What is social service work?

Social service work is a profession. It is one of two professions, including social work. Both professions are regulated by the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). Only members of the college, in their respective registration class of social service work, are permitted by law, to refer to themselves as a social service worker, and/or registered social service worker (RSSW). The college bylaw outlines the social service work scope of practice as the following:

  • assessment, treatment, and evaluation of individual, interpersonal, and societal problems through the use of social service work knowledge, skills, interventions, and strategies to assist individuals, dyads, families, groups, organizations, and communities to achieve optimum social functioning.

Social service workers are working in a range of settings, from group homes and shelters to income maintenance and youth programs. Social service workers help clients in dealing with personal and social problems by delivering counselling, community services and social support programs. Social service workers are practising in almost all human service settings, with a variety of ages and populations.

What else can they do?

Social service workers can do a lot. In fact, social service workers are usually educated in their college education as generalists. This allows social service workers to work in almost all human service settings, with a variety of ages, populations and communities. In terms of other activities permitted by law, social service workers are able to do the following:

  • social service work members of the college may serve as a guarantor on an application for an Ontario birth certificate. In accordance with the regulation made under the Ontario Vital Statistics Act, the member must be a member in good standing with the College. In addition, the guarantor must be a Canadian citizen who has known the applicant personally for at least two years and is confident that the statements made by the applicant are true.
  • social service work members of the college are authorized to perform the controlled act of “treating by means of psychotherapy technique”. Social service workers may also choose to use the title “psychotherapist”, in compliance with certain conditions as described by the OCSWSSW.

Are social service workers educated?

Absolutely. Social service workers are college educated professionals. The formal post-secondary training for a social service worker is a diploma from an approved social service worker program, offered at a public College of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT). This program is two years in length or approximately 4-5 semesters.

Social service work students receive usually no less than 1200 hours of formal post-secondary academic instruction. In addition, students receive approximately 600+ hours of experiential learning. Thus, students will graduate with approximately 2000 hours of intense, post-secondary training. The Ministry of Colleges and Universities, outline the social service work diploma program instructional standards, through ten specific vocational learning outcomes.

Are RSSWs needed in Ontario?

More than ever. Social service workers are highly trained, practical and diverse in both their skills and knowledge. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a variety of helping professionals, increased dramatically. Social service workers are part of the backbone, that upholds our increasingly complex, social service and care system. Social service workers are on the front-lines, everyday. If it be in our shelters, homeless care, addiction and mental health services, long-term care facilities, social supports, public hospitals, employment services, schools or counselling care. Wherever social service workers may be, they are in tune with the challenges and barriers our clients, families and communities face.

How do I choose a social service work college program?

Choose one that speaks to you. Social service work diploma programs are offered by Ontario’s public college system, ‘Colleges of Applied Arts & Technology.’ There are 24 colleges that provide the social service work program in Ontario. The vast majority of social service work programs are delivered with instruction in English. However, there are two social service work programs in Ontario, delivered in French instruction. These programs are titled, ‘techniques de travail social’.

Ultimately, all of the public colleges, like universities, have a variety of instructional techniques, that slightly differ from another. However, their overarching outcomes are generally the same. The Ministry of Colleges and Universities outlines the program standards for the delivery of social service work programs. Public colleges must adhere to these standards, in the delivery of their social service work programs. There are also social service work training specialities: Indigenous, Immigrants and Refugees and Gerontology.

Can you be both a social service worker and a social worker?

It is possible. There are social service workers, which have continued their formal post-secondary education, and have completed any one, or combination of the following degrees: (bachelor of social work, master of social work, doctor of social work). It is possible to be dually a social service worker, and social worker, by holding a certificate of registration, for each profession, with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, concurrently.

In these cases, dually registered practitioners, may refer to both of their professional titles, such as RSSW (registered social service worker) and RSW (registered social worker). Those who hold dual registration, with the OCSWSSW, may consider becoming a member with both, the Ontario Association of Social Workers’ (OASW) and our association, the Ontario Social Service Worker Association (OSSWA).

