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October 2021



Background to the ACO's Permanency and Adoption Competency Training Initiative

Understanding and healing family-based trauma and loss: 
Facilitating and supporting permanence for children and families 
through adoption, kinship and customary care

Pour ces informations en français, s'il vous plaît cliquez ici.

What is Permanency and Adoption Competency Training (PACT)?

Permanency and Adoption Competency Training is specialized, adoption-focused, competency-based training. Through a comprehensive training program geared towards mental health professionals, the goal of the ACO’s Permanency and Adoption Competency Training program (PACT) is to build a community of mental health professionals across Ontario who can support families created through adoption, kinship and guardianship placements by meeting the unique and complex mental health related challenges experienced by this population.

Permanency and Adoption Competency Training

Why is PACT important?

Based on its over 30 years of experience, the ACO believes that adoptive families need greater post-adoption support in dealing with the mental health of their adoptive children and the family as a whole. There are complex issues and dynamics involved in treating an adoptive child and his/her family. Without an understanding of the issues involved in adoption and the loss and trauma that many adopted children have experienced, mental health professionals may find usual treatment approaches to be ineffective and in fact may make issues worse for the child and their families.

“Meeting the needs of individuals and families touched by adoption also requires specialized training in assessment, diagnosis and intervention. At each phase of the clinical process, therapists must be attuned to the complex array of historical and contemporary factors impacting the lives of their clients and, specifically, to the ways in which the adoption experience can influence their identity, relationships and development.”

Excerpt from:  A Need to Know: Enhancing Adoption Competency among Mental Health Professionals
(Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute)

When the ACO was developing its Strategic Priorities in 2012, it resolved to look into this issue in greater depth and develop, if merited, an Adoption Competent training program for mental health professionals in Ontario.

What is the evidence that PACT is needed?

Surveys results from 445 Ontario adoptive families and 45 Ontario adoption professionals undertaken in 2012 underlined the critical need for more adoption competent mental health professionals and services in Ontario. From a research perspective two key reports (Keeping the Promise: The Critical Need for Post-Adoption Services to Enable Children and Families to Succeed, 2010 and A Need to Know: Enhancing Adoption Competency among Mental Health Professionals, 2013) from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in the United States set out the convincing case that mental health professionals who treat individuals and families touched by adoption need to be adoption competent.

History of PACT?

The ACO piloted its Introductory Workshop – Looking Through An Adoption Lens: Understanding the Complex Mental Health Needs of Children, Youth and Their Families in the Spring of 2014. The Pilot was delivered to 86 mental health and child welfare professionals in four Ontario locations - Toronto, Waterloo, Ottawa and Thunder Bay by Pat Convery the ACO's Executive Director and Mary-Jo Land, an experienced adoption therapist. Over the summer months the results of the pre and post evaluations were compiled and analyzed. Overall the feedback was very positive - a vast majority of the participants (97%) would recommend the training to a friend. As well, the knowledge level of participants increased in a significant way as a result of the Workshop. All the feedback from the Pilots, the evaluation process and additional feedback provided since the Workshops were held in the spring were taken on board and as a result the Workshop has been further refined. We are very grateful to our Pilot participants and our ongoing ACT Roundtable members for their valuable contributions in making the Workshop a success.

The ACO began rolling out the Workshop in the Fall of 2014 and it is now available throughout Ontario.

While the Workshop was being developed, piloted and refined the ACO revisited the possibility of acquiring a comprehensive permanency and adoption curriculum that was already developed and tested. The ACO learned that two such curricula had been developed by Kinship Center, a member of Seneca Family of Agencies in California. After more research and consultation the ACO decided to enter into a partnership with Seneca Family of Agencies.

Kinship Center’s ACT curriculum for child welfare and mental health professionals met all of our requirements for a comprehensive permanency and adoption competency curriculum. The ACO was further convinced that this was the right curriculum for Ontario when we learned that Kinship Center had developed a curriculum for parents and other caregivers that incorporated the same concepts and language as the ACT but aimed at parents who were parenting children who had experienced loss and trauma. The ACO knew from Roundtable members and families that there was a need for specialized training for parents once their children were living with them. The Pathways to Permanence 2 curriculum addressed this need very well. After securing funding from The Zukerman Family Foundation for the Pathways to Permanence 2 curriculum, we were able to enter into an agreement with Seneca Family of Agencies that enabled us to acquire the exclusive Ontario rights to both the ACT and Pathways to Permanence 2 curriclua.

