About Us

Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST) is a multi-service urban Aboriginal agency providing holistic, culture-based programs and services for Aboriginal children and families. NCFST strives to provide a life of quality, well-being, healing, and self-determination for children and families in the Toronto urban Aboriginal community. We do this by implementing a service model that is culture-based and respects the values of Aboriginal people, the extended family and the right to self-determination.

Established in 1986, by Elders, knowledge keepers, grassroots leaders, and community members, NCFST has been supporting Aboriginal children and families in Toronto for more than three decades. In 2004 NCFST was directed by the Aboriginal community to accept a child welfare mandate to decolonize Aboriginal child welfare in the City of Toronto. NCFST continues to do this work through the integration of holistic, culturally-based prevention services that are child centred, family focused, and community driven.

Guided by the vision of providing holistic, culture-based integrated services with the guidance of the Aboriginal community, NCFST offers a full range of prevention programs, treatment and healing services, early years programs, youth programs, and cultural and recreational programs to all members of Toronto’s urban Aboriginal community.

Mission Statement

Native Child and Family Services of Toronto strives to provide a life of quality, well-being, caring and healing for our children and families in the Toronto Native Community.

We do this by creating a service model that is culture-based and respects the values of Native people, the extended family and the right to self-determination.

Service Model

Founded in 1986, our service model was developed through four days of ceremony by Aboriginal Elders, knowledge keepers and community leaders. It directs us to develop a holistic and sustainable multi-service organization to support the quality of life of Aboriginal children and their families in Toronto.  The community that came together to create NCFST was responding to the impacts of residential schooling and a European model of child welfare on Aboriginal children and families.  Our service model directs us to develop and deliver integrated services for healing, wellness, and family supports sufficient to provide Aboriginal children and their families with multiple pathways to a quality life.  We do this by developing programs and services that are grounded in Aboriginal values, knowledge, best practice and worldview.

Our many services include:

  • Children and youth mental health and case management including one-on-one counselling, group, and play therapy;
  • Prevention-focused Family Skills Building and Support programs, including our Family Resource Program and the Ninoshe and Zhishay programs;
  • The country’s largest Aboriginal Head Start program with four locations across the city;
  • Child and Family Well-being, including Kin Finding and permanency options for children;
  • A variety of Early Years, Early Childhood Development, and parenting group programs;
  • Childcare;
  • Transitional Housing for men;
  • Transitional Housing for women with young children;
  • Summer day and overnight on-the-land camps;
  • Physical Literacy program;
  • Pre and Post Natal Services;
  • Community events including Culture Nights, drum socials, feasts, and an annual Pow Wow;
  • Three Aboriginal Child and Family Centres that deliver a host of programming for children 0-6, their older siblings and their families; and
  • A Healing Lodge for women and their children while they are undergoing treatment for substance and/or mental health issues.

The community we serve.

Toronto is home to a diverse and growing Aboriginal community, currently estimated at a population of 60,000 adults and children. Of these, approximately 45,000 are status Indians; the others are Métis, non-status, and Inuit. NCFST serves self-identified Status, Non-Status, Inuit and Metis people in the Greater Toronto Area, including individuals and families from over 62 diverse First Nations in Ontario and across the country. We offer accessible services and programs to all community members from pre-birth to the Elderly, LGBTQ2S+ people and people of blended heritage. At NCFST we offer a single point of access to an integrated network of programs and services designed to address the multiple and complex issues facing Aboriginal families, including poverty, mental health issues, unemployment and homelessness in a culturally safe environment. Through this, we contribute to the healing, caring, and well-being of children and families and strive to further the development of a healthy, whole and empowered Aboriginal community, through integrated services grounded in cultural practices.

Senior Staff

JEFFREY SCHIFFER
JEFFREY SCHIFFERExecutive Director

Jeffrey J. Schiffer has Métis and German ancestry, and was born and raised in unceded Coast Salish territory- in what is today Vancouver, British Columbia.  He holds and BA in anthropology from the University of British Columbia, and an MA and PhD in anthropology and education from Columbia University.  Dr. Schiffer has conducted community based research and program development with Indigenous communities in Canada and Central America.  His dissertation focused on decolonizing and indigenizing Aboriginal child welfare in diverse urban spaces.  Over the past 15 years Dr. Schiffer has held positions at the Earth Institute at Columbia UniversityVancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society, the Justice Institute of British Columbia, and the City of Toronto.  Dr. Schiffer is currently the Executive Director at Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Child Welfare League of Canada, the Association of Native Child and Family Services Agencies of Ontario and the Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council.

