Message from the Registrar and CEO: Systemic Racism, Mental Health Checks and the College’s Regulatory Role

As Registrar and CEO for the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (the College), I would like to take this opportunity to provide an update with respect to recent College communications on issues related to anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and other forms of systemic racism while clarifying our regulatory role and public protection mandate.

In light of recent events, we must first recognize and communicate our shared concern about incidents involving police use of force during mental health checks – incidents which have disproportionately affected Indigenous, Black and racialized communities, and had tragic outcomes.

These extremely important and concerning issues have a direct impact on the work of our members.

Open letter to regulators

On July 2, 2020, I received, along with the Registrars of the College of Nurses of Ontario, the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario, the College of Psychologists of Ontario, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, and the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario, an open letter expressing deep concerns about the regulatory colleges’ failure to act on the issue of police involvement in mental health checks.

The letter demanded that the regulatory colleges issue a public statement that, among other things, directed members/registrants of the colleges to cease calling 911 immediately for mental health or safety checks.

The letter also demanded that the colleges issue a public advisement to the Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, the Premier of Ontario, and the Solicitor General that they should immediately take steps to redirect funding from policing in Ontario to community-based health initiatives in the interests of public safety.

Together, the College, along with the College of Nurses of Ontario, the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario, the College of Psychologists of Ontario, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, drafted a joint response which was sent on July 13, 2020. This response can be accessed directly on our website.

Police involvement in mental health checks and our role as regulator

The College recognizes that profound societal, political and institutional changes are needed to address racism and other forms of systemic oppression. We also recognize that the Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities served by our respective members are at higher risk of harm from police.

The College must continue to consider and reflect upon its role as regulator with respect to these important issues – a role which is distinct from that of a professional association, whose mandate includes advocacy.

While advocacy falls outside of the College mandate, we do have a key role in providing guidance and resources to our members that empower them to employ sound clinical and ethical judgment in making decisions that will benefit the individuals, families and communities they serve. This includes considerations that members must take into account related to health equity, diversity and inclusion.

The College’s new Strategic Plan demonstrates our commitment to moving forward on the challenging and very important issues of diversity, equity and inclusion as they relate to our regulatory role. This overarching priority encompasses anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, and other forms of systemic oppression which disproportionately affect racialized communities.

Upholding ethical and professional practice

The College also recognizes that social workers and social service workers play an integral role in continuing the dialogue around these important social justice issues and in advancing the necessary and long overdue changes that need to take place.

Principle II: Competence and Integrity in the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice requires all College members to advocate for social justice and ensure that they are knowledgeable with respect to how social injustice, discrimination and imbalances of power impact their clients. In particular, section 2.2.9 states that:

College members promote social justice and advocate for social change on behalf of their clients. College members are knowledgeable and sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and to forms of social injustice such as poverty, discrimination and imbalances of power that exist in the culture and that affect clients.

With respect to mental health checks specifically, members are advised to use their professional judgment to apply the Standards of Practice in the best interests of the individuals, families and communities they serve. The Standards of Practice are meant to be applied to members’ practice in conjunction with any applicable legislation and with their professional judgment.

It is important to note that the College’s Standards of Practice do not explicitly require members to call the police in crisis situations, but rather require that they use their professional judgment to consider:

  • their obligations with respect to privacy and other legislation;
  • the best interests of the client; and
  • the broad range of options available.

The College developed the ETHICS→A: Ethical Decision-Making Tool to assist members in considering the issues and applying their professional judgment when facing challenging practice scenarios and ethical dilemmas.

Our communications, resources and other materials will continue to support members in practising ethically and professionally and to reflect our public protection mandate.

I would like to reiterate that we remain committed to reflecting upon and examining our role as regulator while meeting our public protection mandate and ensuring the safety of the clients and communities served by our members.

Keep well.

Lise Betteridge, MSW, RSW
Registrar and CEO