Take a moment

Take a breath, and feel your feet underneath you. Feel the breath flowing in and out of your body, and ground yourself through the radiating of love, compassion and empathy that still exists and is all around us during one of the darkest periods in Nova Scotia history. That love, compassion and empathy that is around us is being generated each and every day through you. It is brought to life in the ways that you are supporting vulnerable Nova Scotians who went into this pandemic facing economic, health and social inequities and it is deeply meaningful to all Nova Scotians who are grieving the senseless violence that occurred over the weekend.

What you do matters, and it makes a difference.

What makes each and every one of you so unique and heroic during these times is your capacity to lead through empathy. Not only are you providing professional care to the most vulnerable in Nova Scotia, you are also finding ways to care for your families and your communities.

It’s important to take whatever moments you can find to pause and acknowledge the stress that your hearts, minds and bodies are feeling.  To acknowledge and determine what you need in this situation is an important act of social justice; knowing that that your own well-being matters grounds us in the empathy, values​ and compassion that we share professionally. We can also take a moment to reflect on questions such as: “What do I really want for myself? For the other people around me? For our relationship(s)? For our organizations, and our community?”

Be kind to yourselves. Give yourself as much support as you would give to a friend. Be sure to take care of your body. When you can: drink water, eat healthy, move your body, rest, sleep, and get outside for fresh air and sun.

Strive for a sense of calm. Practice relaxation and coping strategies such as deep breathing, grounding by feeling both feet on the floor, and pausing between tasks for a moment to reset. Support yourself and others to roll with uncertainty and its impact(s). Accept that productivity and “business as usual” is not the same. Provide flexibility in how and when work is completed.

Stay connected. Connect with people both in your personal and work lives through phone calls, virtual meetings, and writing. Know that you are not alone. You have a professional community that is cheering you on, and that is here.

The world may bring deep darkness
But we are the bearers of light
We’ll join our flames together
And shine in the [darkest] of nights

— John Mark Green

Alec Stratford
NSCSW Registrar/Executive Director

Parts of this blog post were written using the resource:
Leading Through COVID-19 Pandemic; For Formal and Informal Leaders. IWK Health Centre. 2020

Transitioning to telepractice

As the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved, many folks have reached out for guidance on best practices for using technology to conduct their social work practice. 

Social workers’ use of technology has created new ways to interact and communicate with clients, raising fundamentally new questions about the meaning of the social worker–client relationship. In addition, social workers use various forms of technology to access, gather, and otherwise manage information about clients. Social workers maintain encrypted electronic records, store sensitive information on their smartphones and in the “cloud,” and have the capacity to search for information about clients using Internet search engines. Social workers use technology in creative ways to address compelling social justice issues, organize communities, administer organizations, and develop social policy. Social workers also explore and develop new technologies for practice and disseminate them with colleagues. 

For further information and clarification please refer to Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice, published by the National College of Social Workers and Association of Social Work Boards.

Preferred platforms and security 

The NSCSW does not recommend one platform over another. Whatever tools you choose for your practice, ensure you are competent in their operation.

Social workers should also be conscious and thinking about security. There have been several reports that programs are being “hacked” and meetings being interrupted. Consider whether you are using a secure internet connection rather than public/free Wi-Fi. It is also important that when you are setting up meetings or sessions with clients that you have your security settings on. Make sure that there are passwords protecting entrance to the conversation, administrative controls on sharing screens are limited, and other functions that allow you as the administrator to control access to who can enter the meeting.

There are a variety of telehealth programs available online. It is important that agencies and social workers do their research to determine the security standards in the platform and what if it meets their general needs. 

Like many regulatory bodies, the NSCSW believes that closed or private paid networks offer better computer security because they are encrypted. However, it is important to keep in mind that any web platform can theoretically be hacked or compromised. It is important for social workers to raise the risks to clients to gain consent to their use in an informed manner. 

Registration in other jurisdictions

It is also important that social workers understand the regulatory requirements of outside jurisdictions, before providing electronic social work services to clients outside of the province. It is the responsibility of each social worker to consult with the social work regulatory body in the jurisdiction in which the client resides to confirm that the social worker is adequately licensed to practice in their client’s place of residence.

