the UK Government, something that still is my professional highlight, and to this day I am passionate about tackling all forms of gender-based violence and the inequality in society that underpins it. I have been a champion of diversity and inclusion in the Home Office for many years, including chair of the Home Office Women’s network and senior sponsor of the gender equality network.

My ambition is to take the skills and expertise I have acquired from 18 years in the public sector and academic achievements to continue to develop my knowledge about what makes a difference to people, to learn and to keep learning, both academically and just from the experiencing of listening and engaging with people. And supporting others to realise their hopes, dreams and ambitions. And for my family to be proud of what I do.

Juha Kahila
Head of International Affairs, Y-Foundation

Location: Finland

Juha Kahila works in the Y-Foundation as the Head of International Affairs. He is also coordinating the Nordic Homelessness Alliance. Previously he led the National Housing First development network. A Master of social services by education. In the past Juha has been working as a front-line support worker as well as a CEO of a Housing First service provider. Over decade of work experience in homelessness sector.

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

Location: Ireland

Dr. Gloria Kirwan is a registered social worker and academic. She has previously served as Social Work Course Director in Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University, Ireland. She is currently Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Healthcare Management at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, where her work focuses on leadership and management education. She is the Editor of three journals - Groupwork (Whiting and Birch), Journal of Social Work Practice (Taylor & Francis), and the Irish Social Worker (Irish Association of Social Workers). Her research has a strong social justice focus and primarily seeks to develop enhanced understanding of the experiences of marginalised individuals and groups. In recent years, her work has increasingly focused on the interface between social work practice and technology, and the emerging field of digital social work. She is Co-Editor of the recently published Routledge International Handbook of Digital Social Work (2023).

Alfonso Lara-Montero
Chief Executive Officer, European Social Network

Location: Belgium

Alfonso is the Chief Executive Officer of the European Social Network where he oversees the Network’s management and strategic direction, leads the programme of activities co-financed by the European Commission, and the annual editions of the European Social Services Conference and the European Social Services Awards. He has over 15 years of experience in social services public policy formulation and evaluation, has authored and co-authored several publications, and is a regular contributor to academic journals, newspapers, and specialist social services magazines. Before joining ESN in 2010, Alfonso worked in project management and consultancy in public policy evaluation.

He holds an MA in modern languages from the University of Granada, an MA in European Governance from the College of Europe, an MSc in Public Policy from University College London, and a Masters in Executive Management of International Associations at Solvay Brussels School for Economics and Management. Alfonso advises public administrations on social services quality evaluation and teaches on social services innovation and transformation at the Universities of Barcelona, The Basque Country, and the School of Public Administration in Galicia in Spain.

Bonnie Lewin
Registered Social Worker and Emergency Social Services Consultant

Location: Alberta

Bonnie Lewin is an Emergency Social Services (ESS) Planner at the City of Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency (CEMA). Her thirty years as a City employee has provided her multiple experiences in assisting residents prior to, during and after a disaster in Calgary. Bonnie incorporates Calgarians perspectives in emergency planning, creating resiliency in individuals and communities. She supports staff who work in an ESS Centre to be resilient and confident by including Psychological First Aid (PFA). She has over twenty years of experience providing a safe, warm, and welcoming environment to Calgarians when they are asked to leave their home or community because of a disaster. She is the current Chair of the Emergency Social Services Network of Alberta (ESSNA) and participates in disaster recovery, climate change, and environmental justice research and is the co-founder of the Social Work and Disaster (SWAD) Network.

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

Location: Norway

Ida Bring Løberg is a researcher at the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV), who specializes in digital government and digital frontline work. In her PhD, she studied frontline workers’ perceptions of available resources in digital work, such as time, information, and emotional resources. In her current research project, she explores how call center workers use empathy in electronic communication. Ida also has practical experience with digital frontline work, as a former frontline worker in NAV.

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

Location: British Columbia

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

Location: Scotland

Henry started work as a full-time dad, then established a successful childcare business before becoming a regulator for local and national government. As an influential early years leader, he has been instrumental in changing Scotland’s approach to risk and adventurous play. This included reviewing the national care standards for the Scottish Government, which have gained international recognition as a radical approach framing quality from the perspective of lived experience. As an International Play Association Scotland board member, Henry continues to support the right to play and for this experience to be compassionate, respectful, participative, and above all fun!

Janet Miller Pitt
Researcher and Consultant

Location: Newfoundland and Labrador

Janet Miller Pitt is a researcher and writer with over 40 years’ experience as a consultant, senior policy and research director and strategic planner in the public and private sectors. She is a past member of the Canadian Evaluation Society and has been an active community volunteer in such diverse areas as women’s shelters, heritage, genealogy and inclusive recreation and sport. Together with Dr. David Philpott, Researcher, Consultant and Advocate, Janet is completing a three-year program evaluation, funded by the Lawson Foundation, of an early years forest and nature school – Cloudberry Forest School - located at O’Brien Farm in St. John’s, NL. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador currently is reviewing its Child Care Act and Child Care Regulations with a view, potentially, to licensing forest and nature schools in the province. Both the evaluation and legislative review being completed by the consultants are informing government policy and decision-makers in this area.