Who are Kinship Center and Seneca Family of Agencies, and why did the ACO choose them as a strategic partner for its PACT initiative?

Kinship Center, a member of Seneca Family of Agencies, is a California nonprofit organization that creates and sustains permanent families for children through adoption, relative caregiving or other guardianship, and through comprehensive mental health and support services for children and families. Kinship Center’s commitment is to permanent rather than temporary solutions, as decades of research have shown that children need stable, permanent families in order to thrive.

Since 1984, Kinship Center has helped build and strengthen families for children of all ages: those who can no longer safely remain with their birth parents because of abuse and neglect, those who have been abandoned, and also those who are voluntarily relinquished for adoption as infants by their birth parents. Kinship Center’s goal is to build and sustain strong families that are successful in parenting children in the best ways to help them achieve their highest potential in social, emotional, educational experiences and prepare them for successful adult lives.

In July 2011, Kinship Center joined with Seneca Center, another highly respected California youth-serving nonprofit, to form Seneca Family of Agencies. Seneca’s motto is Unconditional Care – Helping Families through the most difficult times of their lives. For more information on Kinship Center see their website at For more information on Seneca see their website at

The ACO chose Seneca Family of Agencies as our strategic partner for PACT because they share our vision and our values. Their commitment is to permanent rather than temporary solutions. They help build and strengthen families. And they recognize that children need stable, permanent families in order to thrive. These values align perfectly with the ACO’s. Their ACT and Pathways 2 curricula are masterful and completely embody these values as do all of the staff we have worked with at Kinship Center and Seneca over the past year – their master trainers, their training department and their leaders. Our close working relationship has only reinforced and cemented how much we are aligned in our vision for children and for families. They are our partners in the truest sense of the word.

How are the ACT and Pathways 2 curricula disseminated across Ontario?

In December 2014 the ACO invited professionals with significant child welfare, mental health and adoption experience to apply to become trainers of ACT and Pathways 2. After a selection process, 22 trainers from all across Ontario were chosen. Since that time an additonal 6 trainers were hired and 1 retired. The trainers chosen all embodied a very high level of skill in their areas of expertise. Many had a mix of child welfare and mental health experience. More than half had a personal connection to adoption which made their understanding of the complex issues involved that much more rich. In addition,

  • all demonstrated a heart for our kids and families and a real commitment to improving the status quo in Ontario
  • all want to ensure true permanency for our kids
  • all are willing to work within their communities to bring these trainings to professionals and caregivers and to help the ACO further broaden support to families through the establishment of, for example, support groups, peer mentor programs, buddies, youth networks, respite programs, etc.

The original 22 trainers were trained over an 8-day period of time in March 2015 and June 2015 by Seneca Family of Agencies master trainers Ron Huxley and Cindy Roe. Their deep knowledge level, incredible skill as professionals and trainers and their commitment to kids and families brought the curricula to life. It was an incredible experience for everyone involved.

The ACO is began to roll-out ACT and Pathways 2 throughout Ontario in the Fall of 2015.

Who are the Ontario ACT & Pathways 2 trainers? 

Our 27 Ontario trainers have over 700 years of combined experience in the child welfare and mental health fields. They also represent the different regions of Ontario. All of our trainers demonstrated that they are highly qualified professionals many having both child welfare and mental health experience as well as experience training professionals and/or families. They also exemplified the following attributes we hoped to attract in our team of trainers:

  • a rich understanding of and experience with the issues involved for adoptive and kinship families
  • a heart for our kids and families and a real commitment to improving the status quo
  • a commitment to ensuring lasting permanency for our kids
  • a commitment to work within their communities to bring these trainings to professionals and caregivers and to help the ACO further broaden support to families through the establishment of, for example, support groups, peer mentor programs, buddies, youth networks, and respite programs
  • an interest in working and growing as a team together with the other trainers and the ACO

Of our 27 trainers:

  • 22 work in mental health as therapists, counselors, social workers, etc
  • 4 work full time in child welfare agencies; many others have significant experience working in the child welfare field
  • 5 are also “approved adoption practitioners” in Ontario
  • all have significant experience training professionals and/or families
  • 12 are adoptive parents
  • 4 are adoptees
  • In terms of qualifications - 1 is a psychologist; 17 are social workers – 8 of whom have MSWs and 2 of whom have Masters in other disciplines; 3 others have Masters in other areas; others are therapists, counselors and parent support workers with Bachelors and other certificates, 3 are Child & Youth Workers
  • Our trainers’ individual years of experience range from 15 to over 40 years

Below is a list of our ACT/Pathways 2 Ontario trainers organized by region.

