The mandate of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (the College) is to protect the public interest. Everything the College does comes down to protecting the public from unqualified, incompetent and unfit practitioners.
Over the last year, the College’s Complaints and Discipline Team has seen an increase in complaints related to sexual abuse allegations. This trend is of great concern to the College and warrants serious consideration on the part of both College members and employers.
“The College has a duty to consider and investigate reports and complaints regarding alleged misconduct of College members,” explains Richelle Samuel, Director of Complaints and Discipline. “This includes allegations of sexual abuse between a client and a social worker or social service worker.”
Maintaining professional boundaries
As regulated professionals, social workers and social service workers must maintain professional boundaries at all times. Sexual contact between College members and clients undermines the public’s trust in the professions and is strictly forbidden.
With many employers and College members having made the transition to the provision of services by electronic means, it remains critical for members to maintain professional boundaries with clients at all times – and for employers to remain vigilant with respect to this issue.
“It doesn’t matter if a client expressed consent or if they ‘agreed’ to sexual contact,” notes Samuel. “Any form of sexual behaviour – whether physical or verbal – between a client and College member is prohibited.”
Complaints and discipline processes
The College’s rigorous complaints and discipline processes are vital in order for it to fulfil its public protection mandate. This includes considering and investigating reports and complaints made by members of the public regarding the conduct of College members.
If allegations are brought to the College’s attention regarding a member breaching the Social Work and Social Service Work Act, its Regulations or the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, the College will address the matter through its investigations process.
The results of an investigation are then reviewed in order to determine what the appropriate regulatory response should be – in all cases, due processes are followed to ensure fairness and transparency for all parties.
Violating professional boundaries and engaging in sexual abuse is an extremely serious form of professional misconduct that can result in penalties up to and including the revocation of a member’s certificate of registration with the College.
Employers and College members are advised to consult the College’s practice resources regularly, including the following Practice Notes related to boundaries:
- The Slippery Slope to Sexual Misconduct: Be Informed, Be Aware
- Dual Relationships: Ensuring Clients Best Interests Are Paramount
- Dual Relationships: Approach with Caution
- Boundary Violations
For practice-related inquiries, employers and College members can contact the Professional Practice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Employers and other stakeholders should also note that the College has developed a Support Person Program to support individuals who have experienced sexual abuse by a social worker or social service worker. Information related to sexual abuse of clients as well as the College’s Support Person Program can be found visiting the following College webpages: