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Professional Conduct

The Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is a professional program providing a pathway to professional practice. While actively pursuing the MSW degree, you are required to act in a manner that supports the profession of social work. As such, you are required to conduct yourself in a manner that is consistent with professional Codes of Ethics (Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers and the Canadian Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics).

Incoming students are required to sign the Faculty of Social Work Student Declaration, which outlines your obligation to follow university policies and procedures both on campus and in your field placements and outlines your commitment to remain familiar with and conduct yourself in accordance with the Codes of Ethics of the social work profession. In addition, the Faculty of Social Work Procedures for the Review of Students’ Professional Behaviour aims to set out a process intended to provide guidelines that will enhance the faculty’s ability to identify behaviours that suggest a student may require assistance in order to meet current standards of professional social work practice.

Faculty of Social Work Student Declaration

The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) Code of Ethics sets forth values and principles to guide social workers’ professional conduct. This Code cannot guarantee ethical behaviour. Ethical behaviour comes from a social worker’s individual commitment to engage in ethical practice. As a student in the Faculty of Social Work, it is essential that students learning and practicing social work skills do so in accordance with the professional Code of Ethics. According to the CASWE Code of Ethics, social workers uphold the following core social work values and principles:

Value 1: Respect for Inherent Dignity and Worth of Persons

Principles:

  • Social workers respect the unique worth and inherent dignity of all people and uphold human rights.
  • Social workers uphold each person’s right to self-determination, consistent with that person’s capacity and with the rights of others.
  • Social workers respect the diversity among individuals in Canadian society and the right of individuals to their unique beliefs consistent with the rights of others.
  • Social workers respect the client’s right to make choices based on voluntary, informed consent.
  • Social workers who have children as clients determine the child’s ability to consent and where appropriate, explain to the child and to the child’s parents/guardians, the nature of the social worker’s relationship to the child.
  • Social workers uphold the right of society to impose limitations on the self-determination of individuals, when such limitations protect individuals from self-harm and from harming others.
  • Social workers uphold the right of every person to be free from violence and threat of violence.
  • Social workers advocate for aboriginal relationships and communities.

Value 2: Pursuit of Social Justice

Principles:

  • Social workers uphold the right of people to have access to resources to meet basic human needs.
  • Social workers advocate for fair and equitable access to public services and benefits.
  • Social workers advocate for equal treatment and protection under the law and challenge injustices, especially injustices that affect the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
  • Social workers promote social development and environmental management in the interests of all people.

Value 3: Service to Humanity

Principles:

  • Social workers place the needs of others above self-interest when acting in a professional capacity.
  • Social workers strive to use the power and authority vested in them as professionals in responsible ways that serve the needs of clients and the promotion of social justice.
  • Social workers promote individual development and pursuit of individual goals, as well as the development of a just society.
  • Social workers use their knowledge and skills in bringing about fair resolutions to conflict and in assisting those affected by conflict.  

Value 4: Integrity of Professional Practice

Principles:

  • Social workers demonstrate and promote the qualities of honesty, reliability, impartiality and diligence in their professional practice.
  • Social workers demonstrate adherence to the values and ethical principles of the profession and promote respect for the profession’s values and principles in organizations where they work or with which they have a professional affiliation.
  • Social workers establish appropriate boundaries in relationships with clients and ensure that the relationship serves the needs of clients.
  • Social workers value openness and transparency in professional practice and avoid relationships where their integrity or impartiality may be compromised, ensuring that should a conflict of interest be unavoidable, the nature of the conflict is fully disclosed.  

Value 5: Confidentiality in Professional Practice

Principles:

  • Social workers respect the importance of the trust and confidence placed in the professional relationship by clients and members of the public.
  • Social workers respect the client’s right to confidentiality of information shared in a professional context.
  • Social workers only disclose confidential information with the informed consent of the client or permission of client’s legal representative.
  • Social workers may break confidentiality and communicate client information without permission when required or permitted by relevant laws, court order or this Code.
  • Social workers demonstrate transparency with respect to limits to confidentiality that apply to their professional practice by clearly communicating these limitations to clients early in their relationship.  