Here is the contact information for our counterparts across the country:

  1. Alberta College of Social Workers — 1-800-661-3089
  2. British Columbia College of Social Workers — 1-877-576-6740
  3. Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers — 1-877-517-7279
  4. Manitoba College of Social Workers — 1-844-885-6279
  5. Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Workers — 1-877-828-9380
  6. l’Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec — 1-888-731-9420
  7. New Brunswick Association of Social Workers — 1-877-495-5595
  8. PEI Social Work Registration Board — 902-368-7337
  9. Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers —  709-753-0200

Similarly, social workers from outside Nova Scotia must prove to the NSCSW that they meet specific criteria if they wish to engage in telepractice with clients in our province.

Liability insurance 

It is important that private practitioners and agencies check with their insurance companies to ensure that they have the proper coverage. The CASW’s insurance program through BMS has produced a number of core documents for telehealth practitioners of different issues to consider; 

The BMS team can be reached at casw.insurance@bmsgroup.com.

Training and resources

The NSCSW is working on a number of resources that will allow social workers to share and reflect on their learning using telepractice. Keep checking your newsletter for more details. 

Here are some helpful tools to get you started:

Telemental Health Toolkit

The Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center (UMTRC) produced a video toolkit aimed at helping care providers prepare for using telehealth videoconferencing. The presenter for this series of tutorials is Jonathan Neufeld, PhD, Clinical Director at UMTRC. Jonathan is a psychologist who has worked with clients both in person and via video and shares his expertise throughout this 13-part series.

Practice Notes: Professional and Ethical: Communication Technology Practices and Policies for a Digital World

The Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers developed this practice note on communication technology and social work practice Many social workers and social service workers use communication technologies regularly, as part of their practice. While communication technology may make some aspects of practice easier, it also requires practitioners to remain vigilant in order to ensure that they maintain clear and appropriate professional boundaries and other ethical practices

How to Set Up Your Online Couples Therapy Practice

Developed by the Gottman Institute in the US, this training offers an introduction to the do’s and don’ts of online therapy:

  • Office setting
  • Informed consent
  • Gadgets (camera, microphone, lighting)
  • Maintaining privacy and safety
  • Orienting your clients to online therapy
  • Differences between in-person vs. online therapy

Learn about the software tools available to you for virtually onboarding new clients, scheduling, taking notes, billing, and video conferencing.

Technology Trends: Training Social Workers in Telebehavioral Health Care

Over the past two decades, telebehavioral health care has expanded significantly and is now widely accepted as a legitimate option for providing care. This has been made possible in large part by the availability of high-quality, low-cost, user-friendly digital communication tools.

Current State of COVID-19: Telehealth, Liability, and Business Insurance Considerations

CASW in collaboration with BMS and Gowling WLG provided an overview of coverage considerations in relation to COVID-19 in this online webinar, which is free for NSCSW members. This session may be of interest to any social workers delivering electronic services, and includes important details for private practice clinic owners who purchase Plan 2 in the CASW Liability Insurance Program.

Open Letter: Protecting vulnerable children and youth during COVID-19 pandemic

March 27, 2020

The Honorable Stephen MacNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia
One Government Place
1713 Barrington St
Halifax, NS B3J 2A4

Honourable Kelly Regan, Minister of Community Services
Department of Community Services
8th Floor, Nelson Place 
5675 Spring Garden Road
P.O. Box 696
Halifax, NS B3J 2T7

Dr. Rob Strang, Chief Medical Officer of Health
17th Floor, Barrington Tower
1894 Barrington St.
P.O. Box 488
Halifax, NS B3J 2R8

Re: Protecting vulnerable children and youth during COVID-19 pandemic

Dear Premier MacNeil, Minister Regan and Dr. Strang,

The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, like many in our province, is particularly concerned about vulnerable children and youth during this time of crisis. We are asking that the province implement the following steps to ensure that vulnerable children, youth and their families are protected throughout these unsettling times.

  • Ensure the Department of Community Services website is up to date with all COVID-19 news and with details on what program service providers and users can expect from the department;
  • expedite the return of children to parents where there is already a plan in the works to return the child to the parent;
  • the province pays any and all emergency or enhanced Canada Child Benefits (CCB) and work with the federal government so the province recoups this cost and this burden is not placed on vulnerable families, to be without this crucial income;
  • place a moratorium on youth aging out of care while we are in this state emergency;
  • for families who are accessing income assistance, dispense with the board rate and increase the Standard Household Rate (SHR) to ensure families receive 100% of the Market Basket Measure (MBM) for poverty (inclusive of other income supports);
  • expand the current COVID-19 eviction policy into a moratorium on all applications for vacant possession of residential premises and a halt on all pending eviction orders until at least June 1, 2020; and
  • provide short-term motel stays to everyone on the priority access waiting list for public housing. 

