Recipient of the Inspirational Leaders Award
March 2018 

Dr. Anne Toth


Reflecting on her social work career, Dr. Anne Toth explains:  “I could never have known that, by agreeing to play with a kindergarten classmate who did not talk, I would have found my life’s work.”  Anne Toth, MSW, EdD, RSW, is a social worker in private practice in Sarnia and London, Ontario.  She offers consultation, assessment, counselling, and psychotherapy in English, French, and American Sign Language, to children and adults who are dealing with stress, trauma, abuse, bereavement, adoption, addiction, interpersonal, and work-related issues. She is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader during Social Work Week, which is celebrated March 5-11, 2018, under the theme: "Social Workers on the Front Lines of Real Issues.” 

Dr. Toth holds degrees or certificates not only in social work but also in French and American Sign Language and has used this unique skill set to great advantage.  She has offered leadership and innovation particularly in the field of deafness, combining her interest in deafness and her profession of social work to address psychosocial problems in children who are Deaf and to use sign language to help children with cognitive and developmental disabilities overcome communication problems. 

Anne has demonstrated her ability to be on the “Front Line of Real Issues” by travelling widely to assist traumatized communities: in Lac Megantic, Quebec after the horrific train derailment, as the sole social worker on a medical mission in Haiti, and when hurricanes have caused devastation.  Most recently, she provided critical incident stress management and support to survivors of natural disasters in Texas, and man-made violence in Florida.  She has inspired audiences in Canada and abroad with presentations of her research on bridging the worlds of the Deaf and hearing and has been recognized with awards for her work in social work, adult and Deaf literacy, and volunteer service. Anne’s work in the areas of communication, literacy, stress management and bereavement (the latter directed to children) have been published in English and French.  She has taught social work as a sessional instructor and field placement supervisor and, since 2000, has served as adjunct faculty and Chair of dissertations for doctoral students. 

A BSW and MSW graduate from the University of Windsor, Dr. Toth’s early employers included the Children’s Aid Society in Sarnia.  After a parenting leave, accepting an offer to work as a Vocational Rehabilitation counsellor led her to meet people who were living with abilities and disabilities across a wide spectrum and, importantly, with those who were Deaf. Anne notes: “Having already learned the importance of relating to others through their language and culture in my work with French-speaking individuals, it made sense that I would learn how to communicate with those who identified themselves as being linguistically and culturally part of the Deaf community.” Eventually, she became the social worker for children and families of the Robarts School for the Deaf.  

Anne adds: “My belief that language IS therapy encouraged me to complete my doctoral work at Nova Southeastern University (Florida) in 2000.  I began teaching for Nova as adjunct faculty in their doctoral distance education program and continued my own learning through research with the Canadian Association of the Deaf for children who are affected by Autism, Downs Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and Learning Disabilities.”  Her research (“Bridge of Signs”) sought to examine whether sign language could empower non-deaf children to triumph over their communication disabilities. She notes that, in the years that have followed, articles, books, research with others, and presentations around the world have helped her share her learning and the sentiments of her philosophy—“Bridging Worlds, Bringing People Together”. It is her hope to present Bridge of Signs to the World Federation of the Deaf in Paris in 2019.

When asked how she stays inspired in her work, Anne replies: “Without the training I received in social work, I would never have understood the impact of disability on accessibility, or that human rights are bound with accessibility to education, and that mental health depends on our ability to communicate.   

Without the training I received in sign language, I could not have conveyed what I had learned through my work and my life, to be a bridge between the Deaf and the hearing, to do that fundamental task of social work—to see the person in the problem, to help people help themselves.”  

Dr. Toth reflects further upon her social work career: “Though I had not perceived my privilege in such things as race, education, family, social standing, gender, language, health, mental health, sexual orientation, or religious belief, the determinants of my well-being, protection, and success were there. What I have come to understand is that the challenge is to be as accepting of who we are despite what we have inherited, despite what has happened to us, despite how badly we have failed or how well we have done. Success is subjective. There is real tragedy in the world.  What I have chosen to see is the possibility of who we can be and how we can be with, and for, each other.  The "glass half-full” perspective I bring to my work sees life brimming with opportunity and hope.”

When asked how she maintains her sense of passion, Anne replies: “As social workers, we are called to be non-judgmental, to see the person as they see themselves, to work to effect change in persons, policies, and communities, and to seek a greater good in society.  I have often wondered what a world we would have if we were all trained in the principles and values of social work before we went on to our individual vocations.  Would we seek to understand before we insisted on being understood?  

Would we seek to find a solution before we got stuck in the problem? Would we build bridges of compassion and relationship before we dug trenches and built walls?  I have been struck by the importance of what social work teaches us for life. It has been those simple truths told by some remarkable and wise human beings—Social Workers!—who have helped me maintain my sense of passion for the work and commitment to the profession.”  

Dr. Anne Toth is an inspirational leader in the social work community – a hopeful and tireless builder of bridges. During Social Work Week, March 5-11, 2018, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference. 

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