MARK ATANASOFF
MARK ATANASOFFDirector of Quality Assurance and Decolonization

Mark Atanasoff is NCFST’s newest Director of Quality Assurance and Decolonization. Mark is from Sagamok First Nation and is a second-generation Indian Residential School survivor. His mother, Laura, attended the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie where her language, culture and connection to community were systematically dismantled. Mark has spent most of his adult life reclaiming his cultural identity and reconnecting with community. Mark has dedicated his career working for Indigenous communities of Ontario shaping reconciliation, policy and program development. Before joining NCFST Mark was the Executive Director of the Ontario Aboriginal HIV AIDS Strategy (OAHAS) where he provided services to six urban communities located across the province. Mark is also a member of the Board of Directors of Anishnawbe Health Toronto where he provides governance over programs that impact health, healing and wellbeing. Mark holds diverse training from the Institute for Culturally Restorative Practices and an MBA from the Rotman School of Management where he earned the MBA Fellowship Award for Non-Profit Managers for a strong record of achievement. Mark is Ojibwe, grounded in traditional values that enable an ability to bridge contemporary mainstream ideals and traditional knowledge and teachings.

RON HODGSON
RON HODGSONDirector of People and Culture

Ron Hodgson is a member of Kijicho Manito Madaouskarini Algonquin First Nation who’s traditional and present day community is within the area of North Hastings County. Being separated from his culture as a child, he continues to reclaim and grow his understanding of how to apply traditional teachings to the way he lives and works. Ron identifies as 2SLGTBQ+ and uses the pronouns he/him/his. He sits on the OACAS LGBT2SQ+ Committee and was instrumental in the development the 2SLGBTQ+ committee at his previous agency. Ron began his career in marketing after graduating from George Brown College before transitioning to human resources almost 15 years ago. He continued his professional learning by completing a post-graduate diploma in Labour Relations at Algonquin College along with facilitator certificates from DDI and Franklin Covey. He has held leadership roles at Casino Rama Resort, and most recently at Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child & Family Services as Human Resources Manager. Ron is passionate about his work and applying cultural teachings, knowledge and experiences to build relationships that support employee satisfaction. He has diverse experience working in the areas of talent management, employee/labour relations, training/development, employee engagement, employee wellness and ability management with the goal of building a culture of inclusion and continued improvement that will best support children, youth, families and Indigenous communities. Personally, Ron resides on his family’s hobby farm with his husband, grandmother and many animals. He is an active member of the community and enjoys time spent with friends and family.

DAVID VAN OVERDIJK
DAVID VAN OVERDIJKDirector of Child and Family Well-Being

David Van Overdijk has been in this position which has oversight of all child welfare related services, since 2014. David joined Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST) in 2008 and has held several positions of increasing responsibility since that time. Prior to joining NCFST David held various front-line positions including supervisory positions with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton as well as the Halton Children’s Aid Society. David graduated with a BA (pol. sci.) and BSW (social work) from McMaster University in ’92 and received his MSW (social work) from the University of Toronto in 2015.

SIOBHAN MCCARTHY
SIOBHAN MCCARTHYDirector of Holistic Services
Siobhan McCarthy brings to Native Child 31 years of experience in both Child Welfare and Children’s Mental Health Services. She began her career as an Intake worker for CAST moving into the Children’s Mental Health field for 15 years as a clinician, supervisor and manager, specializing in Mental Health services for Adolescents and their families. In 2008 Siobhan moved to Catholic Childrens Aid Society of Toronto and worked  in a variety of supervisory roles including Adoption, Resources and Corporate Coordinator for the Executive Office. Siobhan joined Native Child and Family Services of Toronto in October 2018 and is delighted to incorporate her passion for service integration into her role as Director of Holistic Services.  The opportunity to work within the Aboriginal community is a an honour.
VERONIKA BENCZE
VERONIKA BENCZEDirector of Finance and Adminstration

Veronika Bencze assumes a leadership role in the finance, payroll, facilities, administration, information technology area as a Director of Finance and Administration at NCFST. Veronika also supports the Board of Directors and the Finance Committee in partnership with the Executive Director. As a member of the Senior Leadership Circle, she ensures that the structure and business processes are efficient and aligned with the strategic plans and financial resources.  Her expertise has been acquired from the ground up moving from an individual contributor into a Director position with increasing seniority and authority. Veronika’s experience has been gained in postsecondary education settings, government agencies, charities, and not-for-profit organizations. She has proven leadership experience in financial reporting, budgeting, financial planning, and forecasting. During her career, she has built and led high performing teams, participated in the strategic planning process and risk assessment and has been actively involved in change management initiatives. Veronika is a strong advocate of lifelong learning as evidenced by her formal academic career including a Bachelor, a Master of Business Administration, a Ph.D. degree and a CPA designation. Veronika is Ivey Business School’s alumni. She taught strategic planning and strategic management along with other subjects in business administration at the University of Pecs in Hungary for six years before immigrating to Canada in 2002.  Veronika is a proud mother of four sons: Idrisz Richard (24), Gabriel (22), Joseph (17) and Aleksandar (10). When not busy with her work, Veronika enjoys swimming and hiking with her family and their dogs.