We want to make sure that during this unsettling time the province is doing everything in its power to ensure that children and youth are maintaining important bonds and attachment with their parents, that vulnerable families have the resources they need to self-isolate and practice social distancing and that social workers have the tools to provide the professional care to vulnerable children, youth and families in their time of great need. 

We believe that in this moment of need we must expedite the return of children to parents where there is already a plan in the works to return the child to the parent. This should be expedited as much as possible to avoid loss of parent-child bonding that cannot be done through virtual means – especially for children under the age of five. When this is not possible, the province must uphold the rights of parents with children in temporary care and custody to maintain access visits by putting the infrastructure in place to facilitate online meetings and programs. As this is happening we need to ensure that the province pay any and all emergency or enhanced CCBs and to work with the federal government so that province recoups this cost and this burden is not placed on vulnerable families. We also call for a moratorium on youth aging out of care while we are in this state of emergency. 

Given that safety and case plans are shifting as support programs close doors and staff at DCS practice social distancing, we must look to other tools to ensure that families are safe. Income is one of the core tools that we know has an impact on health and wellness of families. For families who are accessing income assistance we must dispense with the board rate and increase the SHR to ensure all families receiving Income Assistance receive 100% of the MBM for poverty (inclusive of other income supports). In addition, the province needs to rescind work search and monthly income reporting requirements for this process. It is also imperative that the province commit to not clawing back the federal Emergency Care Benefit, the Emergency Support Benefit and stop the current practice of clawing back Employment Insurance from those who supplement income assistance with employment income. 

We must make sure that vulnerable children, youth and their families have safe housing during this crisis. Expanding the current COVID-19 eviction policy into a moratorium on all applications for vacant possession of residential premises and a halt on all pending eviction orders until at least June 1, 2020, would help to ensure this. In addition, in the current crisis we must restore rent control in Nova Scotia by issuing an order-in-council to eliminate the exemption of all classes of residential premises from the Rent Review Act. Further to this we must provide short-term motel stays to everyone on the priority access waiting list for public housing. 

We know that the government is doing its very best to contain the spread of COVID-19. At this moment we encourage the government to ensure they are applying an intersectional lens, recognizing that we are a very unequal society and that capacity of those with privilege and power is different than of those who are marginalized and oppressed. We must ensure that decisions are reflective of the unique needs of vulnerable Nova Scotians. 

Kind Regards, 

Alec Stratford, MSW, RSW
Executive Director/Registrar
Nova Scotia College of Social Workers

NSCSW response to COVID-19

Social distancing measures continue to be necessary for protection of the public during this challenging time.

What this means for our office

If you wish to visit our office in Halifax, please make an appointment first, to make sure that the office will be open that day and to confirm that the person you need to speak with will be available in person. 

  • All visitors will be asked health screening questions when they make an appointment, and again when they arrive at our office. 
  • We are collecting visitor names and contact information in case contact tracing becomes necessary.
  • The public health order requires non-medical masks to be worn in all common areas of the building (lobby, elevators, restrooms, hallways, etc.) unless you are exempt from wearing one for a valid medical reason.

Our small but dedicated team of staff are on a telework rotation. When working remotely, our staff continue to check voice mail and email regularly, and will respond to all messages as soon as we can. Most meetings are being held via teleconference. 

We continue to fulfil our essential regulatory functions, including license renewal. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch by email or telephone if you have questions or need support. 

What this means for social workers

Social workers are supporting communities that are affected or fearful of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Some of our members have asked for guidance on specific topics; we hope Alec’s recent blog posts about telepracticesocial work practice during emergency situations, and taking time for reflection are helpful.

Public health guidelines continue to change as more becomes known; we encourage all members to stay up to date on guidance and regulations that may apply to your practice. The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) is helping social workers stay up to date with the latest information by maintaining a page on their website with helpful, reliable resources for health care professionals, the public, and communities.

Private practice

Public health approved guidelines for reopening private practice offices in Nova Scotia beginning June 5, 2020. These guidelines were updated in October with additional information.

Please review these documents carefully, as compliance is required in order for Private Practitioners to resume offering in-person services for elective and non-urgent care. Do not hesitate to reach out to the College if you have any questions about these guidelines


The NSCSW is in conversation with our government partners about the potential of boosting staff levels should the pandemic continue, in order to ensure that the delivery of core social work services are maintained in times of disaster and emergencies.

We all hope that it does not come to this. However, we want to be prepared.

