About the College’s Complaints Process

It’s our goal to ensure the public receives the services of proficient and competent social workers of high ethical standards. The College’s complaints process protects the public by assessing and responding to concerns and complaints about the conduct of our members.

If a member’s registration is revoked or suspended for disciplinary reasons, the College is required to publish a summary of this decision. (Information subject to a publication ban will be omitted or redacted.) Visit our decisions and outcomes page to read summaries published since December 2020. Published decisions are also included in the public registry.

Any Nova Scotian may make a complaint about the conduct of a Nova Scotia social worker who is registered with the NSCSW.

Before filing a complaint

Before filing a formal complaint to the College about a social worker, you may wish to discuss your concerns directly with the social worker or the employer. This can often be the best and fastest way of resolving your concerns.

If your concerns still cannot be addressed, please review all the information below before filing a complaint:

For comprehensive information about the College’s complaints process, please consult:

Types of Complaints

A complaint may be based off professional misconduct, incompetence, a breach of the Code of Ethics or conduct unbecoming.

Professional misconduct which includes conduct or acts relevant to the social work profession that, regarding all circumstances, would reasonably be regarded as disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional. This may include but is not limited to:

      • contravening the Social Workers Act, regulations or by-laws
      • failing to maintain the Standards of Practice of social work
      • failing to uphold the Code of Ethics adopted by the College
      • abusing a person verbally, physically, emotionally or sexually
      • misappropriating personal property or other property belonging to a client or a member’s employer
      • failing to exercise appropriate discretion in respect of the disclosure of confidential information
      • falsifying records

Incompetence which is a social worker’s display of lack of knowledge, skill or judgement in the respondent’s delivery of social work services that, having regard to all the circumstances, rendered the respondent unsafe to practise at the time of such delivery of social work services or that renders the respondent unsafe to continue in practice without remedial assistance.

Conduct unbecoming by a Registered Social Worker, a Registered Social Worker Candidate or a Registered Social Worker (Provisional) is conduct outside the practice of social work that tends to bring discredit upon the social work profession.

The Complaints Committee

The Complaints Committee – a subcommittee of the Board of Examiners –  examines complaints and ensures public safety by using the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice as the guidepost to conduct fair, consistent, and transparent processes for complaints. There is complex work, expertise, and care that goes into investigating and mitigating complaints.

Frequently Asked Questions

Filing a Complaint

A complaint is an expression of concern about the conduct or actions of a social worker – registered member with the College – related to the care provided or other aspects of the professional relationship. Complaints often allege that the social worker did not meet the standards expected by the College, other members of the profession and/or the public.

The College only has jurisdiction to investigate complaints submitted that relate to the conduct of a member of the College.

The College may deal with a complaint about a former College member concerning conduct that occurred while they were a member.

There is no time limit to make a complaint. However, delaying submitting complaint may impact upon the College’s ability to meaningfully consider the complaint. For example, a lengthy delay may cause relevant documents or witnesses to become unavailable and may impact on the investigation and consideration of the complaint.

If you have a concern regarding the practice or conduct of a social worker we suggest that you first attempt to address your concerns directly with the social worker, agency and/or employer if applicable. This is usually the most direct way to address your concerns.

If this is not possible or successful, you may wish to file a complaint with the College.

Please review the Complaints Process prior to filing a complaint.  

Complaints filed with the College must be made in writing through the College’s online complaint form.

Separate complaints must be filed for each member.

Please include the following in your complaint:

  • your name (the person making the complaint);
  • your contact information including telephone number, address and email address;
  • the member’s name who is the subject of the complaint, or, if the member’s name is not known provide enough details so the College can determine the name of the member;

Your statement regarding the conduct or actions of the member of the College should provide sufficient details to identify the concerns of the person making the complaint, including;

  • a description of the conduct or actions of the member of the College giving rise to the complaint, including a brief explanation of the context under which it occurred; and,
  • the date(s), time(s), and place(s) of the event or events giving rise to the complaint, if known.

A complaint may contain other relevant information which may assist in the investigation of the complaint, including but not limited to, the names and contact information of any witnesses to the alleged conduct of concern or relevant documents.

If you provide documents, you must provide a description of the documents and indicate how they relate to your complaint. If you do not provide an explanation about how each document relates to your concerns, your documents may be returned to you and will not be considered as part of your complaint.

No. The College cannot process or dispose of a complaint unless the member complained against has been provided an opportunity to fully respond to the complaint. This includes knowledge of the identity of the individual making the complaint.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Complaints Process

Yes, with a few exceptions. Any relevant information or documents you share with us will also be shared with the other party to the complaint.

