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Social Work Debate

March 5, 2006 permalink

On February 1, 2006 the Windsor Star published a letter from Dolores Sicheri giving nine suggestions for legislation to regulate the social work profession. The letter was substantially similar to her letter to Mohamad Haniff of March 6, 2005.

The Star printed two replies, one by Loris A Sandre, the other by Beverley J Antle and Mary Kaye Lucier. Both are reproduced below along with two further letters.



Social workers' ethics strictly governed



I am writing to correct some misconceptions which may have been left with your readers as a result of a recent letter from Dolores Sicheri which appeared in The Star on Feb. 1.

The letter from Ms. Sicheri was entitled Recommendations for Social Work Ethics. In it, Ms. Sicheri makes a number of recommendations regarding what I assume — from the tone of her letter — to be her perception of shortcomings in the ethical behaviour of some social workers.

While I realize that Ms. Sicheri's letter is directed more specifically at staff employed by the Windsor-Essex Children's Aid Society, it nevertheless leaves a very erroneous misconception that there are no guidelines whatever that govern the social work profession.

As a proud member of this profession, I would like to take this opportunity to correct some misconceptions created by Ms. Sicheri.

In her letter, Ms Sicheri makes nine recommendations, which she indicated she has submitted to the College of Social Work.

Her first recommendation is that "persons without (proper) qualifications should not identify themselves as social workers..."

I would like to point out that under the Social Work Act of 1998, the title social worker is a protected title under this act, and only persons with the proper credentials and belonging to the college may refer to themselves as social workers.

In short, this recommendation is already a reality.

Committee exists

In her second recommendation, Ms. Sicheri suggests, "swearing of false or misleading affidavits should be grounds for disciplinary action..."

I would like to point out that such behaviour, if it were proven, would indeed be grounds for disciplinary action.

It would also be ground, if it were true, for a complaint to the college.

Ms. Sicheri's third recommendation suggests, "a discipline committed should be established to hear complaints from the public..."

Ms. Sicheri needs to do her homework because such a committee already exists under the Social Work College.

In her fourth recommendation, Ms. Sicheri announces, "a code of professional conduct should be established."

Once again, she needs to do some homework, as this too already exists. It is approximately 30 pages long, and readily available from the college.

Recommendation No. 5 suggests that a "program of professional development linked to licence renewals" needs to be established.

While this provision is not currently in place, the college is in the proces of writing a policy on exactly this issue, and laying out guidelines for ongoing professional education.

Ms. Sicheri's sixth recommendation is based on the false premise set forth in her letter that "every profession in Ontario is legally accountable for his or her actions except social workers."

I'm not sure where this comes from, but I for one could certainly save myself some money for liability insurance if this were true.

In recommendation No. 7, the writer states, "social workers need to know and to respect the boundaries of their profession."

In this, I heartily agree with Ms. Sicheri. However, if she has complaints about a social worker overstepping professional or personal boundaries, she should initiate a complaint to the college. Failure to respect personal and professional boundaries would be seen as a serious professional transgression by the College.

Recommendation No. 8 states that "police background checks should be a mandatory requirement for employment of social workers..."

Oral and written exam

In this also, I would concur. Indeed, this is already a standard of practice in all social work agencies these day. However, it should be pointed out to Ms. Sicheri that if someone does not already possess a criminal record, a police background check would obviously not produce any grounds for not hiring a potential employee.

The final recommendation made in Ms. Sicheri's letter is also one with which I concur. Namely, "there should be an oral and written exam for licensure at the completion of training..."

I would like to pint out that this is the only point in Ms. Sicheri's letter, which is not already either a reality under the governance of the Social Work College, or under consideration by the College.

There is to be a policy announcement in the near future from the college in regards to mandatory requirements fro social workers in regard to ongoing professional development.

On the whole, however, Ms. Sicheri's letter unfortunately left the mistaken, and rather insulting impression that social work as a profession does not adequately regulate itself, nor does it have adequate standards of practice.

Perhaps Ms. Sicheri would be well served to research her topics in the future, rather than making misleading and blatantly false accusations.

If she has had less than pleasant dealings with some social workers, there are avenues of complaint open to her both legally, as well as through the Social Work College.

Loris A. Sandre works at Windsor Regional children's Centre as a clinical social worker, and is involved with teens and their families.