The NSCSW has a process in place to quickly reinstate retired social workers for the purpose of emergencies and disasters, to ensure services to the most vulnerable in our society are continued. If you are willing and able, please contact Executive Director/Registrar Alec Stratford at Alec.Stratford@NSCSW.org for more details.

Professional development

Professional development guidelines for social workers have been temporarily changed for 2020, to accommodate and encourage self-care and reflection.

Our in-person spring and summer events were cancelled. This included our annual conference, and our annual general meeting was changed to a virtual format and postponed until June 10.

We are continuing to monitor the situation, and will evaluate options for future events as more information becomes available. Some sessions are being redesigned for online delivery, and others will be rescheduled when we can safely gather again. All College events will be posted on our website, and announcements will be included in the member newsletter.

The CASW has a robust collection of online resources for professional development. Members of our College have free access to all of their webinars, their online journal, and a full-text journal database. Visit the CASW website to learn more.

This page was last updated October 30, 2020.

Social work practice during COVID-19

As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic hits Nova Scotia, the impact on our collective well-being will be felt. The pandemic won’t just impact our physical health, but our mental health as well. In these stressful times professionals from different specialties are called upon to get involved. The goal of social workers in a crisis is to holistically resolve problems through social intervention.

The goals of social work professionals in emergency situations, according to Herrero (2012), are:

  • Provide information about the opportunities that social groups have available to them.
  • Motivate people to have access to those opportunities.
  • Help victims manage their feelings and emotions.
  • Help people learn new ways to face their problems. Show them how to think about their new situation in a different way.
  • Help victims recover their psychological equilibrium.
  • Process the event with those affected so that they can move on with their lives.
  • Establish or facilitate communication between people in crisis.
  • Help individuals or families have a clear understanding of the situation.
  • Restore the individual’s homeostasis with their surroundings. In other words, help them adapt to their new situation.

As individuals, organizations and communities practice social distancing, it remains clear that people will need to access the professional support of their social workers. We must remain compassionate and in solidarity with those that are most vulnerable.

The NSCSW recommends that where social worker workplace responsibilities allow they should engage in telepractice. Through phone calls, emails, and video chats we can continue to keep our human connections strong. 

As social workers we have standards and guidelines that we can follow for the purpose of telepractice. Contemporary social workers can provide services to individual clients by using:

  • online counselling,
  • telephone counselling,
  • videoconferencing,
  • self-guided web-based interventions,
  • electronic social networks,
  • mobile apps,
  • automated tutorials,
  • email,
  • text messages,
  • and a host of other services.

Social workers’ use of technology has created new ways to interact and communicate with clients, raising fundamentally new questions about the meaning of the social worker–client relationship. In addition, social workers use various forms of technology to access, gather, and otherwise manage information about clients. Social workers maintain encrypted electronic records, store sensitive information on their smartphones and in the “cloud,” and have the capacity to search for information about clients using Internet search engines. Social workers use technology in creative ways to address compelling social justice issues, organize communities, administer organizations, and develop social policy. Social workers also explore and develop new technologies for practice and disseminate them with colleagues. For further information and clarification please refer to Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice, published by the National College of Social Workers and Association of Social Work Boards.

Social workers may have clients who are headed out of the province to be with family and friends as they are social distancing. Most jurisdictions have regulatory provisions for licensing mobility for emergency situations, so it is important to check in with the regulatory organization in each region where your clients have headed to confirm what their requirements are. Here are the contacts:

  1. Alberta College of Social Workers — 1-800-661-3089
  2. British Columbia College of Social Workers — 1-877-576-6740
  3. Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers — 1-877-517-7279
  4. Manitoba College of Social Workers — 1-844-885-6279
  5. Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Workers — 1-877-828-9380
  6. l’Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec — 1-888-731-9420
  7. New Brunswick Association of Social Workers — 1-877-495-5595
  8. PEI Social Work Registration Board — 902-368-7337
  9. Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers —  709-753-0200

It also fundamentally important that you take steps to support yourself.

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others (within the limits of social distancing) and talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

If you are a frontline provider, responding to COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on you. There are things you can do to reduce secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions:

  • Acknowledge that STS can impact anyone helping families after a traumatic event.
  • Learn the symptoms including physical (fatigue, illness) and mental (fear, withdrawal, guilt).
  • Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the pandemic.
  • Create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family (within the limits of social distancing), exercising, or reading a book.
  • Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family and patients as you did before the outbreak.

Learn more tips for taking care of yourself during emergency response.

