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ONTARIO COLLEGE OF SOCIAL WORKERS AND SOCIAL SERVICES COMPLAINTS

Social workers, like many professionals in Canada, must be adequately educated, licensed and regulated by the province in which they practice. Each province regulates their professionals in their own way. Each province in Canada is responsible for regulating the social workers practicing in their province. The Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers is the organization responsible for regulating the practice of social work in Ontario.

The goal of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers is to ensure all social workers are held to the highest standards of integrity, professionalism and knowledge in order to protect the public. The Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers is responsible for enforcing the Social Work and Social Work Service Act, 1998, which is discussed in more detail below. They ensure that social workers have received the proper education from an accredited institution prior to beginning their practice and that practicing social workers keep up to date with any necessary on-going education and comply with all of the regulations laid out in the Social Work and Social Service Work Act.

The paramount goal is to protect the public from professional misconduct. As such, Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers also accepts formal complaints pertaining to licensed social workers in Ontario and investigates as necessary. If professional misconduct or unethical behaviour is uncovered by the College, Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers will be the regulating body responsible for punishing the offending social worker.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are Social Workers Regulated in Ontario?
The Complaint Process
What Happens when a Complaint is Filed?
Can the Decision of the Complaints Committee be Appealed?
Mandatory Reporting
How to Defend a Formal Complaint made to the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers?

How are Social Workers Regulated in Ontario?

Social workers in Ontario are regulated by the Social Work and Social Work Service Act 1998. This statute outlines all of the rules and regulations surrounding the practice of social work in Ontario. It dictates the qualifications that must be met before one can become a licensed social worker, outlines the requirements for membership and outlines the structure of the College itself. The statute also outlines regulations involving the College’s Complaints Committee, Discipline Committee and Fitness to Practice Committee, including when these Committee’s may take action in relation to a College member.

Additionally, the statute stipulates the powers of the Registrar to investigate complaints against members, regulations involving mandatory reporting of members incompetence to the College, and other miscellaneous rules, regulations and by-laws pertaining to the practice of social work in Ontario. Finally, the statute contains regulations pertaining to professional misconduct. Specifically, the Act outlines 36 acts, omissions or behaviours that have been deemed to be professional misconduct by the College. Examples include; failing to meet the standards of the profession, abusing a client physically, sexually, verbally, emotionally or psychologically, practicing the profession while under the influence of any mind-alerting substance or while suffering from an illness or dysfunction and providing services while the member is in a conflict of interest.

The Complaint Process

As with many professions, failure to abide by the rules set out in the Social Work and Social Work Service Act 1998 could result in a finding of professional misconduct. Most commonly, this type of conduct will come to the attention of the College through a complaint that has been filed by a member of the public. Almost any member of the public can file a formal complaint against a social worker in Ontario. Formal complaints filed with the College must be received either in writing, or as a recording on an audio or video tape. The complaint must include the full name and contact information of the complainant (please note the College will not accept anonymous complaints), the full name of the social worker if known, or enough details for the College to ascertain who the social worker is if a name is not known, a statement explaining the nature of the complaint and any other details which may be relevant to the complaint. To file a formal complaint, individuals can fill out an online form, downloadable from the College’s website.

What Happens when a Complaint is Filed?

Once the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers has received a properly documented complaint, they will send a letter of acknowledgement to the complainant, outlining the next steps in the process. The Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers will then send a copy or written summary of the complaint to the impugned member. The member will then have thirty-five days to provide a written reply to the complaint. The members response will then be forwarded by the College to the complainant. If further information is required, the College will make attempts to locate it. Once the College has gathered all relevant information, the complaint will be reviewed by the Complaints Committee, which is made up of professional members of the College as well as members of the public. Generally, the Committee is required to resolve of a complaint within 120 days of initially receiving it. This time line may be extended in certain circumstances.

In reaching its decision, the Committee may choose to do one or more of the following; refer the member to either the Fitness to Practice Committee or the Discipline Committee for further action where professional misconduct, incapacity or incompetence is found, require the member appear before the Complaints Committee to be cautioned for their behaviour, take any other actions the College deems appropriate that is consistent with the regulations set out in the Social Work and Social Work Service Act, or chose to take no further action against the member. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation and subsequent decision, both the complainant and the member will receive a written copy of the Committee’s decision. Such decisions will not be made available for the public to access.

It is important to note that the College cannot assess or award damages for injuries stemming from the actions of a registered social worker. The College also does not have the authority to order a member to do anything or stop doing something. In very serious cases where damages may be warranted, a complainant would be required to file a separate civil lawsuit for any alleged injury caused by the member.

Can the Decision of the Complaints Committee be Appealed?

No. Generally, both the complainant and the registered social worker will receive a written copy of the Complaint Committee’s decision, including their reasoning. All decisions made by the Complaints Committee are final and may not be appealed.

Mandatory Reporting

According to the Social Work and Social Work Service Act, there are four circumstances in which an employer or member must make a written report to the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers in regard to the behaviour or actions of a member. A formal written report must be submitted to the College in the following circumstances; where an employer terminates a member for professional misconduct, incapacity of incompetence, where the employer or former employer intended to terminate a member due to professional misconduct, incapacity or incompetence, but were unable to as the member resigned prior to being terminated, where the employer or former employer becomes aware that the member has been convicted of a sexual offence under the Criminal Code of Canada, and where a member of the College has reasonable grounds to believe that another member of the College has sexually abused a patient. In addition to mandatory reporting by employers, members of the College must also self-report if they have ever been convicted of a sexually based offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.

When the mandatory reporting stems from an employee being terminated or resigning due to professional misconduct, incapacity or incompetence, the formal report must be filed within 30 days of the termination or resignation. In situations involving an employer becoming aware of a member’s past convictions for sexually based offences, the formal report must be filed promptly. A member who is convicted of a sexually based offence must also self-report promptly to the College. Finally, A member who learns of another members sexual abuse of a client must make a formal report to the College within thirty days of learning of the abuse. It should be noted that if the member believes the abuse is on-going or will continue, the formal report must be made to the College immediately.

Failure to make a report to the College where mandatory reporting is applicable is an offence under the Social Work and Social Work Service Act. Being found guilty of such an offence has the potential to come with a fine of up to $25,000. Members of the College who fail to make proper reports when necessary may also be personally charged with professional misconduct under the Act.

How to Defend a Formal Complaint made to the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers?

As with any legal matter, the best defence will always depend in large part on the allegations being made and the facts surrounding the particular case. It is important to contact experienced legal counsel immediately upon receiving notice that a formal complaint has been filed and prior to drafting the written response to the complaint. In some cases, the allegations against the registered social worker will be unfounded or will not amount to professional misconduct, incapacity or incompetence. In these situations, the social worker may simply deny the allegations and state that they have not violated any of the rules or regulations surrounding the proper practice of social work in Ontario.

In more serious situations however, the member will be required to come up with a more substantive defence. Generally, the best defence is to prove to the Complaints Committee that the social worker satisfactorily complied with all of the applicable rules and regulations as outlined by the applicable legislation. It is important to contact qualified legal counsel as soon as possible to ensure the complaint is answered completely and correctly, as the consequences of a finding of professional misconduct, incapacity or incompetence could lead to very serious negative implications. This is especially true with regulatory cases involving social workers, as all decisions of the Complaint Committee are final and may not be appealed.

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