They have all completed the ACT training and represent the first group of permanency and adoption competent professionals in Ontario.

Northern Ontario

Loretta Montgomery, CYW, Thunder Bay
Loretta is an adoption worker with the Children’s Aid Society of the District of Thunder Bay. She is an accomplished child welfare professional with over 28 years of experience working with children and families. She has also worked as a full-time trainer for the CAS with a focus on facilitating PRIDE pre-service training for prospective foster and adoptive applicants and the facilitation of ongoing training for resource families, including the PRIDE in-service curriculum.

Melissa Pye, Thunder Bay 
Melissa Pye is Psychological Associate at Children’s Centre Thunder Bay. She completed her undergraduate degree at St. Francis Xavier University (’03), before moving to Thunder Bay to attend Graduate School. Melissa completed her Master’s degree at Lakehead University (’06) where she studied the impact of personal strengths and resiliency on classroom behavior and performance in young students.  Some of Melissa’s early professional experiences included working in Day Treatment Classrooms, and completing learning assessments however she quickly found her niche when she began practicing Dialetical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and consulting to the Short-term Treatment and Assessment Unit (STAT unit). The STAT unit is a 90 day residential treatment program, whose clientele seems to include a large number of children in foster care, kinship care, and those who have been adopted and at risk of placement breakdown. Melissa is also an adoptive mom of two little ones so educating others about the necessity of post-adoption supports is a cause that is near and dear to her.

Central Ontario - north of GTA

Lynda Young, RSW, Barrie
Lynda is a mental health professional with Barrie and Community Family Health Team. She has an extensive child welfare background having worked with various children’s aid societies in Ontario for over 25 years. Lynda is also an approved adoption practitioner and a PRIDE trainer. 

Laura Banks, BA, Orillia
Laura is a mental health professional in private practice. She provides counseling, education, advocacy, skill development and service coordination to families in adoption. Laura also sits on several Boards and Committees with the clear intent of assisting children to find permanency and healing in their lives. Laura is an adoptive parent to seven children and has been a Treatment Foster Care parent for over 18 years. She is an experienced trainer to adoptive and foster parents and others. 

Sylvia Gibbons, Orillia
Sylvia founded and runs a Support Group for Adoptive Families and founded and runs an Adopted Youth Group, both of which are in Simcoe County. She is the ACO's PACT Parent Liaison. In this newly created role she will assist and guide Pathways parent groups to form ongoing parent support groups in their communities. Sylvia continues to provide peer support to many adoptive families throughout Ontario. Sylvia has been a PRIDE trainer for eight years. Sylvia is also an adoptive parent.

Eastern Ontario

Dianne Mathes, RSW, Haliburton
Dianne Mathes has over 35 years of experience providing therapy and education/training for individuals, couples, children and families and professionals. Using attachment therapy, she specializes in adoption and provides therapy and training on the experiences and realities of early separation, adoption, abandonment, trauma, abuse, loss and grief as well as the multi-layered experience of being adopted  and being a family in adoption.  Dianne is herself an adoptee and has experienced her own personal journey in adoption and reunion. .  Dianne has a Certificate of Social Work degree from Ryerson University and is a member of the OCSSWSW.

Karen Moore, RSW, MA (Leadership), Lanark County
Karen is a mental health professional, a creative and innovative manager and leader in Lanark County. She is the Director of Services at Open Doors, a children’s mental health centre in Lanark County. Karen also has a private practice in Kanata working with children, youth and families. She has been involved in the world of adoption and children’s mental health for many years through her experience in social work, training and development and leadership positions. Karen is also an adoptive parent of four children.

Sabrina Tripolitano, MSW, Kingston
Sabrina is a mental health professional in private practice with particular expertise in the area of high conflict separation and divorce, child maltreatment issues, as well as working with foster and adoptive parents and their children. She provides counseling, consultation and assessment services. She is also a clinical investigator with the Office of the Children’s Lawyer and has been certified as an expert witness in her field. She is an experienced trainer.

Central Ontario –east of GTA

Dr.Charlie Menendez, Psychologist, Peterborough
Charlie is a clinical psychologist with Telka Smith Psychology providing assessment, treatment and consultation services for children, adolescents, adults and families as well as individuals with special needs with a particular focus on supporting children in care or being adopted, and those who care for them. He has over 25 years of experience as a therapist and counselor. Charlie is also an experienced trainer of professionals.