Ultimately this is an evolving situation, and things will likely change. To stay up to date with information relevant to social workers, please make use of the resource page being maintained by the Canadian Association of Social Workers: 

» Coronavirus (COVID-19) social work resources

I am proud to be a member of this profession, and confident in what our members can accomplish in partnership with your colleagues and your communities. Take care of yourselves, and one another.

Alec Stratford
NSCSW Executive Director/Registrar

Raising expectations for Nova Scotia’s future

National Social Work Month is an opportunity to reflect on how we enact the values of our profession within the communities where we live and practice. This month, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS), released a new report titled Creating the future we all deserve: A social policy framework for Nova Scotia.

The NSCSW is incredibly proud to partner with CCPA-NS on this important framework. Our profession is founded on humanitarian and egalitarian ideals. We envision and work towards a society that promotes social, economic and political equity. We acknowledge that significant change needs to happen at the local, community, provincial, national and global level, in order for the injustices and harms that we see daily to be addressed or remedied. The profession works in solidarity with our clients, organizations and communities, and with Nova Scotians who are vulnerable, oppressed and dealing with the hurtful outcomes of society. This is why the NSCSW is so proud to partner with the CCPA-NS to create this important tool. It is our hope that the framework will be utilized by all Nova Scotians to transform our society into one that belongs to all of us: one that is grounded in shared responsibility for creating a strong, connected, and supportive society.

The Social Policy Framework is being introduced at a critical time in Nova Scotia as we have continued to see our governments, at all levels, implement policies and programs that have resulted in greater inequity. In the past three decades, we have seen increasing globalization along with the rise of neo-liberalism and unprecedented technological change. This has had a profound impact on our climate, our workforce and the overall well-being of our society. These trends have combined to leave the most vulnerable Nova Scotians to carry the greatest burden of these decisions. Our political system has failed to develop an economy and public services that are inclusive of all Nova Scotians. Governments have continued to mark their success on the growth and expansion of the economy with hopes that a growing economy will bene t all. This approach has led our political leaders to ignore the indicators that the overall well-being of our population continues to deteriorate, which leads them to put their head in the sand when it comes to creating public policy that would positively impact our health, climate and economy.

The need for progressive organizations to add to the political dialogue with thoughtful progressive social policy solutions is now greater than ever if we are to capture the hope and aspirations for a society in which all Nova Scotians ourish. The goal of the social policy framework is for organizations to raise their voices and counter the trends that have led to:

  • Rising inequality and the continued class divide between the rich and the poor, which have allowed the voices of oppressed particularly those of our racialized communities to go unnoticed, eroded trust, and increased anxiety and illness for all;
  • Entrenchment of the patriarchy, which has pitted rational thought against emotional thought and devalues the work of professional care which is predominantly done by women;
  • Governments enacting austerity policies (expanding corporate in uence in the process) to cut the cost of care, institutionalize new management systems, and centralize government services, leading to highly top-down bureaucratic systems;
  • Managerialism that devalues and deskills professional competence, and creates a management framework which aims to run govern- ment services like a business — searching for e ciencies rather than promoting human connection.

These trends have had a profound impact on the ability of Nova Scotians to receive the services and care that they rely on, and to make our economy one that works for all of us. What is needed is a fundamental paradigm shift in our political goals. As Nova Scotians, we need to ensure that the goal of increasing well-being is equal to the goal of a developing a strong economy. The Social Policy Framework is designed to be at the root of this change. It creates a vision and a road map for Nova Scotians that:

  • Addresses inequality through public policy aimed at redistributing wealth and building an economy that works for everyone, creating a society where political decisions are made in the interest of all, not for an elite few.
  • Addresses the need to work for the public good through public policy that focuses on climate justice, investments in health and social services, the decolonization of public service and that values professional care.
  • Addresses the need to build public policy through collaborative decision-making embedded in an intersectional lens. Through this process, we can support participatory communities in which all voices are heard.
  • Addresses systemic oppression through public policy that leads to transformative change. Policy that supports all of us to acknowledge oppressive attitudes and assumptions by allowing us to share our stories and heal the hurts imposed by our conditioning, to act in the present in a humane and caring manner, to rebuild our human connection.

We hope that this framework provides you with inspiration and hope that a more fair, just and progressive Nova Scotia is possible.

Alec Stratford
NSCSW Executive Director/Registrar

» Download Creating the future we all deserve: A social policy framework for Nova Scotia

» Watch the recording of the media conference on our Facebook page

Province says we’ll be “Better Together,” but when?

