Cliff’s Notes – Disciplining a Social Worker
Social workers who are involved in mediation, mediation/arbitration, custody arrangements and parenting coordination will be interested in a recent decision of the Discipline Committee of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers v. D 2019 ONCSWSS8.
The four discipline cases, (heard as one), raised allegations against a senior social worker in his role as an assessor, mediator and parenting coordinator. The very detailed decision resulted in a penalty which included suspension and remediation through both education and mentoring. What is interesting and instructive is the type of conduct that the panel found inappropriate. I have set out a brief version of the conduct that was found to be offside as follows:
(a) The member required the client to sign an agreement containing clauses that protected the member from any action by the client. This was found to be improper as being in the member’s self – interest.
(b) The member made the following statements:
“Men do not have the same bond with the child that the mother has, because the mother is the one who carries a child for nine months and breast-feeds a child“.
“The break – up of the (marriage) was harder on (the ex-wife) than (the client) because (the) ex-wife was female and the primary caregiver and had a stronger bond with the child”.
These statements were ill -founded . The panel felt that the member went well beyond his area of competence and ought to have considered referring the client to another professional.
(c) The member diagnosed the client with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and told him that this would restrict his time with the child. Social workers are not competent to diagnose mental disorders.
(d) The member was critical of the client’s drinking habits (35 drinks a week) and spoke to the client about the health risks of drinking. This, again,was found to be beyond the member’s competence.
(e) The member made recommendations about involving a child in sports activities and talked about the child’s fine- motor and gross-motor skills. He had the child do some simple physical tests. The panel found that the member‘s findings in this area were not supported by a credible body of social work knowledge.
(f) The member made comments about children with whom he did not meet that were not based on a credible body of social world knowledge or sufficient information. He also said that,
(i) all five of a couple’s children were at risk of becoming alcoholics given the description provided by their father of his drinking;
(ii) two girls, age 10 and 12, were at risk of promiscuity as they would realize they could obtain attention (because of missing their parents) through their “breasts and vaginas“;
(iii) The 17-year-old daughter was a “symptom bearer” and acting out the family stress. She was at risk to engage in promiscuous behavior;
(iv) The father would be at risk of having no relationship with his adult children;
(v) The member also offered opinions about a couple’s five year old daughter that were not supported by direct observation (the member had not seen the child) or by a credible body of social work knowledge. The member stated that the child was almost certain to die by suicide by the age of 16 because of family conflict, and the parents were to blame;
(g) The member dismissed a request from one parent that a young child be referred to counselling because he felt it was not necessary for children to speak to counselors. Further he stated that if that child did see a counsellor, a future partner in a relationship would wonder what had been wrong with her.
(h) The member used foul language and told a client to “shut up“. He made disparaging comments about a couple’s parenting skills and told them they were not qualified to babysit his dog. The panel found that the member used his position to harass and abuse his clients;
(i) The member dominated meetings and drew conclusions based on insufficient evidence. He was condescending and did not let a client express her views;
An application was filed with the Superior Court and the member was removed as a mediator/arbitrator because the Court found a reasonable apprehension of bias. The panel found that this reflected negatively on the profession and undermined the public’s confidence in the profession.
Although the member characterized himself as plain-spoken and having a strong personal style, the panel determined that he was inappropriate, abusive and insulting towards clients. He showed blatant disregard for clients and was disrespectful;
The case sets out the specific regulations and provisions of the governing legislation that the member breached. The decision is quite detailed. I have reported the basic factual findings of the panel so, as stated earlier, you can readily see when lines of conduct are crossed.