The Professional Practice Department has received an increase in inquiries from members who wish to better understand their ethical obligations when terminating professional services.

The Issue

Successful termination of social work and social service work services can be challenging for members and clients. Members may be unclear about how and when to terminate services with clients; there may also be times when members are “…unable or unwilling for appropriate reasons to provide the requested help.”[1]

The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice

The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice Handbook, Second Edition, 2008, Principle III: Responsibility to Clients states that “College members terminate professional services to clients when such services are no longer required or requested. It is professional misconduct to discontinue professional services… unless the client requests the discontinuation, the client withdraws from the service, reasonable efforts are made to arrange alternative or replacement services, (or) the client is given reasonable opportunity to arrange alternative or replacement services.”[2]

Additionally, members “who anticipate the termination or interruption of service notify clients promptly and arrange the termination, transfer, referral or continuation of service in accordance with clients’ needs and preferences.”[3]


  • Members must use their professional skill and judgment to successfully terminate client services. Clear and transparent communication with clients is essential throughout the termination process.
  • Determining a reasonable termination plan for the client will require the member to review the work that they have accomplished together, the client’s progress, any required referrals to other resources, and how to end the relationship appropriately.[4]
  • Members must assess how termination sessions will take place and ensure reasonable steps were taken to hold a termination session. What are considered reasonable steps is based on a variety of factors including: the presenting needs and identified goals of the client, the duration of service provided and the concerns outlined by the client at the outset of service provision.[5]
  • Members must ensure that they are competent to provide services and that the services are within their scope of practice. They should also keep in mind that “when a client’s needs fall outside the College member’s usual area of practice, the member informs the client of the option to be referred to another professional.”[6]

Members should review the Practice Notes, “Early Endings – Addressing the Challenges of Termination” when faced with a dilemma related to ethical termination.

If you have further questions about this issue or other practice concerns, please contact the Professional Practice Department at 416-972-9882 or 1-877-828-9380 or email practice@ocswssw.org.

[1] Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice Handbook, Second Edition, 2008, Principle III: Responsibility to Clients, Interpretation 3.5.
[2] Ibid, Interpretation 3.9.
[3] Ibid, Interpretation 3.10.
[4] Pearson, Quinn M. “Terminating before Counseling has Ended: Counseling implications and strategies for counselor relocation.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling 20.1 (Jan 1998) 56.
[5] Betteridge, Lise, “Practice Notes: ‘Early Endings – Addressing the Challenges of Termination’”, Perspective, Fall 2014. https://www.ocswssw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/PN-Early_Endings.pdf
[6] OCSWSSW. The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, Second Edition, 2008, Principle II, Competence and Integrity, Interpretation 2.1.1.