On February 25, 2020, the Nova Scotia government tabled what they claimed to be a balanced budget: a budget that lowered corporate taxes and reduced per capita social expenditures. The theme of this budget is “Better Together,” which promotes the idea that a collective response to our current struggles is needed.

The government’s own business plan acknowledges the need for an inclusive approach to our future that is rooted in social and economic well-being, sustainability and equity. The budget also acknowledges the needs that vulnerable children, youth and families face. Social workers across the province are pleased to see a focus on vulnerable children and youth but remain concerned that the government is taking incremental steps and is not heeding their own words that we are in fact “Better Together.”

It’s important to put this budget into context and reflect on the fiscal policy tools put forward, the underlying philosophy, and the evidence that this approach will reach the desired outcomes. 

The government included a $54.3 million increase to the Department of Community Services which saw an $18 million increase for the Nova Scotia Child Benefit, $1.9 million to expand prevention and early intervention programs, $1.5 million for residential placements and programming support. Both the IWK and NSHA received a minor $7 million increase in funding for Mental Health and Addiction Services. The government is also raising the minimum wage by a dollar to $12.55 starting April 1, 2020. These are positive investments that align with some of what the NSCSW and our allies have called for.

However, although these changes are steps in the right direction they are crumbs compared to the need that exists. The report on Child and Family Poverty released early this year by the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) demonstrates that the Market Basket Measure for poverty (Canada’s official poverty line) indicates that a single mother with two kids would require an income of at $36,778 a year to be above the poverty line; current income supports for the family sit at $24,280 leaving an income gap of $1079 a month to be at the poverty line. The changes to the Child Benefit and low-income threshold amount to a change of roughly $32.00 a month. Clearly this isn’t enough to lift that family out of poverty.

Increases in prevention services, residential placements, and mental health and addictions are also important steps to bring the child-welfare system away from the brink. However, good intervention and prevention require the tools to build meaningful case plans in solidarity with families. We are experiencing a housing crisis, mental health and addiction access and approaches remain problematic, food security continues to be a huge problem, and complexity of needs compared to caseload sizes creates real challenges for meaningful prevention efforts. This budget provides no real solutions, and no real tools to ensure greater social well-being.

What remains clear is the current government’s philosophical approach is founded in a stubborn faith in a broken, debunked dogma. Our government continues to create policy based on an ideology that champions trickle-down economic theories and a belief that the free market is capable of tackling the deep structural issues that keep poverty so entrenched and impair the well-being of our vulnerable children and youth. The big-ticket item in the Nova Scotia budget is the two percent corporate tax cut (from 16%) at $70.5 million, plus a decrease in the small business tax (from 3% to 2.5%) at a cost of $10.5 million. These tax cuts will cost $81 million, but the premier says he is “convinced that money would go back into the economy, spurring further growth.” 

As CCPA senior economist David MacDonald writes, “Canada’s long running (and very expensive) experiment in corporate tax rates–to see if lowering them to compete with U.S. levels leads to extra investment in the economy–was more or less a failure. Companies used the differential to enrich themselves and their shareholders.” The federal corporate tax rates alone went from 28% in 2000 to 15%. MacDonald has found that while these rates plummeted, payments to shareholders, through dividends or share buybacks, doubled as a share of GDP, while corporations hoarded cash. And most of those who are being enriched are in corporations headquartered elsewhere.

What this budget clearly shows is that while the wealthiest and elite in our society have a public and political voice that allows them to put forward policy that benefits them—and only them. The most vulnerable children and youth remain unrepresented, and the fiscal and social policy required to create greater well-being for them is implemented at such an incremental rate that the desired outcomes will surely remain out of reach. What is most disappointing in this budget is that once again the government missed an opportunity to create an organization that would have allowed vulnerable children and youth to have an active voice in shaping and influencing the policies that would benefit them: an independent Child and Youth Advocate office. 

Children and youth still struggle to have their stories heard, their rights acknowledged, and their voices heeded as part of the decision-making process on the systems and programs that affect them. Social workers know that our society moves towards greater equality when the voices of the vulnerable and marginalized are raised up and given space. Creating a Child and Youth Advocate office would have ensured that the voices of our province’s children and youth would be at the forefront of the policies and programs that actively serve them.