Photocopy supplied by Dolores Sicheri
Published on or before February 19, 2006

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Social workers governed by formal regulations

The Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) wishes to respond to Dolores Sicheri's recent letter which contained many inaccuracies about the social work profession.

Social workers in Ontario have had a code of ethics for over four decades and have been regulated by the Ontario College of Social Worker and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW) since 2000.

Prior to the establishment of OCSWSSW, the Ontario College of Certified Social Workers, a voluntary regulatory body, set standards for the profession, investigated complaints from the public and disciplined members who were found guilty of professional misconduct.

It was leadership within the profession that resulted in the formal regulation of social work practice under the Social Work and Social Service Work Act, 1998.

In Ontario, it is currently a provincial offence for any person who is not registered with OCSWSSW to use the title "social worker" or "registered social worker" or to hold oneself out explicitly or implicitly to be a social worker or registered social worker.

As in other regulated professions, a finding by the college's discipline committee that a member failed to adhere to the profession's code of ethics and standards of practice is subject to disciplinary action.

Social workers are not immune from criminal prosecution or civil suits. Some time in the future, an entrance-to-practise examination will be required for registration in OCSWSSW.

Child welfare staff in this province, many of whom are registered social workers, are highly trained and undergo police checks prior to working in this sector. They play a vital role in protecting Ontario's most vulnerable citizens, our children.

OASW President
OASW Southwestern Branch President

Photocopy supplied by Dolores Sicheri

In a nutshell, the social work profession needs to be regulated by the Health Profession Act as they are working with vulnerable patient groups.

The community must ask for credentials and require social work registration. For example, a "caseworker" might not necessarily be a "social worker." A "case worker" might be a gym teacher. The public will not know the difference unless it is made aware of the nuance. A case worker's credentials must be presented and reviewed before allowing access.

I am not trying to center out child protection workers. A hospital patient, who is told that they are being sent to a specialized unit when they are being sent to chronic care, is being lied to. A child protection worker, who deliberately misrepresents her role to gain access to a home, is lying. A child protection worker, who writes a phony, puffed up affidavit, is lying. Social workers need to put their reputations and licensure on the line, just like doctors, nurses, teachers, dentists, optometrists, audiologists, speech pathologists, occupational/physiotherapists, and lawyers.

Ms. Antler, Ms. Lucier and Mr. Sandre are trying to create a preception of inaccuracy. The community knows better. Their accusation is without substance. In fact, I find it bizarre that they agreed with everything I said.

The College of Social Work needs to do its homework. For the profession to survive, it needs to bring accountability and transparency to the clients.

Dolores Sicheri
Lakeshore, Ontario
March 1, 2006

March 6, 2006

The Windsor Star Group Inc.
167 Ferry Street
Windsor, Ontario
N9A 4M5


Subject: Social workers

For publication

The Windsor Star has printed two replies to a February 1 letter of Dr Dolores Sicheri on social work and child protection, one by Loris A Sandre, the other by Beverley J Antle and Mary Kaye Lucier. Both chide Dr Sicheri for not checking her facts. But where can one go to check facts on child protection? Court hearings and case files are secret and inquiries to a Children's Aid Society are rebuffed on grounds of confidentiality. Parents and grown children are the only source. Dr Sicheri and I have both spoken to many affected families and have informed opinions.

Both articles claim that an adequate regulatory regime for social workers is in place, yet ignore the reality that families are routinely torn asunder by social services. In cases in which children are taken from parents, social workers routinely omit facts favorable to families, and liberally include hearsay without checking its validity. A common device is giving parents visitation with their children under observation by social workers, then filing court documents denigrating parents while omitting favorable facts. Social workers can even impose a divorce against the will of both parents -- they suggest to a mother that her chances of getting her children returned will improve after a divorce, then use separation as further justification for keeping the children.

What does the existing regulatory framework do to protect families from these abuses? Nothing. Mrs Sandre cites a Code of Ethics for social workers. It guards confidentiality, ostensibly protecting families from embarrassment, really concealing abuses. The code does not contain the word "truth", and offers no relief for misrepresentation or omission of facts.

The OCSWSSW publication Perspective (pdf) dated Winter 2006 says:

As at October 31, 2005, out of 164 completed complaints, there have been four referrals to the College's Discipline Committee, and seven College members have been required to attend before the Complaints Committee to be cautioned.

Did social workers take the nineteen thousand children now in foster care with only four mistakes? Perhaps the discipline committee is protecting social workers more than families.

Robert T McQuaid