Principle II: Competence and Integrity

College registrants shall maintain competence and integrity in their practice and adhere to the standards in the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers’ Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and the College’s bylaws.


2.1 Competence 

College registrants shall commit to ongoing professional development and to maintaining competence in their practice.

2.1.1 College registrants shall be responsible for being aware of the extent and parameters of their competence and their professional scope of practice and limit their practice accordingly.

2.1.2 A scope of practice differs from a College registrant’s job description. An employer is not obliged to allow a College registrant to perform all of the activities described in the College’s scope of practice statement. Additionally, an employer may require a social worker or social service worker to perform activities that are not described in their scope of practice; this is permitted provided that the College registrant is competent and practising in accordance with all relevant legislation. 

2.1.3 When a client’s needs fall outside the College registrant’s usual area of practice, the College registrant shall inform the client of the option to be referred to another professional. However, if the client wishes to continue the professional relationship with the College registrant and have the College registrant provide the service, the College registrant may do so provided that: 

(i) the College registrant ensures they are competent to provide services by seeking additional supervision, consultation and/or education and 

(ii) the services are not beyond the College registrant’s professional scope of practice as a social worker or social service worker. 

Recommendations for particular services, referrals to other professionals or a continuation of the professional relationship shall be guided by the client’s interests as well as the College registrant’s judgment and knowledge.

2.1.4 College registrants shall be familiar with emerging social work or social service work knowledge and practice relevant to their areas of professional practice. 

2.1.5 College registrants shall demonstrate their commitment to ongoing professional development by engaging in continuing education and by complying with the Continuing Competence Program. 

2.1.6 College registrants shall be knowledgeable about the policies, legislation, programs and issues related to the communities, institutions and services in their areas of practice.

2.1.7 College registrants shall ensure that any professional recommendations or opinions they provide are supported by evidence and a credible body of professional social work or social service work knowledge. 

Evidence can include information gathered from: 

  • direct observation; 
  • clinical sessions; 
  • professional meetings; 
  • Indigenous worldviews and ways of knowing; 
  • collateral sources; 
  • documents and correspondence; 
  • clinical tools (e.g. diagnostic assessment measures, rating scales); 
  • research; 
  • training and continuing education; 
  • supervision; and/or 
  • journals/literature.

2.1.8 College registrants shall engage in the ongoing process of self-reflection and evaluation of their practice and shall seek supervision and consultation when appropriate.

2.2 Integrity

College registrants shall recognize that they are in a position of power and responsibility to all clients and that they are responsible for ensuring that clients are protected from the abuse of such power during and after the provision of professional services.

2.2.1 College registrants shall establish and maintain clear and appropriate boundaries for the protection of clients in all aspects of professional relationships. Boundary violations include sexual misconduct (see Principle VIII: Sexual Misconduct) and other misuse and abuse of the registrants power. Non-sexual boundary violations may include emotional, physical, social and financial violations. College registrants shall not engage in situations in which College registrants ought reasonably to have known that the client would be at risk in any way. College registrants shall not have professional relationships or provide services to clients while the College registrant is in a conflict of interest. College registrants shall achieve this by: 

(i) evaluating professional relationships and other situations involving clients or former clients for potential conflicts of interest and seeking consultation to assist in identifying and dealing with such potential conflicts of interest; 

(ii) avoiding conflicts of interest and/or dual relationships with clients or former clients, or with students, employees and supervisees, that could impair the College registrants’ professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation or harm to clients; and 

(iii) declaring a conflict of interest should it arise and taking appropriate steps to address it and eliminate the conflict.

2.2.2 A College registrant is in a “conflict of interest” when they have a personal, financial or professional interest or obligation that may influence how they carry out their professional responsibilities. A conflict of interest may be actual or perceived, the latter meaning that a reasonable person, informed of all the circumstances, would have significant concerns about the College registrants’ ability to be objective. A mere possibility or suspicion of influence does not in itself create a conflict of interest. 

