Mission & Vision


We exist to support youth involved in child welfare and to drive at better systems and approaches for educational achievement, securing stable housing, and building long-lasting support networks.


A world where all young people thrive and have a sense of belonging with people who love and support them.

about us

What we do

An award-winning and Charity Intelligence Canada A+ and 5 Star-rated organization, we assist marginalized young people who are or have been involved, through no fault of their own, in Ontario’s Child Protection Services and who have significant histories of trauma, abuse, and neglect. Our intended objectives for our target population are to create positive and meaningful connections with family, community, and culture; strengthen a sense of belonging; increase school engagement, high school graduation, and post-secondary enrolment; improve mental and physical health; secure long-term and stable housing; and build strong support networks young people can rely on for life.

Our strategic direction is informed equally by the Members of our Board of Directors and by the young people we serve. We work in solidarity with youth who have lived experience in foster and group home care and their voices, ideas, and suggestions guide all aspects of our work from programming to evaluation. We seek to actively address the structural and systemic barriers that prevent individuals from accessing opportunities to participate and from realizing their potential, particularly youth from Black, Indigenous, and 2SLGBTQ+ communities who are over-represented in the child welfare system.

Our vision of a world where all young people have a sense of belonging with people who love and care about them guides our evidence-based Building Connections program. Our model of service operates with the knowledge that strong, long-term connections to people and support networks create better outcomes for isolated children and youth from foster care than simply gaining skills in an isolated context. We help youth build relational connections with caring, non-paid adults including mentors, extended family members, and community allies who reflect their cultural identities and lived experiences. Our targeted methods of prevention achieve long-term and sustainable impact rather than short-term, temporary solutions.

our beliefs

We exist to support youth involved in child welfare, and drive at better systems and approaches.

See our youth programs

Finding and Developing Innovative Solutions

We identify gaps in services and we research interventions that drive positive and long-term outcomes for children and youth from foster and group home care.

Illustration of two young people with their arms around each other and cheering

Demonstrating Success through Program Delivery

We adapt, implement, and evaluate promising interventions to support youth in successfully transitioning to adulthood, with a focus on stabilizing their housing, mental health, and education, and through building connections and community and cultural belonging.

Illustration of a young women flexing her arm

Driving at Systems Change through Education, Influence and Awareness

We leverage our experience, research, and successful programming to raise awareness about youth from foster care; we amplify their voices, engage with key stakeholders and policymakers, run awareness campaigns, and participate in collective impact and collaborative forums and initiatives.

Illustration of young woman clasping hands

Our Culture

More About StepStones

StepStones is honoured to have received several prestigious awards for our unique programming and outstanding outcomes for youth.

Careers at StepStones for Youth. Illustration of a happy young woman with glasses

Heather O’Keefe and Kathryn Leonard began StepStones as a volunteer-run, overnight summer camp for girls aged 6-14 who were involved in the child welfare system. These young girls had early childhood experiences of abuse, trauma, and neglect, were removed from their family homes, and were placed in foster care. Heather and Kathryn recognized not only the gap in services for these young girls over the summer months but that their trajectories through the foster care system and their forced exit at age 18 produced devastating outcomes.

The first of its kind in Canada, StepStones’ Youth Support Services Program was launched in 2011, expanding services to all young people aged 15-24 who required preventative services to avoid dropping out of school, homelessness, mental health crises, isolation, and poverty. With innovative and evidence-based mentorship and homelessness prevention programming, StepStones assisted over 300 youth annually since the inception of the YSS Program. Most recently, we are serving 600 young people a year aged 10-25 with a wide variety of programming, engagement initiatives, and community connections. From humble beginnings, StepStones has become a recognized industry leader across the national child welfare sector and continues to grow in capacity and profile.

StepStones’ Executive Director Heather O’Keefe was one of six finalists in the prestigious 2021 National Lynn Factor Stand Up for Kids Award recognizing outstanding achievements in the child welfare sector.

StepStones was awarded a 2022 Making the Shift National Youth Homelessness Prevention Award through A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

Charity Intelligence Canada recognized StepStones with the highest A+ and 5-Star ratings in late 2023 as well as a place on their list of the top 100 Canadian Charities.

We were most recently celebrated with a 2024 Toronto Community Champion Award through the City of Toronto and the UWGT acknowledging extraordinary contributions to supporting the health and solidarity of the residents of Toronto, particularly those from Black, Indigenous, and other equity-deserving communities.

Youth-Centred, Youth-Informed 

Youth outcomes and youth needs are at the centre of all our decision-making processes; we work in solidarity with youth affected by the child welfare system, amplifying their voices and guided by their experiences and ideas.

Long-Term Impact over Quick Solutions 

Our award-winning programming centres around preventative approaches for long-term outcomes and are resourced, valued, and prioritized over short-term interventions; we identify service gaps and think outside of the box to create innovative models for sustainable change.

Interdependence over Independence 

At StepStones, we differentiate between interdependence and independence with the knowledge that strong, long-term connections to people and support networks create better outcomes for children and youth from foster care than accessing resources or gaining skills in an isolated context.

Customized Support 

While youth involved in child welfare are represented in high numbers across sectors including criminal justice and mental health, few services are specifically designed to meet their unique and intersectional needs which are drastically different than their peers. StepStones tailors support for each individual young person based on their diverse experiences, requirements, and personal goals.

Donate to stepstones

Find out how you can help children and youth in and from foster care.

Illustration of young man clasping is hands to make a heart shape