KENN RICHARD
KENN RICHARDFounder and Director of Special Projects

Both sides of Kenn Richard’s family come from the original Métis and Francophone settlements along the Red and the Assiniboine River in Manitoba. He is of the first generation in his family to be raised in an urban environment and graduate from university. He holds a Masters in Social Work, University of Manitoba, and has been practicing social work, principally within Aboriginal child welfare, since the mid-seventies.

Kenn is founder and until recently was Executive Director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, a mandated Children`s Aid Society and Children’s Mental Health Center, since 1989.

Kenn has been the recipient of multiple awards including the Toronto Civic Award of Merit, The Aboriginal Affairs Award, The Chief of Police Community Award, and the Salute to the City Award for outstanding civic contribution, the Diamond Jubilee medal in recognition of HRH Elizabeth 60 years on the throne. 

In 2016, he was honoured with the Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to city life.

In 2018, Kenn received the Meritorious Service Cross, one of the highest civilian honors awarded Canadians, from the Governor General, for his achievements for his actions toward contributing to the quality of Canadian life.

Kenn is a strong children’s advocate at both the national and the local level and is often called to lend advice to government in the field of Native Child Welfare and its related issues. He has appeared as expert witness to the courts and Parliamentary/Legislative committees on matters associated with Native children. He has also been active in the both the print and the visual media on issues associated with the welfare of Native children. 

He has been a consultant on a diverse range of projects focused on the interface of Native peoples and the human service system.

Some of Kenn Richard`s contributions include:

  • As founding Executive Director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto he has improved and enhanced services to vulnerable Native children in a critical and difficult arena of Human Services, Child Welfare. The agency is unique as it employs a Native cultural base as its foundation and provides services not typically provided by a Children`s Aid Society. NCFST was the first recipient of the prestigious Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh Award for excellence in services to vulnerable children. As one of the first and now largest of all off reserve services to Native children NCFST is looked on as a model to emulate.
  • Conceived and directed by Kenn, the NCFST building at 30 College St, in Toronto, stands as a testament to Native pride and perseverance. The building is a showcase and has received numerous awards, some international, for its design and its function. It was one of the most visited sites in a recent Open Doors Toronto event.
  • As an educator Kenn has contributed to capacity building within social work and within some of the major institutions mandated to serve families and children. Kenn wrote and delivered the first curriculum in cross cultural work at the Faulty of Social Work, University of Toronto and is well known for his seminars and presentations to professionals across the broad spectrum of stakeholders. He authored “The Other Side of the Door: A Practice Guide in Working with Native People”, that is widely used by Children`s Aid Societies across the Province to build their capacity in their work with Native people. 
  • Kenn is a seasoned lecturer with 20 years of teaching experience and currently teaches two courses, one in Community and Organizational Practice and the other, working with Aboriginal People. He also holds an appointment of Adjunct Professor within the Native Studies program at Trent University.
  • He is published in the areas of Child Welfare and urban Native issues. He is considered a national expert in his field. His article, titled “On the Matter of Cross-Cultural Adoptions”, is considered an authoritative one on that topic.
  • As an advocate Kenn has been at the forefront of standing up for Native children since the 70`s. He is well known across the Province for his capacity to articulate and persuade stakeholders regarding the needs and aspirations of Native children. Dubbed a “hero” by the Toronto Sun for his efforts he is in great demand as a resource in issues related to Native people and their plight.
  • As a community organizer Kenn has contributed extensively in the development of the Toronto community. He is a founder of the Toronto Aboriginal Social Services Association, now TASSC. He played a significant role in ensuring the formal recognition of the Toronto Native community at the time of amalgamation and was instrumental in the establishment of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee of Toronto Council. Kenn chaired the Toronto Aboriginal Research Project, one of the most extensive such research initiatives ever undertaken.

On a provincial level Kenn is a founding member of the Association of Native Child and Family Services of Ontario. He sits a numerous advisory committee such as the Advisory Committee to the Child Welfare Secretariat, Ministry of Children and Youth, and has been called upon for advice by the highest levels of government.

On a national level Kenn is active with both the First Nations Child Caring Society (Vice President) and with the Child Welfare League of Canada (Director and Chair of Aboriginal Task Force). He is an active resource to the Public Health Agency of Canada and sits as an advisory capacity on a national study on child health. Kenn has given advice to Auditor General of Canada in a review of the Child Welfare systems in the Yukon, Nunavut, and the NWT.

Most recently Kenn was appointed as an Expert Advisor to the developing Sixties Scoop Foundation. Here he is charged with engaging survivors of the sixties scoop in crafting a 50 million dollar legacy through a foundation dedicated to their present and future needs and aspirations.

Internationally Kenn has presented as far away as New Zealand and is presently a child sponsor for Plan Canada and a Director of Save the Children, Canada.

As a leader Kenn has led the way in the evolution of off reserve services to Native people. He has over the course of thirty years made significant and tangible contributions to making the future better for Native children in Toronto and across the Province.