2.2.3 A dual relationship exists when, in addition to the professional relationship, the College registrant has a past, present, or subsequent familial, social, financial, supervisory or other relationship with the client. A dual relationship does not necessarily constitute a conflict of interest, but when present, it creates the strong possibility that an actual or perceived conflict of interest will arise. 

While dual relationships should be avoided wherever possible, there may be some circumstances where the registrant has an ethical obligation to provide professional services, including when: 

i) there is no other professional available to provide the services; 

ii) the College registrant possesses unique attributes or specialized skills, and/or services are required and are not otherwise available; or 

iii) the client is at risk of harm without the College registrant’s professional services. 

In all such instances, the College registrant shall seek supervision and document their decision; documentation should include how they used their professional judgment in developing their plan to maintain boundaries and ensure that the client understands the parameters of the professional relationship. This includes engaging in discussions with clients regarding the management of contacts outside the professional context. 

2.2.4 College registrants shall not have sexual relations with clients (See Principle VIII: Sexual Misconduct).

2.2.5 College registrants shall not provide social work or social service work services to individuals with whom they are having sexual relations (including but not limited to someone with whom the registrant is in a sexual and/or spousal and/or romantic relationship.)

2.2.6 College registrants shall not use information obtained during a professional relationship, and do not use their professional position of authority, to coerce, improperly influence, harass, abuse or exploit a client, former client, student, trainee, employee, colleague or research subject.

2.2.7 College registrants shall not solicit or use information from clients to acquire, either directly or indirectly, advantage or material benefits.

2.2.8 When a complaint investigation is underway or a matter has been referred to the Discipline Committee or the Fitness to Practise Committee, College registrants shall co-operate fully with all policies and procedures of the Complaints, Discipline and Fitness to Practise Committees, and conduct themselves in a manner which demonstrates respect for both the complainant and the College.

2.2.9 College registrants shall recognize that they are in a position of influence with respect to witnesses and/or complainants in complaint, discipline and fitness to practise proceedings and shall not interfere with witnesses and/or complainants.

2.2.10 College registrants shall not engage in the practice of social work or social service work, 

i) while under the influence of any substance, or 

ii) while suffering from illness, condition or disorder, which the registrant knows or ought reasonably to know impairs the registrants ability to practise.

2.2.11 College registrants shall not misrepresent professional qualifications, education, experience or affiliation. (See also Principle VI: Fees and Principle VII: Advertising and Communications.)

2.2.12 College registrants shall avoid conduct in their social work or social service work practice which could reasonably be perceived as reflecting negatively on the professions of social work or social service work.

2.2.13 College registrants shall conduct themselves professionally, behaving at all times with civility, respect and fairness toward others, while respecting diversity of opinion and differences in perspective. 

2.2.14 College registrants shall promote equity, inclusion and belonging in their work with clients and shall advocate for social change that challenges systemic oppression and seeks to eliminate implicit bias. College registrants shall approach all aspects of their work with humility (including cultural humility) and recognize how privilege and power imbalances affect policies and practice and impact clients. 

2.2.15 College registrants educate themselves on the role that the social work and social service work professions have played in perpetuating harm against Indigenous peoples, and demonstrate their understanding that Indigenous clients and Indigenous College registrants did not contribute to the damaging effects of colonization.

2.2.16 College registrants shall strive to enhance the capacity of clients to address their own needs. College registrants shall assist clients to access necessary information, services and resources wherever possible, and shall promote and facilitate client participation in decision-making.

2.2.17 Where the client is competent and able to give instruction, advocacy shall be at the direction of the client.

2.2.18 If there is a conflict between the College’s standards of practice and a College registrant’s work environment, the College registrant’s obligation is to the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

2.2.19 College registrants shall promote workplace conditions and policies that are consistent with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers’ Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and use professional judgment in determining how to do so. Advocacy may include documenting and discussing concerns with a supervisor or manager, or other key person in the organization.