Teresa Jarosz, BSW, Durham
Teresa is an approved adoption practitioner and a social worker with over 20 years experience.  She provides supportive counseling for adopted youth and parents and assisted families in locating and accessing mental health services. She is an experienced PRIDE trainer and is a trainer of foster parents. She is also an adoptive parent. 

Jackie Robertson, Cobourg
Jackie is a Registered Psychotherapist in private practice and Clinical case Consultant for Child Welfare. She has been in the field for over 30 years; with extensive experienced in the field of mental health and child welfare.  Jackie completed the Adoption Competency Training (ACT), facilitates Pathways to Permanence II training and has her level II in Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.  She has worked extensively with adoptive families, abused and traumatized individuals and provides parental coaching.

Western Ontario

Lesley Allen B.S.W, Sarnia
Lesley is a Social Worker with over 17 years experience in a variety of roles in Child Welfare.  Lesley’s currently role with CAS is to provide clinical supports to families post adoption.  Lesley also works as a private practitioner, providing counseling services to families and individuals with a focus on supporting blended and non-traditional families.  Lesley is  also a PRIDE Trainer, as well as having trained programs in crisis management and de-escalation strategies.  Lesley has significant experience working in the non-traditional concurrent planning / foster for permanency model.

Barbara Jones Warrick, M.Ed. Counselling, London
Barbara is a mental health professional at Vanier Children’s Services and in private practice. She is a child and family therapist specializing in play therapy and provides individual, family and group services to diverse populations. She is also a member of the Early Years Team at Vanier. Barbara trains and instructs professionals in various forms of therapy. Barbara brings her own personal experience as an adopted person to her work.

Loralin Tansley, MSW, Brantford
Loralin is a child welfare professional with over 16 years of experience. She works at the Brant Family and Children’s Services and for the past 11 years she has been specifically working in the areas of adoption and foster care. She has been a trainer since 2004, has been a PRIDE trainer since 2007 and has been a trainer with the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies since 2010.

Cindy Stewart, CYW, London
Cindy is a mental health professional in private practice. She offers post adoption support to adoptive families and co-facilitates an interracial adoption support group and an adopted teen group. She has child welfare experience facilitating successful foster placements and providing individual counseling to children and youth. She also worked in group homes for eight years with teens and youth. Cindy brings her personal experience as a parent to biological and adoptive children and as an adopted person to her work. Cindy is also a private investigator interested in search and reunion work.

Central Ontario - west of GTA

Mary-Jo Land, Registered Psychotherapist, Priceville/Hamilton
Mary-Jo is a private practice clinician offering individual and family therapy. Her primary focus in therapy is resolving early childhood trauma and facilitating (secondary) attachment of children to their parents, foster and adoptive parents. She offers consultation and supervision to therapists in the field and offers workshops internationally in the fields of attachment, bonding and trauma to parents and to therapists. Mary-Jo is a parent to biological and adoptive children and an experienced foster parent.

Caroline Sears, MSW, Dundas
Caroline is a social worker with many years of experience working as a grief counselor in the healthcare field. She is now working as an adoption therapist providing counseling for pre-adoptive and adoptive parents to address infertility and adoption, grief and loss, trauma and neglect, attachment difficulties, emotional effects of parenting children with learning disabilities, FAS, medical concerns and developmental or social concerns. She also has over 15 years of experience parenting adoptive and biological children.


Elaine Ash, MSW, Toronto
Elaine has been working in the field of mental health for over 35 years. She has experience working in child welfare and working with First Nations children. She worked for many years at the Out-Patient Child and Family Clinic at Trillium Health Partners, Credit Valley Hospital and has a private practice with the primary focus being Post-Adoption Integration work and addressing the mental health needs of children and youth who are navigating their lives as adopted children. Elaine is an experienced instructor and trainer and is an adoptive parent.

Darby Crosby, MA, RMFT, RP, Stouffville
Darby is an adoptive parent, a Registered Psychotherapist and on the Registry of Marriage and Family Therapists. She works full time at Family Services York Region and has a small private practice. She has provided counselling to individuals, couples and families who are dealing with various issues such as parenting, adoption, trauma, grief, anxiety, depression and domestic violence for over 15 years. Her experience includes working with all members of the adoption constellation. Darby has been a PRIDE trainer since 2007.

