What’s the Difference Between a Social Worker and Social Service Worker?

The difference between a social worker and social service worker? This is one of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers’ (the College) most frequently asked questions.

Social workers work with their clients to address challenges through a process of assessment, diagnosis, treatment and evaluation.

Social service workers assist clients in dealing with personal and social problems by delivering counselling, community services and social support programs.

Both social workers and social service workers assist individuals, couples, families, groups, organizations and communities to enhance social functioning or assist in reducing systemic barriers and promoting equity, inclusion and belonging.

The Key Differences Between a Social Worker and Social Service Worker

  • Education and Entry-to-Practice Requirements
    • In Ontario, most social workers have a university degree — either a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), a Master of Social Work (MSW) or both — from an accredited university program.
    • In Ontario, most social service workers have a two-year diploma in social service work from an approved college program.
    • Additional information on entry-to-practice requirements for both social workers and social service workers can be found on the College’s website.

  • Scope of Practice — Diagnosis
    • Social workers can make a social work diagnosis within a relationship between themselves and their client.
    • Social service workers focus on assisting clients in tangible support (such as employment, food and financial assistance).

  • Educational Services
    • Social workers can provide educational services (such as teaching courses and supervising students in practicum settings) to students of both social work and social service work.
    • Social service workers can provide educational services to students of social service work only.

  • Places of Employment
    • Social workers provide services in a variety of workplace settings, from hospitals and community centres to schools, social service agencies or in their own private practice.
    • Social service workers tend to be employed in settings such as group homes, shelters, income maintenance and youth programs.

For More Information

The scopes of practice for social workers and social service workers can be found in the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice Handbook. For additional information, please read the College’s Scopes of Practice Position Paper.

If you have questions about the scope of practice of social workers and social service workers, please contact the College’s Professional Practice Department at practice@ocswssw.org.

Title Protection

In Ontario, only those who are registered with the College can use the protected titles “social worker,” “social service worker,” “registered social worker” and/or “registered social service worker.” Using any of the protected titles without being registered is illegal. People who use the protected titles illegally or who mislead others into believing that they are a social worker or social service worker are considered unregulated practitioners and put the public at risk. You can learn more about the registration status of a social worker or social service worker by checking the Online Register available through the College’s website.