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Keynote speakers

Keynote speakers

Charles Johnson

Charles E.Johnson

Charles Johnson serves as the deputy commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS is the state's largest agency and provides or administers a broad range of services, including health care, economic assistance, child welfare services, and services for the elderly and people with disabilities.

In addition to providing leadership to the department's policy areas, he oversees the agency's budget development as well as financial analysis and information technology. He also oversees Direct Care and Treatment, including the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. Prior to his appointment as deputy commissioner for policy and operations in June 2013, Johnson served as the chief financial officer since June 2010 and chief operating officer since January 2012. 

Johnson has spent most of his years in state government working on policies and programs that support low-income families and children. He has bachelor's degrees in political science and English from Carroll College (now University) in Waukesha, Wis., and a master's degree in policy analysis and social policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.


Sixto Cancel

Sixto Cancel

Sixto Cancel is the founder and CEO of Think of Us, a nonprofit 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 also 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. 

In the spring of 2016, Sixto and his team co-organizer and executed the first White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon. 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.

Think of Us website 


Steve Gilliland

Steve Gilliland

Steve Gilliland is a dynamic storyteller, comedian, and author; member of the Speaker Hall of Fame who is able to connect with audiences through inspiring reminders of the impact each individual can make within their role or position. With a personal tie to social services, Steve will share insights and thoughtful connections to the nature of what it takes to work in helping professions, through inspiring passion, purpose, and humor. 

Steve Gilliland's website 


Chief Justice Gildea

Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea

Lorie Skjerven Gildea was appointed Minnesota’s 22nd Chief Justice by Governor Tim Pawlenty, taking office on July 1, 2010. Before her appointment, she had served as a Supreme Court associate justice since January 11, 2006. During her term on the Supreme Court, she chaired the Supreme Court Gender Fairness Implementation Committee and served as the court’s liaison to the Board of Legal Certification, the Advisory Committee on Juvenile Protection Rules, and the Committee on General Rules of Practice of District Courts. 


Matt Doughty

Matt Doughty

Matt was abused and badly burned intentionally by his birth mother at the age of five. He was removed from his mother’s custody and spent the next nine years living with his dad. Matt went on to spend another 8 years in and out of foster homes, juvenile placements, county jails and prisons in Minnesota. 

When something very tragic occurred, Matt’s life would change forever. He will share his ups and downs and how he got from THERE to HERE. 

Matt is the author of a book titled “A Revelation: Moving Beyond PTSD and Foster Care”. Matt is a Fire Fighter/First Responder with Dassel Fire and Rescue. He is a public motivational speaker/presenter. 


Nkki Farago

Nikki Farago

Nikki Farago is assistant commissioner of Children and Family Services for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. In her role, Farago offers oversight and direction to Children and Family Services administration, oversees child welfare and public assistance policy, and coordinates projects across Children and Family Services. She also supervises child well-being initiatives for counties, tribes and partner agencies, leads operational activities, and represents Children and Family Services for the department at large.

Before becoming assistant commissioner, Farago served as Children and Family Services deputy assistant commissioner and as Legislation and External Affairs director. Her work focused on new legislation for Minnesotans with low incomes, and children and families at risk of poor outcomes. Previous, as deputy solicitor general for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, she litigated criminal and civil cases in tribal court, represented Mille Lacs Band in Indian Child Welfare Act child protection cases in state court and served as general counsel. In the past, Farago has worked for Mid-Minnesota Legal Services and Hennepin County District Court.

Farago earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Georgia, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Minnesota Law School. She has served as administrative director of the William E. McGee Civil Rights Moot Court, as president of the American Indian Law Student Association and as a representative to the Hennepin County Bar Association for the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association. Farago sits on the Board of Directors of the Indian Child Welfare Act Law Center.

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