Webinar: Mental Health with Elementary Age Students

Webinar: Brief Intro to Borderline Personality Disorder for Child Protection Staff

Webinar: Help is on the Line; Incorporating Technology into Therapy

Webinar: Using Family Diagrams to Engage Clients and their Families

2020 Student Bursaries

Are you a student member?

You’re eligible to apply for a $500 dollar bursary!

College bursaries will be awarded to up to four Nova Scotian student members who are attending accredited social work programs in the fall of 2020. Bursaries are awarded based on your commitment to professional social work practice.

We value diversity and strive to create opportunities for Nova Scotians with intersectional identities who have historically faced barriers. Preference for bursary awards will be given to applicants who identify as holding an identity that has historically faced barriers to accessing educational opportunities.

To apply please complete the application form linked below, and attach confirmation of enrollment from your University.

The deadline for applications is October 9, 2020. Bursary decisions will be announced November 2, 2020.

» Apply for a student bursary

My NSCSW placement experience

By Emily Neily

A closed door; an open door

Like many other Bachelor of Social Work students, I submitted my placement proposal in November of 2019 and was hopeful that everything would work out for a full-time placement from April to August of 2020. I was initially interested in doing a placement in child protection and was getting excited as everything fell into place. Unfortunately, late March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all field placements were put on hold. This was very challenging for a lot of social work students who had made plans and put their work lives on hold in order to complete their placement, myself included.

I was worried about not being able to graduate in October, and how I could manage to complete my placement hours with all the restrictions due to the pandemic. I was really excited when I received a call a few months later about a potential placement with the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. The projects were new, and a little out of my comfort zone, and it seemed very exciting.

After meeting with Alec the Executive Director/Registrar at the NSCSW and discussing the projects I became even more excited about the opportunity. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic it was a remote placement. It involved working with the Nova Scotia Action Coalition on Community Wellbeing (NSACCW) to do an environmental survey on affordable housing at the municipal level, and creating a policy note. The placement also required research on vicarious trauma, and using the principles of adult learning to create training modules

Affordable housing & municipal policy

Through my initial research on municipal affordable housing policy in Nova Scotia I learned that there are a lot of gaps. I also learned that strategies, policies and bylaws varied between municipalities, as did enforcement. Some municipalities had firmer strategies on affordable housing strategies while others had none at all. 

Affordable housing is a huge issue in Nova Scotia both in rural and urban communities. Rent prices are incredibly high, maintenance standards for rentals are not always enforced, housing for individuals with disabilities and seniors are difficult to find, and finding housing in communities close to work, school and family is challenging. Housing security and homelessness are major issues, and many communities do not have homeless shelters.

Although many see housing as a provincial responsibility, there are many things that can be done at the municipal level to help with housing security. In my research I found best practice strategies included secondary and garden suites, inclusionary zoning, intensification through rezoning, streamlining developer approvals, municipal land grants, municipal housing funds, housing strategies and standards of maintenance bylaws. This was a new area of learning for me that I found really valuable.

Working with the NSACCW was a wonderful experience as its members have so much insight and knowledge around the barriers Nova Scotians face, and strategies to address them. Attending virtual meetings and learning about their projects and initiatives was one of my favorite placement experiences.

After completing my research, I was able to put together a policy note which was a challenging, and new experience for me. I was surprise by the amount I learned on this project and how passionate I felt about it.

Vicarious trauma & self-care

My second project was the vicarious trauma modules. I knew about secondary trauma and burnout coming into this placement, but did not have much knowledge around vicarious trauma. Through research I learned that vicarious trauma occurs when a social worker is exposed to client trauma such as hearing about traumatic experiences or attending traumatic scenes. It results in a negative change to the worldview and beliefs of the social worker, and can cause physical, emotional, and workplace issues.

Social workers deal with trauma on a daily basis and are at high risk for vicarious trauma. Learning about protective factors, things employers can do, and how to maintain self-care to reduce risk were all areas of learning for me. I found this research really valuable for the modules, and for myself personally.

Creating learning modules was more difficult than I anticipated. Even just developing the objectives involved a lot of work and revision. I had the opportunity to use concept mapping in the module planning portion which was a very interesting experience. Finding resources and media sources was also a fun part of module creation. By the end I was really excited about how things came together.

In conclusion

My placement experience with the NSCSW has been an amazing learning opportunity. I gained insight into myself and my personal interests, met a lot of wonderful people and learned new skills I had never considered when writing my placement proposal. 

For anyone who is looking for a social work placement, I highly recommend looking at opportunities with the NSCSW. You will have a great learning experience and will not be disappointed with your choice.


Emily Neily completed a student placement at NSCSW in 2020.

OPINION: Austerity entrenches harm to racialized kids

By Alec Stratford & Jackie Barkley

What happens to the children and youth of racialized communities when their parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents experience violence at the hands of police? 