Lorraine Franco, MSW, Mississauga
Lorraine is a mental health therapist and an approved adoption practitioner. She worked as a Child and Family Therapist at a children’s mental health agency and now works in private practice. She provides counseling to children, adolecents, adults, couples and families struggling with issues such as anxiety, depression, addictions, trauma, attachment, grief and loss, infertility, identity, parenting, adoption and domestic violence. She has been providing mental health therapy to clients for over 17 years. She has also experience working in child welfare.

Marguerite McCarron, BA, TCPP, Hamilton
Marguerite is a mental health therapist in private practice. She has experience working in both child welfare and children’s mental health settings providing a range of direct clinical and management services. She has over 25 years of experience working with children and adolescents presenting with complex social, emotional and behavioural needs. She specializes in attachment focused and trauma informed services to fostered and adopted children, youth and their families.

Kimberley Miller, RSW, Mississauga
Kimberley offers counselling, advocacy, education and support through her private practice for all those touched by adoption. As a registered social worker with almost 30 years of child welfare and post-adoption support she comes with a wealth of experience and knowledge.  Kimberley worked as a clinical social worker for the ACO for several years and was the staff-lead of the ACO's Youth Network Group. Kimberley brings her personal experience as an adopted person and a  single (formerly) adoptive parent.  Kimberley a great awareness of issues relating to Openness in Adoption as well as Search and Reunion. Kimberley has provided a variety of training for professionals, families and youth throughout her career. Awareness and respect for diversity of people, families and experiences are foundations to Kimberley's work.

Elaine Quinn, RSW, Toronto/Calrgary
Since 1987, Elaine has worked in Ireland, Australia, England, South Africa and Canada in the field of child welfare and adoption.  She has worked with all parties in the adoption constellation at every stage of the adoption journey. In her role as Manager of the Permanency & Adoption Support Service program at the ACO from 2013 to 2016, she continued her passion to advocate for and support adoptive and kinship families to ensure permanency for all children. Elaine is an experienced trainer of both professionals and families.

Karen Rybko, Toronto
Karen has worked in the field of child welfare and adoption in South Africa and Canada since 1983. She has also been an approved Private Adoption Practitioner for over 30years.

Karen has a passion for training and she has been involved in developing training for adoptive families and is an experienced Pride Trainer for foster and adoptive parents.

Jean Skelton, GTA
Jean Skelton is a social worker with Highland Shores CAS in Cobourg.  She works as a Clinical Case Consultant with the Therapeutic Family Care (TFC) Program, which is a collaborative clinically-oriented child welfare program sponsored by three Children’s Aid Societies (Durham, Highland Shores and Kawartha-Haliburton). Jean works within a multi-disciplinary team to provide clinical support to resource families. Jean is also a Certified Solution Focused Therapist.  Jean has experience in facilitating PRIDE training, adoption assessment (SAFE), and formerly was a treatment level foster caregiver.  

Jacquie Tjandra , MSW, Scarborough
Jacquie is a mental health professional working at a counselling agency in the GTA. Jacquie has over 25 years’ experience in child welfare as an adoption worker and adoption reunion counsellor. She has also provided consultation services to Children’s Aid Societies working with families where mental health concerns were identified. Jacquie has a private practice focused on supporting adoptive families and providing counseling to all members of the adoption constellation. She is an experienced PRIDE trainer and has also delivered training to various community agencies and groups.

ACO staff – Toronto/GTA 

Judy Archer, MSW, Toronto
Judy is a mental health professional and the ACO as Manager of Permanency and Adoption Support Services.  Judy has over 40 years of experience working in the field of adoption, children-in-care, and special needs. She has also had the privilege of providing a myriad of mental health services in First Nation communities on Vancouver Island and at family service agencies in Northern Ontario. Judy is an experienced trainer and has also been involved in writing adoption related curriculum for the Ministry in British Columbia.

How will a family know that a mental health professional is Permanency and Adoption Competent?

Practitioners who complete the ACT training will be provided with a certificate of completion from the ACO. Their names are included on the ACO’s website through its Finding a Professional section. This list is searchable by name, region, field and language so adoptive families can easily locate appropriate resources. 

Important Links:

Where can I find more information about PACT?

Questions regarding the PACT initiative should be directed to:

PACT Program,
Adoption Council of Ontario
1-877-ADOPT 20 ext 2990

PACT Trainers and Pathways Parent Support Leaders login here

Questions? Contact us