Value 6: Competence in Professional Practice

Principles:

  • Social workers uphold the right of clients to be offered the highest quality service possible.
  • Social workers strive to maintain and increase their professional knowledge and skill.
  • Social workers demonstrate due care for client's interests and safety by limiting professional practice to areas of demonstrated competence.
  • Social workers contribute to the ongoing development of the profession and its ability to serve humanity, where possible, by participating in the development of current and future social workers and the development of new professional knowledge.
  • Social workers who engage in research minimize risks to participants, ensure informed consent, maintain confidentiality and accurately report the results of their studies.

Faculty of Social Work Procedures for the Review of Students’ Professional Behaviour

Preamble

The procedures outlined in this document for the review of students’ professional behaviour are meant to address the following accreditation standards of the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE; Standards for Accreditation, August, 2014):

  • SB/M 2.4.4 The academic unit has a policy requiring that the performance of professional responsibilities of social work students be in accordance with the relevant social work codes of ethics.
  • SB/M 2.4.5 The academic unit has a policy regarding the professional suitability of the student for the profession of social work. Students are made aware that serious or repeated violations of the Code of Ethics put them at risk of exclusion from the program on the basis of professional unsuitability.

Students will be advised through the course calendar, program marketing materials and during their first week of classes that they are expected to adhere to professional Codes of Ethics (Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers [OCSWSSW] and the Canadian Association [CASW] Code of Ethics) (collectively, the “Codes of Ethics”).

This behavioural expectation applies to:

  1. Conduct that occurs on the premises of the university/faculty or its affiliated or federal colleges;
  2. Conduct that occurs at a university/faculty sanctioned program, event, activity, whether the program, event or activity is on or off-campus;
  3. Conduct that occurs off-campus,
    • i) When the individual is acting as a designated representative of the university/faculty or a student organization affiliated with the university/faculty or when the individual holds out that they are a representative of the university/faculty or a representative/member of a student organization affiliated with the university/faculty;
    • ii) When the individual is participating in a course-related activity including but not limited to a field placement where;
    • iii) That has, or might reasonably be seen to have an adverse effect on, interfere with, or threaten the proper functioning of the university/faculty, its mission, its reputation, the rights of a member of the university community to use and enjoy the university’s learning and work environments;
    • iv) That has, or might reasonably be seen to have an adverse effect on, interfere with, or threaten the proper functioning of the placement agency, its mission, its reputation, the rights of staff, and the vulnerable individuals, families and communities served.

Students are required to sign a statement agreeing to adhere to professional Codes of Ethics. It is important that students review and remain familiar with the professional Codes of Ethics and relevant university policies that address student conduct and behaviour.

Outlined below are procedures to address concerns regarding students’ behaviours that are not consistent with the Codes of Ethics and to provide students with a clear set of behavioural expectations with respect to compliance with the Codes of Ethics. Students are also expected to comply with other university policies, procedures and guidelines. Processes for dealing with breaches of those documents are set out therein.

In professional programs such as social work, the academic program includes both professional and scholastic components. This procedure is intended to set out a process to address behaviour in a way that attempts to balance the commitment of the Faculty of Social Work to meet Standards for Accreditation, with the need to support and assist students, and the obligation to prepare students for social work roles in which they will have responsibility for, and can directly impact, vulnerable individuals, families and communities. This procedure is intended to provide guidelines that will enhance the faculty’s ability to identify behaviours that suggest that a student may require assistance in order to meet current standards of professional social work practice.

Professional Behaviour

Professional behaviour is defined as behaviour that is consistent with the social work Codes of Ethics.

Behaviour that May Result in a Review

Student reviews can occur under any of the following circumstances:

Breaches of any of the Codes of Ethics (as defined above) in the learning environment, at a university/faculty affiliated sanctioned program, event, or activity and/or in a field placement. 

Reasons for the concern may include, but are not limited to, breaches of the Codes of Ethics, speech or behaviour that contravenes the Ontario Human Rights Code (e.g., discrimination or harassment because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability); breaches of confidentiality; any threat or attempt to physically harm another person; and intimidation or threats to harm another person in non-physical ways.

Note: If the behaviour of concern falls more appropriately under another university policy, including the Student Code of Conduct and Discipline Policy (12.2) or the Non-Academic Student Code of Conduct Policy (12.3), the concern will be addressed under those policies and procedures. The dean or designate will determine which policies and procedures apply.