Headlines documenting the deaths and abuse of marginalized and racialized peoples at the hands of law enforcement officers have filled social media and news organizations’ websites for the last two months. 

Names included in this growing list of victims include Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in New Brunswick, Ejaz Choudry in Ontario, and Santina Rao in Nova Scotia.

Headlines only highlight part of the story. In 2020 alone, there have been 25 deaths of Indigenous Canadians, six of Black Canadians, and three of Canadians belonging to other visible minority groups, all involving the police. Beyond each one of these deaths is a community in which children and youth are left behind. These children and youth are traumatized by these events, which have a long-term impact on their overall health and well-being.

Researchers have identified that racism affects overall well-being. The more adverse childhood experiences a person experiences, the higher their risk of developing physical health challenges, unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, mental health challenges, and suffering from social underachievement. The trauma at the root of these harmful outcomes is caused by racism and colonialism that has continued to plague the institutions and structures that are meant to keep children and youth safe.

Black, brown and Indigenous children are “othered” at a very young age by our structures. Their childhood disappears when they are required to be fearful of authorities in public spaces like streets, parking lots, stores and movie theatres. This pain and trauma must be acknowledged, and we must redress the structural inequities framed by our current fiscal and social policy.

Part of this redressing must reframe our child welfare system to acknowledge the fact that Black, brown and Indigenous children are faced with emotional and physical violence at the hands of systems that are meant to protect them. This requires all Nova Scotians to join with advocates like Cindy Blackstock who have called for the provision of child and family welfare services to move beyond the restricted and narrow definition of investigating allegations or evidence of neglect of children, and towards systems that genuinely work to strengthen and maintain family life.

In the fall of 2019, Premier Stephen McNeil accepted the report from the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry. The report, which documents the abuse of Black children at the hands of the systems meant to care for them, calls for a paradigm shift in policies affecting children and youth. A shift that moves us away from a system-centered focus, and towards systems that are human-centred. 

Upon accepting the report, the premier offered an emotional response on the harm caused and a vow to change. It is the empathy that the premier found on that day that is required now to bring change to our social and fiscal policy, and to redress our system’s inequities.

However, on July 30, during a press conference, Premier McNeil suggested that his government’s fiscal policy moving out of the COVID-19 pandemic will focus on austerity and cost containment, which are system-centred responses designed to focus on the costs of system rather the human needs those systems are addressing.

This approach has historically and disproportionately impacted Black, brown and Indigenous children, whose communities have also disproportionately felt the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

In pursuit of a balanced budget and maintenance of a competitive and regressive tax system, the premier — in his last few months in office — will make the situation worse for Black, brown and Indigenous children. 

The premier’s strategy of cost containment only defers the cost of support — required now more than ever in the face of the violence experienced by these communities — and places the burden onto the backs of the most vulnerable. This deferring of costs will ultimately lead to greater harm down the line, as these children will become adults who will continue to struggle with the impacts of complex trauma. 

We call on the premier, who has championed the Restorative Inquiry and sees it as a core aspect of his legacy as premier, to return to the empathy he found on Nov. 28 and honour his vow to bring change to our systems.

What happens to the children and youth of racialized communities when their parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents experience violence at the hands of police? Currently they remain invisible, with even their formal cries for help, through reports like the Restorative Inquiry, being ignored. We can make their voices heard, but this requires all Nova Scotians, including the premier, to see their suffering and act on what needs to be done. We have the moral and ethical responsibility to change our current course.


This op-ed was originally published in the Chronicle Herald on August 18, 2020.

Alec Stratford is executive director and registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. Jackie Barkley is a social worker and community organizer who lives in Halifax.

Media release: Grievers must be our top priority; NSCSW calls for a public inquiry into the Colchester County mass shooting

July 28, 2020

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX, NS) – The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW) and the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) call on the provincial and federal ministers of justice to reconsider their position on holding a full public inquiry into the mass shootings that began in Portapique, Nova Scotia (the worst mass shooting in Canadian history). 

“The joint independent review that the governments of Nova Scotia and Canada have initiated falls short of what victims’ families, national women’s organizations, senators, and many others had asked for nor does it embrace restorative principles that are trauma informed” states CASW President Joan Davis-Whelan. “People across Canada join Nova Scotians in their state of collective grief stemming from the trauma of April 18-19, 2020.” 

A trauma-informed restorative approach to grieving means listening to those who grieve. It means hearing what they ask for from their friends, from helping professionals, from supporting organisations and from their government. It means heeding their calls to action.

NSCSW President, Lynn Brogan notes, “If we are to take a trauma-informed restorative approach to this horrific event, then we must commit to listening and responding to those who are grieving. We must acknowledge that our fellow Canadians are suffering, and we must assure them that they are not suffering alone.”

