Session II Featured Speakers

Sixto Cancel, CEO entered the foster care system as an infant. He was adopted and then recommitted to foster care at age 15. As he aged out of foster care, he became involved with several advocacy efforts before starting a non-profit that harnesses the power of technology to support fellow foster youth. Sixto will share his personal story and give practical examples of how foster parents and other supportive adults have contributed to his life. He will review what he believes are the foundational values to fostering and will demonstrate that at the heart of fostering is a journey to support youth to heal, develop and thrive.

Sixto Cancel is the founder and CEO of Think of Us, a non-profit dedicated to leveraging technology to improve the life outcomes of foster youth aging out of the system. Sixto was selected as Forbes “Top 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs” in 2017. Sixto has been recognized by the White House as a “White House Champion of Change”, a “Millennial Maker” by BET, and was named as one of the “Top 24 Changemakers in Government under 24” by the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council and Sparkaction. Sixto has served as a Young Fellow at Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative since 2010, where he has worked on youth engagement, asset development, and permanency.

Join Sixto for his Featured Speaker Presentation: “Using Tech and Data to Rethink Permanency and Normalcy”; Thursday, January 10th, 10:30 am and his Workshop: “The Youth Experience”; Thursday, January 10th, 1:30 pm.


David Mandel, MA, LPC. With over almost 30 years’ experience in the domestic violence field, David’s international training and consulting focuses on improving systems’ responses to domestic violence when children are involved. Through years of work with child welfare systems, David has developed the Safe & Together™ Model to improve case practice and cross system collaboration in domestic violence cases involving children. He has also identified how a perpetrator pattern-based approach can improve our ability to help families and promote the development of domestic violence-informed child welfare systems.

David and the Safe & Together Institute’s staff and faculty have consulted to United States’ child welfare systems in a number of states including California, New York, Louisiana, New Jersey, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Vermont, Oregon, Minnesota and Ohio.  In the last five years, their work has expanded outside the United States with research, training and consultation in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and other countries. The Safe & Together Institute works closely with domestic violence advocates, in the United States and abroad, to help them more effectively work with child protection systems and better advocate for child welfare-involved adult and child domestic violence survivors.  David has written and published online courses on and has launched a new Safe & Together Model Certified Trainer initiative that will
increase the Institute’s ability to support sustainable implementation of domestic violence-informed practice in the US and abroad.

David has written or co-written journal articles on batterer’s perceptions of their children’s exposure to domestic violence, domestic violence case reading tools, and the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare practice. His chapter on “Batterers and the Lives of Their Children” was published in the Praeger Series Violence Against Women in Families and Relationships.

Join Dan for his Pre-Conference Session: “Intersections: How to Work with Complexity in Domestic Violence Cases”; Wednesday, January 9th, 8:30 – 12:00 pm and his Featured Speaker Presentation: “Building a Domestic Violence-Informed System: Small Changes that Can Make a Big Difference”; Thursday, January 10th, 10:30 am.


Michele Cortese, Esq. was named the Executive Director of the Center for Family Representation (CFR) in New York City in January of 2016. She joined the organization as its second staff person, at its initial founding, in 2002 as Deputy Director.  Starting with just two staff and a budget of just over $200,000, CFR now represents 2100 indigent parents per year in Queens and Manhattan family court whose children are at risk entering foster care. Ms. Cortese oversaw the development of CFR’s interdisciplinary model of representation for parents, which includes attorneys, social workers and parent advocates—professionals who once lost their children to foster care but successfully reunified their families. She also supervised the development of fiscal, HR and operations routines for CFR, which now has nearly 100 staff.   In addition to providing direct representation to indigent parents, CFR participates in numerous policy initiatives at the city, state and federal level and trains more than 500 practitioners annually across the country.  Ms. Cortese has personally conducted more than 175 training sessions, and has presented or provided TA to practitioners from 20 states, hoping to replicate CFR’s service model or adopt its strategies for parent engagement and family preservation.

In addition to CFR, Ms. Cortese served as an Attorney for the Child (law guardian) for over a dozen years and has also represented foster care agencies in trial and appellate proceedings. She worked at the NYC Legal Aid Society Juvenile Rights Practice (JRP), as the Director of Professional Development, where she coordinated and conducted training citywide for attorney, social work, paralegal and management staff. She also served as the Attorney-In-Charge of JRP’s Manhattan trial office that represented 12,000 children annually in child protective, delinquency and PINS proceedings. Ms. Cortese has been a member of the faculty of the Practicing Law Institute, the American Bar Association (ABA)’s Parent Representation Conference, the New York State Judicial Institute and the Child Welfare League of America.  She has written for the ABA’s Center on Children and the Law and serves on the New York State Child Welfare Court Improvement Project Advisory Committee.  In May of 2010, Ms. Cortese received the Kathryn A. McDonald award from the New York City Bar Association for Excellence in Service to the Family Courts. Ms. Cortese is a graduate of Columbia University School of Law and Colgate University.

Join Michelle Cortese for her Featured Speaker Presentation: “The Cornerstone Advocacy Approach to Parent Engagement and Safe Reunification”; Thursday, January 10th, 10:30 am and their Workshop: “Interdisciplinary Practice and Cornerstone Advocacy”; Thursday, January 10th, 1:30 pm.