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Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto

Known throughout her circles as an ‘underdog’, Priscilla Manful has had to defy odds and jump through hoops to get to where she is today.

Balancing life as a young mother, wife, part-time social services worker, and full-time student pursuing a bachelor’s of social work, Manful was juggling a lot after immigrating from Ghana to Canada twenty-three years ago. “It was a real struggle,” she explains, “but through perseverance and relying on my village of supporters, I am right where I am meant to be today.” 

Since then, Manful has created a meaningful career in public service at the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CCAS), where she completed her student placement and then served as a Child Protection Worker upon graduating.  Her career progressed in child welfare and she went on to become a supervisor, then a manager, and an integral part of the senior leadership team. In September 2022, Manful became the first Black and first Black African CEO of CCAS.

Strengthening Networks, Expanding Services 

CCAS serves Toronto’s Catholic children, youth, and families with a range of interconnected services. Many of these families are struggling due to systemic issues related to poverty, addiction, racism, and disenfranchisement. Therefore, CCAS aims to address the individual needs of families to combat these core issues – through addiction services, mental healthcare, employment services, and much more. 

Throughout her career, Manful has been successful in strengthening how CCAS works with marginalized communities, particularly Black families, who are overrepresented in the child protection system. Through CCAS’ implementation of the Africentric Wraparound Model, initially developed by One Vision One Voice, Manful successfully orchestrated the pilot which eventually became a permanent model for the agency. This model seeks to disrupt the anti-Black racism that many African Canadians face after coming into contact with the child welfare system and centers the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations while providing culturally responsive and identity-affirming services and supports. “It all starts at the front door of service, with that initial phone call,” Manful explains. Workers trained in the Africentric Wraparound Model learn how to ask the right questions during an initial phone call with a family to determine if a family truly needs child protection services or if other supportive services would be more appropriate and helpful. “We want to minimize intrusion into vulnerable families, especially those who are marginalized in various socio-economic systems. We want to work with the family to provide services that allow the family to stay together and get what they truly need to thrive.”

Manful is also advocating for expanding CCAS’s network of service partners to address emerging community needs. For example, CCAS has partnered with Catholic Family Services of Toronto, an organization supporting families who have experienced domestic violence, to more intentionally involve male family members. “When we support mothers who have experienced intimate partner violence, we often do not provide meaningful assistance to the men who have been the perpetrators,” Manful explains. Male Engagement Workers work with men who have committed domestic violence when there is an opportunity to re-engage them in the family positively. “It’s an opportunity to break harmful cycles and to understand the full scope of a family’s relationship dynamics,” she says.

Improving the child welfare system is a province-wide priority, and the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services recently launched the Child Welfare Redesign Strategy. Under Manful’s leadership, CCAS has jumped on the opportunity to become a pilot site to test diverse and innovative approaches to family services that will inform province-wide policy reform. 

Public Service means total inclusivity. Everything you do is for everyone in the jurisdiction that you serve.

Priscilla ManfulCEO, Catholic Children's Aid Society

People, Passion, and Purpose

Manful leads with an ethic of Ubuntu, a concept shared by many people of African descent that refers to the interconnectedness of all people. While there are many different versions of Ubuntu that are culturally specific, its overarching message can be summed up as “I am because we are.” Ubuntu permeates Manful’s approach to public service.

A public service career has allowed Manful to practice Ubuntu daily by giving back to the networks that have nourished her throughout her journey. “It has taken my village to get me to my current state,” Manful explains, “and it is only morally right to dedicate my career to giving back.”

For Manful, “public service means total inclusivity. Everything you do is for everyone in the jurisdiction that you serve.” Giving back has also meant raising awareness of systems of oppression and advocating for meaningful change. It has meant fearlessly advocating for families, listening to their feedback about what is and isn’t working, and implementing that feedback into care systems. Her career in public service has allowed Manful to focus on “people, passion, and purpose rather than profit” and has provided the gratification of seeing families strengthen their relationships through the support of CCAS.

According to Manful, a career in public service offers real opportunities to make a difference. “There’s fulfilment and gratitude to be found in serving others,” she says, “and public service offers a huge range of opportunities you cannot find anywhere else.” In particular, Manful encourages young people to consider careers in public service and believes that youth are well-positioned to bring meaningful change to existing systems. “I challenge young people to reflect on how they or their families have benefited from public service and to imagine how they can give back and improve on those services,” she says. “Whoever you are, and whatever your background is, public service will welcome you and the skills you bring.”