It is safe to say that this not a balanced budget. This approach to fiscal and social policy will continue to contribute to the social debt by ensuring that inequality continues to rise. Critical reflection at this juncture is required. We need to examine our current philosophy regarding the role of the market, government and civil society. If we fail to create a new social contract to build greater equity then we are doomed to keep seeing more of the same: class division between rich and poor, which allows the voices of the oppressed (particularly those of our racialized communities) to go unnoticed; erosion of public trust; and increased anxiety and illness for all.

We invite all Nova Scotians to reflect on the theme of the budget; building a future in which we are truly “Better Together” will require us to collectively reconsider our beliefs and assumptions, and be open to shifting them.

Alec Stratford is the executive director and registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers.

A cover change, and an apology

At our conference and AGM last month, our keynote speaker, Deborah Levans, spoke frankly about white supremacy in social work practice and offered that white supremacy is when whiteness is normalized and seen as aspirational. She offered examples of how the architecture of racism in the social work profession is embedded in practice, research, and education.

Original cover of Connection Spring 2019

It was brought to our attention that our cover that we choose for our Annual Report was a clear example of white supremacy. The cover featured a white hand holding a key with the caption, “Opening Doors for Social Work Advocacy & Leadership.” The image and title implied that white people hold the keys to leadership and advocacy. The choice to use this image was done uncritically and unreflectively, and in haste to get the Annual Report completed. As the Executive Director/Registrar this was my responsibility and should have been more diligent on this matter. I am truly sorry for this choice.

New cover of Connection Spring 2019

The action that we have chosen to correct this regrettable choice is to change the cover of the annual report in the digital version to be more representative. We are also sharing our learning and journey with you by acknowledging this mistake.

One of the core questions asked by Deborah Levans is, “Why do we not talk about intergenerational effects of slavery on white people?” Part of practising from an anti-oppressive lens is continually asking ourselves how has this impacted our perspective and bias, and how we can address this behaviour. We hope that sharing our learning and mistake supports this process for all of our members.

Alec Stratford
Executive Director/Registrar

Recap of our 2019 AGM

On behalf of Council and all of the staff at NSCSW I want to thank all of the members who came out on one of the only sunny days we have seen in the last month to our annual general meeting. The agenda was full, the discussion was rich and we are so proud to have so many engaged and dedicated members. Some highlights for folks who were not there:

Fee Increases

Members carried a motion to increase annual fees by 6%. The annual membership fee for 2020 will be $440 for active members and $220 for associates. The new fee schedule can be found here (PDF)

Members agreed that fee increases were needed for 2020 in order to manage the increased complaints received in the last two years. Between 2012 and 2016, an average of 16 complaints were received annually. In 2017 the College received 21 complaints, jumping to 32 in 2018. Under the Social Workers Act, the NSCSW is obligated to investigate every complaint, which has meant increased costs in investigations and legal fees.

Also, members agreed that we must hold the tension between being both a regulatory body and a professional association, ensuring that we continue to support social workers to achieve the goals of the profession established through the CASW Code of Ethics and NSCSW Standards of Practice. Programs and services aligned with these goals include our continued offerings of  professional development opportunities; in 2019 we are scheduled to deliver 18 events across Nova Scotia at reduced rates to members. Members were very supportive of the larger advocacy projects we have planned, which include developing a social policy framework, producing a mental health advocacy paper and strategy, tackling the challenges in child protection, building an anti-poverty coalition. Members also expressed appreciation of our continued efforts to promote the profession through Connection magazine; we have produced 5 issues already, and the readership continues to grow.

Finally, members at the AGM recognized and understood that the costs of living continues to increase and that NSCSW staff pay scales, which were adopted after an independent assessment by the Health Association of Nova Scotia, must keep pace with the cost of living.

Further to this discussion, Council did hear about the challenges in the inequity in social work pay, particularly between members who work in the public sector vs those who work in the non-profit sector. An amendment was put forward by the membership for Council to identify solutions for fee equity to be reported back by next year’s AGM.

Private Practice

There was great discussion on the private practice committee’s recommendation to deregulate private practice and to move towards a clinical registry.

Members of Council heard the opportunity that exists for a move like this and members for this idea spoke passionately about how this would benefit the public. Council also heard the challenges for a move like this and the continued tension for social work practice between a individual approach and social justice approach to mental health. This is a long-standing tension is social work practice dating back to the Grandmothers of social work, Mary Richmond and Jane Adams, who would hold great debates as social work was forming as profession on this very tension.