What is the average salary for social service workers?

The salary ranges. The Government of Canada job bank, outlines the average salary for social service workers in community services, range from the lowest end, $16.00 per hour or ($30,080) per year, to the higher end of $32.12 per hour or ($60,386) per year in Ontario as of 2021. To note, many public service positions (government) pay more than these posted numbers. The average median salary of social service workers in Ontario was approximately $22.57 per hour or ($42,432) per year in 2021.

The associations position is that every person deserves an income that is fair, equitable, competitive, and meets the individuals overall needs, in the context of their local economy. Social service workers are highly trained, college-educated, regulated and provide critical social services to a variety of vulnerable people and communities, regardless of sector. The association recognizes, in the community services sector, funding is and will always be a challenge. The Market Basket Measure (MBM) in conjunction with the job bank data, from the Government of Canada, was utilized to formulate the associations position, on a minimum social service worker compensation threshold for the community services sector. Employers should consider the nature of work, environment of work and what is considered competitive, in their local economy, when formulating compensation. Employers are additionally encouraged to be transparent in posting their entire wage scale, in their position advertisements.

  • Small sized communities in Ontario 2021 or populations centres under 99,999 people, community service employers are recommended to compensate social service workers (entry-level graduates) at the minimum rate of $22.57 per hour or ($42,432) per year based upon a 40-hour work week. Compensation should increasingly scale upwards based upon inflation rates and also based upon performance and experience. *compensation in some small sized communities, may need to shift to correlate to the overall expenses of housing, nutrition, child care etc. as these overall expenses may be more than medium, or large communities. This is especially true in remote communities.
  • Medium sized communities in Ontario 2021 or population centres from 100,000 to 500,000 people, community service employers are recommended to compensate social service workers (entry-level graduates) at the minimum rate of $23.94 per hour or ($45,000) per year based upon a 40-hour work week. Compensation should increasingly scale upwards based upon inflation rates and also based upon performance and experience.
  • Large sized communities in Ontario 2021 or population centres over 500,000, community service employers are recommended to compensate social service workers (entry-level graduates) at the minimum rate of $26.00 per hour or ($50,000) per year based upon a 40-hour work week. Compensation should increasingly scale upwards based upon inflation rates and also based upon performance and experience.

What is the history of social service work in Ontario?

Our history is born out of need. The profession of social service work, emerged in the mid-to-late 1960’s, in the province of Ontario. The professions emergence was born out of the increased need for qualified practitioners to provide professional social service work activities. These new needs were the outcome of an ever increasingly complex, social welfare system. These needs were also influenced by the expansion of social welfare programs, services and policies of the time.

These overarching needs happened to correspond with the government of Ontario, of the time, passing legislation to establish a new category of post-secondary institution, simply called ‘Colleges of Applied Arts & Technology’. These public colleges would go on to be the exclusive provider of the professions education, delivering the diploma in ‘social services’ program, eventually renaming the program, and profession, to social service work by 1990.

  • In 1998, the Social Work and Social Service Work Act would be established, leading way for the profession to become regulated in 2000, and governed by the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). In 2012, the Ontario Social Service Worker Association would be established at Algonquin College of Applied Arts & Technology, and be later transferred to the care of Georgian College of Applied Arts & Technology, which continues to house the association.
  • By the year 2019, the profession would reach over 3000 social service workers, registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). The profession of social service work, in terms of registrants is larger than each of following regulated professions: midwifery, naturopathy, chiropody/podiatry, dental technology, denturism, forestry, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and a variety of specific professional trades. With all things considered, social service work is a large and growing profession in Ontario!
  • In 2021, the Ontario Social Service Worker Association (OSSWA) would develop and publish its strategic plan. The four overarching themes of the plan would consist of social service work recognition, advocacy, support and empowerment.