Kettil Nordesjö
Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, Malmö University

Location: Sweden

Kettil Nordesjö is associate professor at the Department of Social Work, Malmö University, Sweden. His research concerns how social work in human service organizations is limited and made possible through structuring practices such as evaluation, standardization, and digitalization. He currently does research on the significance of digitalization for the social worker-client relationship and the evaluation and implementation of social investment practices in social work. 

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

Location: British Columbia

Laurie is well-known in the disaster management community as a practitioner, an educator and a researcher. She teaches in the Master of Disaster and Emergency Management at Royal Roads University, in the field of emergency management at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and in the area of emergency management and critical incident stress management at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC). Additionally, she currently teaches in the field of business continuity at JIBC for the certificate and undergraduate degrees.

She was the Research Chair at JIBC, managing the SIMTEC project which focused on developing identifying stressors in Emergency Operations Centres for first responders, and others, and developing strategies to support them. Laurie Pearce's current research is focused on the impacts of disasters on evacuated households, particularly those impacting Indigenous communities; amphibious retrofitting of homes and her work continues in regards to the psychosocial impacts of disasters on first responders.

Dr. Andrew Pinto
Founder and Director, Upstream Lab, Family Physician, St. Michael's Hospital, and Associate Professor, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto

Location: Ontario

Dr. Andrew Pinto is the founder and director of the Upstream Lab, a research team focused on tackling social determinants of health, population health management, and using data science to enable proactive care. He holds the CIHR Applied Public Health Chair in Upstream Prevention. He is a Public Health and Preventive Medicine specialist and family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto. He is the Associate Director for Clinical Research at the University of Toronto Practice-Based Research Network, the lead for clinical research of Ontario’s POPLAR network, and the founder of the Canadian Primary Care Trials Network. He serves on the Institute Advisory Board of CIHR’s Institute for Population and Public Health, is an adjunct scientist at the Institute for Work and Health, and an honorary senior lecturer at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

Gregory Querel
Education Policy Analyst, Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres

Location: Ontario

Gregory Querel is Métis from the historic Red River Métis Community in present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres where he has worked for over 10 years advancing the strategic interests of Friendship Centres in the areas of early learning and child care, public education, and Indigenous language revitalization. He holds a Master of Arts in Indigenous Governance from the University of Winnipeg and is currently a PhD Student in York University's Education: Language, Culture and Teaching program. His research is focused on Indigenous public education policy and community planning.

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

Location: United States

Ana Rausch is a results-driven executive with more than 23 years of experience leading supportive housing organizations. With a focus on project management and system change implementation, Ana currently serves as Vice President of Program Operations for the Coalition for the Homeless, the lead agency for the TX-700 Continuum of Care (CoC) (aka The Way Home). In this role, she leads the agency’s HMIS & Program Operations Teams and has led in the development and implementation of nationally recognized programs and strategies that has led to a 62% reduction in homelessness in 10 years. In addition, she implemented The Way Home’s Coordinated Access system, spearheaded the revised and improved methodology used during the CoC’s Homeless Count, and helped develop the CoC’s Encampment Response Strategy. Ana is originally from Brazil and lives in the northwest Houston area. She has been featured in numerous media articles and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology.

Bryony Shannon
Writer, Rewriting Social Care

Location: England

Bryony is passionate about changing the language we use to communicate within and about adult social care. She writes a blog called Rewriting Social Care which focuses on the words and phrases that make her go hmmm, why language matters and how we can shift the narrative to create a better, brighter and more human social care future.

Bryony has a background in information and communications and has worked in various roles relating to practice development in adult social care since 2006. She is Strategic Lead for Practice Development in Adult Social Care at the City of Doncaster in the United Kingdom and is also working with Think Local Act Personal and Social Care Future around narrative and practice change.

Mandy Tait-Martens
Assistant Director of Services, Ontario Native Women's Association

Location: Ontario

Mandy Tait-Martens is a life-long resident of Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she resides with her family. Prior to joining the ONWA family, she served as the Executive Director of a street based Mental Health and Addiction agency in Thunder Bay and surrounding districts for almost ten (10) years. Supporting individuals with complex care needs, concurrent disorders, victim supports, informal counseling and art-based therapy. Combined with her educational background in Psychology, Mandy applies her years of experience- working with street-based populations, and her passion to drive change in our community to her current role as Assistant Director of Services with Ontario Native Women’s Association. When not working Mandy enjoys spending time with her two daughters on the lake or on the land in her community.

Arthur Tobac
Director, Ka'sho Got'ine Housing Society

Location: Northwest Territories