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 registrants 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 and regulations outline 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, organisations, 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 registrants of the OCSWSSW 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 registrant must be in good standing with the OCSWSSW. 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 registrants of the OCSWSSW are authorised to perform the controlled act of “treating by means of psychotherapy technique” as long as such registrants are in compliance with certain conditions as described by the OCSWSSW. Social service workers may also choose to use the title “psychotherapist”, in compliance with conditions as described by the OCSWSSW.

Are social service workers qualified?

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) or equivalent academic institution. This program is two years in length or approximately 4-5 semesters. Private career colleges offering programs titled social service worker, or other similar title, are not approved by the regulator and do not lead to registration with the OCSWSSW in Ontario.

Social service work students normally receive 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 intensive, 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 practical, qualified and ready to serve Ontario and Canada. Social service workers are 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 care and service 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 issues our clients, families and communities face. If you are looking for a challenge and a rewarding career serving a variety of ages and populations, this career may be for you.

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, dual registrants of the OCSWSSW, 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 varies. 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 ($30,280) per year, to the higher end of $35.71 per hour or ($74,386) per year in Ontario as of 2023. 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 $25.50 per hour or ($53,040) per year in 2023.

The associations salary position statement intends to validate 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 recognises, in the community services (non-profit) 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 with recommended minimum social service worker compensation threshold, for specifically the community services sector. Please note the association cannot regulate, control, or enforce salaries.

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 strongly encouraged to be transparent in posting their entire wage scale, in their position advertisements to prevent discrimination (gender-based, racial etc.). Compensation should increasingly scale upwards based upon inflation rates and also based upon performance and experience. Compensation as well may need to shift to correlate to the overall expenses of housing, nutrition, child care etc. Please note* Overall expenses may be more in particular rural, remote, Indigenous, or other specific communities. Employers in these circumstances are advised to consult with an employment advisor. The association encourages employers to strive to exceed the recommended threshold when possible.

  • *Small sized communities in Ontario 2024 populations centres under 99,999 people: community service employers are recommended to compensate social service workers (entry-level graduates) at the minimum rate of $25.50 per hour or ($53,040) per year based upon a 40-hour work week.
  • Medium sized communities in Ontario 2024 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 $28.50 per hour or ($59,280) per year based upon a 40-hour work week.
  • Large sized communities in Ontario 2024 population centres over 500,000: community service employers are recommended to compensate social service workers (entry-level graduates) at the minimum rate of $30.50 per hour or ($63,440) per year based upon a 40-hour work week.

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 welfare’ which would then transition to a new title by the 1970’s titled ‘social services’ with the final and current renaming of the program, and profession, to social service work by the mid 1980’s and fully by the early 1990’s.

  • 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 in 2013, which continues to house the association. In 2024, the association formally separated from Georgian College of Applied Arts & Technology as an independent 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.
  • In 2021, the Ontario Social Service Worker Association recognises it has a responsibility and mandate not only for Ontario, but for all of Canada and repositions it’s activities and work to support social service workers, nationwide.
  • In 2022, the Ontario Social Service Worker Association would celebrate its first social service worker week to be celebrated the second full week of March annually.

Is practice liability Insurance necessary for Social Service Workers?

It is highly recommended. Social service workers operate in dynamic practice areas where risk and liability are ever-present. While some social service workers may have insurance coverage through their employers, it’s crucial to understand that such coverage often falls short of comprehensively protecting their practice. To address this gap, the Ontario Social Service Worker Association (OSSWA) has partnered with ProLink to offer tailored practice liability insurance products designed specifically for the unique needs of social service workers. Similarly, the Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) has endorsed ProLink for its members.

ProLink boasts a track record of understanding the nuanced needs and risks faced by social workers and social service workers. Importantly, the partnership between OSSWA and ProLink is not financially motivated.

Members are encouraged to explore external insurance companies and products at their own discretion. While external insurance products may offer coverage for aspects such as ‘mental health practice, counseling, psychotherapy,’ it’s essential for members to carefully review these policies with legal counsel before making a commitment. This ensures that the policies adequately cover all aspects of their social service work practice, which extends beyond any specific skill or practice area.

Additionally, when comparing insurance brokers, it’s vital to ensure that they are fully attuned to the needs of social service workers and provide the legal benefits and protections offered in a policy provided by ProLink.

Why is there a Social Service Work week in Ontario?

To recognise the critical contributions of social service workers. As we celebrate Social Service Work Week, it’s crucial to delve into the significance of this dedicated time to honour and recognize the invaluable contributions of social service workers. This annual observance serves as a poignant reminder of the vital role social service workers play in our communities and the impact they have on individuals and society. Social service work week is the second week of March annually, which proceeds after social work week (the first week of March annually).

Social Service Work Week was initiated by and continues to be led and sponsored through the Ontario Social Service Worker Association. Social service work week provides a platform to highlight the diverse and often challenging work undertaken by social service workers. From supporting vulnerable populations to advocating for social justice, these dedicated individuals tirelessly strive to improve the lives of others. Whether they are working in child welfare, mental health services, substance abuse counseling, or community development, social service workers are on the front lines, providing essential support to those in need.

Moreover, Social Service Work Week serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about the issues facing social service workers themselves. Despite their indispensable contributions, social service workers often encounter significant challenges, including heavy workloads, limited resources, and exposure to emotional stress and burnout. By shining a spotlight on these challenges during Social Service Work Week, we can foster greater understanding and support for the well-being of these essential professionals.

In essence, Social Service Work Week is a time to celebrate, honour, and support the remarkable efforts of social service workers. It serves as a reminder of the profound impact they have on society and underscores the importance of their professional services. As we commemorate Social Service Work Week, let us express our gratitude to these dedicated individuals and reaffirm our commitment to supporting their vital work now and in the future.