Council also heard that if we were to move in this direction that an standardized ASWB exam would not be an ideal assessment. Participants expressed concerns with the use of an exam as an assessment of social work competency. A problem identified with the exam is that it is written for use across North America, and therefore the political and social context relevant to Nova Scotia mental health services would not be assessed. In addition, standardized exams are often culturally biased, and this exam is not offered in any language other than English, which places francophone practitioners and English language learners at a disadvantage. Members expressed concern that there is no compelling evidence to suggest that an exam has an impact on advancing clinical social work practice.

Council will not determine a pathway forward on how to approach the Private Practice Committee’s recommendations at this time. There will be more discussion and more debate during the next year on this important issue.

The committee also presented a new recommended rate of $160/session for private practice, Masters prepared and PhD social work.

Governance Structure

Members also discussed and passed a range of motions to support a more effective governance structure. These included reducing the total amount of council members, and realigning the regional representatives into chapters which will now be represented by two council representatives from each chapter. The goal of this move is to ensure that council members can engage in their chapters to ensure that they are hearing from members, in order to achieve their fiduciary responsibilities.

Chapter alignments will look like this:

  1. Western Chapter will hold 2 positions and encompass Yarmouth, Shelburne, Digby, Queens, Annapolis, Lunenburg and Kings counties.  
  2. Eastern Chapter will hold 2 positions and encompass Guysborough, Antigonish, Richmond, Inverness, Victoria and Cape Breton counties.
  3. Northern Chapter will hold 2 positions and encompass East Hants and Colchester, Cumberland and Pictou counties.
  4. Central Chapter will hold 2 positions and encompass Halifax County and West Hants.

Council Changes

We are grateful for the efforts of several council members who have completed their terms. Many thanks to Mercy Kasheke (Secretary) and Neil Henderson (Halifax representative). Council welcomed two new members to take their place: Laurie Ehler (Secretary) and Donna LeMoine (Central representative).

Several council members have agreed to return for another term. Thanks to Todd Leader (VP), Lynn Brogan (Treasurer), Denise Robichaud (Central representative) and Kate Matheson (Western representative) for continuing to serve.

Climate Crisis

Finally, our distinguished member Fyre Jean Graveline presented a powerful resolution to membership asking that members of the NSCSW ask that Council of the College to help end the silence by publicly declaring a climate crisis, and strike a working committee to explore the knowledge, resources and training needed to address the current climate crisis at socio-political levels, and to support social workers to address the suffering arising from social/physical/and mental health crisis related to the climate crisis, including Eco anxiety, ecoparalysis, ecogrief and solastalgia. 

This motion passed with a unanimous support and a standing ovation for the courage and passion that Fyre presented. Steps are underway to form this committee. Look for a call out soon.

It was lively, engaged AGM. For those who missed it, you can catch all the action on the NSCSW Facebook page

Alec Stratford
Executive Director/Registrar

Celebrating National Social Work Month 2019

National Social Work Month 2019. Real People. Real Impact.

Happy National Social Work Month to all! This year’s theme is “Real People, Real Impact.

Social workers make a real difference in the lives of people, families and communities across the country. This month marks an opportunity to reflect in the tremendous impact that social workers have on the lives of Nova Scotians on a regular basis.

  • From leading the province on trauma-informed care;
  • to supporting and building meaningful and safe programs for the LGTBQ+ community;
  • to advocating and supporting anti-racism initiatives;
  • to practicing and advocating for holistic mental health care that stems not just from the medical model, but promotes life-long journeys towards metal wellness;
  • to fighting for the rights of vulnerable children and youth. 

As I travel the province and hear the stories of social workers and the impact that the profession has, I am struck with a tremendous amount of pride.

Social workers are ordinary but committed people, striving to have extraordinary impact. By co-creating helping relationships with amazing individuals, families and communities who are experts in their own journey of change, social workers have had a huge effect on the lives of Nova Scotians. Our social workers support individuals, families, and communities across the province to have a real impact for some of the most vulnerable in our society. They have the knowledge and skills to competently perform assessments, interventions, negotiations, mediations, advocacy, and evaluations. They are trained in inter-professional practice, community collaboration and teamwork. Social workers provide an essential service to support Nova Scotians to live happier, healthier lives.

During March, I have the great privilege of travelling across the province and engaging and hearing from social workers, on their achievements, struggles and aspirations. This year I will be facilitating conversations on the role of our College in supporting members to uphold the best of our profession, in order to ensure that incredible work continues to be championed and pushed forward. It will also be an opportunity to continue to discuss the potential of a clinical registry in Nova Scotia.

I hope you will join me in celebrating this month: learn more about how you can get involved.