Message from the Registrar and CEO: Professional Boundaries Campaign

Message from the Registrar and CEO: Professional Boundaries Campaign

As another winter turns to spring, I think about the cycles of our work at the College – as well as the constant of change. Outside, the weather warms and vegetation surfaces once again, yet the sun always rises.

This will be my last message in Perspective. As many of you know, I have announced my retirement effective the end of July 2023. It has been a privilege to serve as the College’s Registrar and CEO for the past eight years, with our commitment to public protection guiding each of my decisions and all my actions.

It is with public protection in mind that I want to discuss an issue of great concern to the College. Over the past two years, the College has seen a 107% increase in the number of complaints received related to sexual misconduct. This increase is deeply disturbing. It is also a call to action to registrants who have an ethical obligation to address professional boundary violations if/when they become aware of them, and a legal obligation to report sexual misconduct.

As regulated professionals, social workers and social service workers must maintain professional boundaries at all times. Sexual contact between College registrants and their clients not only undermines the public’s trust in the professions, it is also strictly forbidden under the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and the Professional Misconduct Regulation, O. Reg. 384/00, made under the Social Work and Social Service Work Act, 1998.

Breaching professional boundaries and engaging in any form of sexual contact with a client are extremely serious forms of professional misconduct, which can result in penalties up to and including the revocation of a registrant’s certificate of registration with the College. When a client seeks services from a social worker or social service worker, they are reaching out at a time when they may be extremely vulnerable. Registrants can cause terrible harm to their clients if they take advantage of the inherent power imbalance that exists within the professional relationship – and that abuse of power is never more evident than when they engage in sexual misconduct.

Since the launch of our public awareness campaign in 2019, the College has seen a steady increase in the number of complaints received overall. These results are to be expected, as we estimate that millions more Ontarians are now aware of the College and its public protection mandate.

The number of sexual misconduct-related complaints received by the College has increased at a much faster rate, however: in 2021, sexual misconduct-related complaints represented 8% of all complaints received; last year, this number grew to 16%. The number of sexual misconduct-related matters referred to the College’s Discipline Committee grew at an even faster rate: these cases represented 59% of the total number of referrals to discipline in 2022 – up significantly from 25% in 2021.

As part of our efforts to reduce the incidence of sexual misconduct, the College has embarked on a multi-faceted campaign to shed light on this issue, educate stakeholders about the importance of maintaining professional boundaries, and ensure that registrants, employers and others understand the serious harm that boundary violations and sexual misconduct cause to clients. This campaign will engage with College registrants, service users and employers to ensure that they are aware of the many public protection tools available to them. As a first step, the 2023 Continuing Competence Program required readings address boundaries and sexual misconduct.

While I am approaching the end of my time with the College, the College’s steadfast commitment to its public protection mandate will not change. I am confident that the new Registrar and CEO will take over the reins of this important campaign, and that the College will see success in its efforts to reduce the incidence of sexual misconduct and boundary violations. One report of sexual misconduct is one report too many.


Lise Betteridge, MSW, RSW
Registrar and CEO
Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers