Social worker regulatory college heard 9 complaints in 1st year

In its first year of operations, the Manitoba College of Social Workers fielded nine complaints of unprofessional conduct against social workers.

Concerns persist over some workers not being required to register with the college

In its first year of regulating the profession, the Manitoba College of Social Workers received 9 complaints about professional misconduct. (Costea Andrea M/Shutterstock)

In its first year of operations, the Manitoba College of Social Workers fielded nine complaints of unprofessional conduct against social workers.

Of the nine complaints outlined in the college's annual report for 2015-16, two resulted in action taken by the complaints committee involving the social worker.

College registrar Barb Temmerman told CBC News that one case dealt with concerns about a social worker's terms of service and fee schedule, as well as the social worker's level of supervision.

The complaints committee entered into an agreement establishing a formal service contract and fee schedule for the social worker, the report said. It also said that agreement was on hold pending the complainants' appeal to the board of directors.

A second case was about concerns regarding the level of skill and knowledge a social worker applied in planning an intervention with a client. The report said the committee was satisfied the social worker had addressed the concerns through actions such as additional training and supervision.

The remainder of the nine complaints included two that were not yet concluded, two that were dismissed and one in which the complainant's information was incomplete, the report said.

In two other cases, the complaints committee did not have jurisdiction to investigate because the practitioners were not registered social workers at the time of the alleged unprofessional conduct.

The issue of who is required to register with the college has been controversial. The Social Work Profession Act came into force April 1, 2015 requiring anyone who uses the job title "social worker" to register with the college.

There are now more than 2,100 social workers registered with the college — up from about 1,100 members under the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers, the voluntary regulatory body that preceded the college.

But Temmerman said there are still an unknown number of practitioners who do social work for the provincial government but who are not being required to register with the college. She said that's because the former NDP government made a decision to exempt those workers.
There is still confusion in the public over who is required to be registered as a social worker, said Barb Temmerman, registrar of the Manitoba College of Social Workers. (EB2 Image Design Research/Barb Temmerman)

"We know that right now the public is confused about who is a social worker and who is required to be registered," Temmerman said. She said the college wants the current government to amend the Social Work Profession Act to make it clear anyone who practices in the field will have to register, whether or not their job title is social worker.

"It's about public accountability and the public interest," said Temmerman.

It was also a key recommendation in 2014 by retired judge Ted Hughes from the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry that looked into the death of the five-year-old girl. Phoenix Sinclair was killed by her mother and her mother's boyfriend despite the child's involvement with the Child and Family Services system.

Hughes found that 27 social workers and supervisors played a role in relation to Phoenix's family during her life.

He recommended that anyone who practices social work, whatever their job title, be registered by the college. 

"I still feel very much the same way," Hughes said from his home in British Columbia. "If they're doing social work — and that would include providing the care and oversight and attention to children that are the government's responsibility... they should be registered with the college and subject to the college's process for complaint and discipline."
"It's wrong, it's inept," that some people doing social work are not being required to register with the College of Social Workers, said retired judge Ted Hughes. (CBC)

"It's a serious matter because there are people taking charge of those kids that are in government care who aren't subject to the regulations of the college," he said.

"It's wrong, it's inept," he said.

The minister responsible for the Social Work Profession Act, Scott Fielding, said his government hasn't made a decision yet on amending the law.

"It's something we would always be open to considering," he said. "We'll have to have discussions with them and other stakeholders before we make any decisions on that."

"We do want to listen to what they say and how the current legislation is handled," said Fielding.
Minister of Families Scott Fielding said he'll consult with stakeholders before deciding whether to amend the Social Work Profession Act. (CBC)

Temmerman said under the circumstances, there is still a need for members of the public to ask whether the person they may be receiving social work services from is indeed registered.

"They have every right to ask that person, 'Are you registered with the college'?  'Who am I receiving services from?' I'm not sure that the public knows to ask that question right now."

For the complaints that have been received so far by the college, the complaints committee report provides almost no detail about what happened in each case.

The cases have not been grievous enough to warrant censure of the social worker or be sent for a formal hearing to the college's inquiry committee, Temmerman said. 

Temmerman said the legislation provides guidance on what information can be made public, but the college's board will consider whether it needs a specific policy on publishing the findings related to complaints and discipline.

Temmerman said she's pleased with what the college has been able to accomplish since its beginning in April 2015.

"We're making steps forward and every step is worth taking," Temmerman said.

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