Both the Complainant (person filing complaint) and the College member (social worker) have a chance to respond to the information that will be reviewed by the Complaints Committee.

Although the College aims to maintain confidentiality in all its investigations, there are occasions when information or documents you provide to us may be disclosed to other people. For instance, information may need to be provided to an individual we contact in the course of the investigation so that we can get a statement or documentation from them.

However, if the complaint is referred to the Discipline Committee, any documents or information you supplied throughout the course of a complaint investigation may be used at a discipline hearing which are open to the public.

You may choose to obtain legal advice or representation, but it is not required.

The Complaints Committee meets to review and consider each complaint. Before considering the complaint, the Committee reviews all the correspondence and information presented to it as well as any further relevant information that the Committee independently obtained.

Once the College’s Complaints Committee confirms that the person is a Registered Social Worker or a Social Worker Candidate, the Committee will review the complaint.

  • If the Complaints Committee determines that the complaint is not within the jurisdiction of the Social Workers Act to investigate, then you will be notified of this decision and the complaint will be closed.
  • If the complaint can be investigated, then you will be informed of this decision.
  • A copy of the written complaint will be forwarded to the member who is complained against and the member (social worker) is given at least three weeks to respond.
  • Correspondence is shared with both the member and complainant is shared with each other respectively.

The Complaints Committee may offer you the option of mediation to attempt to resolve the complaint. You are not obligated to accept mediation. If mediation resolves the complaint, the complaint is closed.

If the Complaints Committee investigates and determines that there is a violation of the Social Workers Act, Code of Ethics, or Standard of Practice the Complaints Committee may direct that the complaint be dealt with by:

  • dismissing the complaint and providing any useful guidance to the complainant, the respondent (social worker) or any other people associated with the complaint;
  • informally resolving the complaint;
  • counseling the respondent (social worker);
  • with the respondent’s (social worker’s) consent, order that they receive a reprimand, or that they undergo any necessary treatment or re-education and/or;
  • if the complaint or complaints before the Committee warrant a discipline hearing, it will
    be referred to the Discipline Committee

(as identified under section 29(2) of the Social Workers Act)

We aim to address all complaints in a timely and efficient manner while ensuring that each complaint is dealt with fairly and balances the rights of the complainant and the member (social worker).

The time required to address the complaint also is determined by the nature and complexity of the complaint.

Frequently Asked Questions

Discipline Committee 

When the complaint is referred to the Discipline Committee, there is a hearing. The member (social worker) is notified in writing of the time and place for the hearing as well as the specific allegations. The members and the Board both attend the hearing.

After the Complaints Committee refers the complaint to the Discipline Committee and before the disciplinary hearing, the member (social worker) may propose, in writing, a settlement agreement.

This settlement agreement may or may not be accepted by the Discipline Committee

The Discipline Committee includes of five members. Four of the members are also on the Board of Examiners. One of the four must be a non-social worker appointed by the Governor in Council who is not a social worker. The fifth member must be a social worker in good standing with the College.

A hearing typically takes place at the College’s office in Halifax (1888 Brunswick Street) and all efforts are made to schedule the hearing at a time that is convenient to all parties.

The hearing is presided over by the Chair of the Discipline Committee who is appointed by the Board of Examiners.

At a discipline hearing, the Discipline Committee listens to all of the evidence presented

After the hearing, the Committee meets privately to consider the evidence. They consider the relevant facts of the complaint and may find evidence to prove that the member (social worker) is guilty of incompetence, misconduct, conduct unbecoming or in violation of the Code of Ethics.

If there is a finding against the member, the Committee must consider sanctions that will be applied. When they’ve made their decision, the Committee will prepare written reasons to support their decision.

These decisions may be made immediately after the hearing but if this is not possible, the Committee must arrange for a further meeting and come to a decision on the matter. When the decision and the reasons are prepared the member and the complainant are notified in writing.

If the Committee finds that the allegations of the complaint have not been proved, then the complaint is dismissed.

If the Committee finds that the allegations have been proved in whole or in part, it may find that the member is guilty of incompetence, misconduct, conduct unbecoming or a violation of the Code of Ethics and impose one or more of the following sanctions:

  • Revoke the member’s right to practice.
  • Suspend the member’s right to practice for a limited period of time.
  • Impose undertakings, conditions, and limitations on the member’s right to practice.
  • Reprimand or counsel the member.
  • Revoke or suspend the member’s right to practice in their specialty.
  • Impose a fine.
  • Repay or reduce the fees charged by the member.
  • Publish the order of the Committee in the official publication of the Association.
  • Fix the costs of the proceedings to be paid by the member.


Please contact the College’s Regulatory & Candidacy Consultant, Valerie Heard, at valerie.heard@nscsw.org.