Assessment Process

Three levels of review can occur in the Faculty of Social Work regarding Professional Behaviour that is not consistent with the Codes of Ethics of the profession of social work. The review and response will depend on the nature of the conduct and the seriousness of the allegation of a breach of Professional Behaviour.

Level One

A Level One review involves a classroom instructor and a student or a field instructor and a student. When either a classroom instructor or a field instructor has concerns about a student’s behaviour as it relates to professional behaviour that instructor will:

  • Give notice of the meeting and topic of discussion.
  • Discuss those concerns directly with the student and seek to work with the student to resolve the concern.
  • Document dates and content of meetings with students.

If a problem arises in the field, the placement instructor will discuss concerns directly with the student and also inform the field advisor following the procedure outlined in the relevant Field Education Manual (BSW or MSW). In many instances, meetings between the parties resolve the concern. However, if the concern is not resolved at Level One or through a series of Level One discussions, the parties will proceed to Level Two. The field advisor is responsible for completing a Field Resolution Report which is provided to the Field Education Office

The Faculty will document discussion and resolution of the meetings at Level One and has the right to retain this record.

Level Two

If a concern is raised by a classroom instructor relating to a student’s conduct in the classroom and it cannot be resolved at Level One, or through a series of Level One discussions, or if that concern is substantial in nature (e.g., breaches of confidentiality, conflicts of interest, etc.), a Level Two review is conducted.

The student will be given written notice in advance of a Level Two meeting which specifies the nature of the concern. This meeting involves the instructor, student, and the relevant associate dean (BSW or MSW). Depending on the nature of the concern, the associate dean may consult with the dean and other university employees who have a need to know in order to provide advice. The student will be presented with the concern and facts supporting the concern and will be given a reasonable opportunity to respond. Students may bring a personal support person with them for all Level Two meetings and will confirm in writing with the associate dean, in advance, the identity of the person who will be accompanying the student. Additional support persons may also attend if required for accessibility support for persons with disabilities.

If a concern arises in the field and cannot be resolved at Level One, or through a series of Level One discussions, or if it is substantial in nature (e.g., breaches of confidentiality, conflicts of interest, etc.), it is the responsibility of the field advisor to inform the field education coordinator of the concern. The field education coordinator will hold a Level Two meeting with the student, the placement instructor and the field advisor. The student will be given written notice in advance of a Level Two meeting which specifies the nature of the concern. The student will be presented with the concern and facts supporting the concern and will be given a reasonable opportunity to respond. Depending on the nature of the concern the field education coordinator may consult with the relevant associate dean and other university employees who have a need to know in order to provide advice. Students may bring a personal support person with them for all Level Two meetings and will confirm in writing with the field education coordinator, in advance, the identity of the support person who will be accompanying the student. Additional support persons may also attend if required for accessibility support for persons with disabilities.

The associate dean (in the case of concerns arising from the classroom) or the field education coordinator (in the case of concerns arising from the field) will determine the nature of the concern, gather sufficient information to determine whether the concern is supported by the evidence and develop a written action plan to address that concern, if one is needed. The determination will be communicated to the student in writing with reasons. No further action may be required, or the student may be asked, in writing, to modify his or her behaviour and/or seek appropriate help. This process is designed to assist students in dealing with identified concerns that have an impact on their performance as a social worker.

The discussions and resolution of the meetings at Level Two will be recorded in writing and the faculty has the right to retain this record.

If the student wishes to appeal the decision of the associate dean or field education coordinator, the student may request a meeting with the dean of the Faculty of Social Work. The student would be responsible for completing a Level Two Appeal Form prior to this meeting. Students may bring a personal support person with them to the appeal meeting and will confirm in writing with the dean, in advance, the identity of the person who will be accompanying the student. Additional support persons may also attend if required for accessibility support for persons with disabilities.

Level Three

When concerns have not been resolved in prior levels and/or where given the seriousness of the concerns and contemplated consequences, the associate dean or the field education coordinator will bring the concerns to the dean of the Faculty of Social Work. The dean will consider the conduct and determine the most appropriate university policy or process to address the issues. The dean may consult with other university staff as appropriate.

Note: Students should consult the undergraduate or graduate academic calendar and Enrolment Services for regulations governing petition and appeals procedures.