Serena Lewis, an RSW in Colchester County, has shared some of what her community is experiencing in a blog post on the NSCSW website. She writes, “There is no closure, there is no magic cure for grief; it’s a lifelong process that can be affected by the compassionate, responsive understanding by the people around us.” As Lewis says, “The grievers must be our top priority.”

“The joint independent review silences the stories of grievers by keeping documents and testimony from government institutions out of the public eye, removing the public’s ability to engage their hearts and minds with the process,” says Brogan. “Grievers need to be able to express their loss and have others acknowledge and connect through empathy. A full public inquiry would support open and honest dialogue, and create opportunities for collective healing and necessary social change.”

NSCSW and CASW stand in solidarity with grieving members of the Colchester County communities, and call on both the federal and provincial governments to abandon the independent review and move to a full public inquiry 

-30-

About us: 

The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers serves and protects Nova Scotians by effectively regulating the profession of social work. We work in solidarity with Nova Scotians to advocate for policies that improve social conditions, challenge injustice and value diversity.

The Canadian Association of Social Workers is the national association voice for the social work profession, with a mission of promoting the profession in Canada and advancing social justice. 

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact: Rebecca Faria, Communication Coordinator for the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (902-429-7799 ext. 227, rebecca.faria@nscsw.org).

The bigger the magnitude, the bigger the response; the aftermath of this Colchester tragedy

Contributed by Serena Lewis, MSW, RSW

Scientists study the impact of earthquakes, and the devastation that can, and does, occur in the aftermath. The Richter scale was developed, teams collaborate, coordinate and respond. There is science, and there is a human element of cost that occurs. The Portapique tragedy would rank on the highest end of the scale, if we’re measuring and responding in the same way.

But we haven’t created a scale for trauma and loss with an understanding of the magnitude of the tragedy. When it comes to experiences of mass loss, we don’t have the tools to exam the effects on those most closely affected, those a bit further in the perimeter- and the overwhelming impact on the collective as to what just happened? And so, we react. And do the best we can. But how we respond, rather than react, is where the greatest lessons are learned.

As a resident of West Colchester and a professional who has worked in the field of grief for the past twenty years, I am in awe that we are collectively not comprehending the magnitude of what has occurred. For families, the communities, and the world who watched in horror of what was endured here, there has been an eerie kind of stillness. In earthquake terminology: the aftershock is settling in.

What I have discovered in my work is that death impacts us. When processing death and its aftermath —whether through palliative care, or in a violent or tragic way— there is a lack of understanding by the outside world of the magnitude of what has occurred. 

We in North America have been challenged to talk about all thing’s death related; maybe we can talk about the ‘facts,’ but what about the depths of grieving? We are reactionary, as we deliver our obligatory lasagna, and struggle to find the right words for a social media post or maybe a sympathy card. Before March 2020 we may have courageously stepped into a formal ritual with family. We have struggled as a society with how to engage with our grievers.

So, after the earthquake of our lives has occurred, and the few days of attention and support, we are then left with our grief that finally, and deeply settles in. We understand that the loss isn’t just the person, it is everything that this person has meant to us: the good, the bad, and the hard to discuss. This post ‘casserole delivery’ phase is what I call the ‘silencing of the mourners’— not because we have forgotten or are being rude, we just haven’t been taught how to stay in the depth of the sorrow that this quake has caused. So, we back away, we try to find the appropriate words and actions. But let’s stop and consider the impact to the griever? 

I have come to see there is something far greater than suffering. It is when we are left to suffer alone. That’s not to say we do not need or desire our quiet, reflective and private moments. Instead, it means that we need people to still be able to acknowledge us, and the person who has died, being present in a responsive and long-term way, as our lives are forever changed. There is no closure, there is no magic cure for grief; it’s a lifelong process that can be affected by the compassionate, responsive understanding by the people around us.

Jack Saul states that when mass loss occurs, healing becomes a collective process done with ‘inside/ outside support’, meaning that we need to see and hear the experts with the lived and skilled experience. Dr. Gabor Mate reminds us that when intense grief is not expressed, it settles into our body; the unacknowledged trauma associated with tragic loss has major impacts for the long term on individuals and communities at large.

So just what is meant by trauma-informed grief? What it means is that we need to listen, and we need to hear what the families, who have had this massive, sudden and violent loss of people they cherish, are trying to process and express. It means hearing what will be helpful from the individuals (who may seek skilled guidance to identify and express these things), and then hearing how we as friends, professionals, organizations and governing agencies need to responsively act. The grievers must be our top priority.

And then we need to consider the people who have been impacted on the periphery by what has been endured, whether they be communities of first response teams or neighbours. Colchester County has been shaken by losses such as a sense of safety, friendships and neighbours, homes, economic impacts and also trust. There’s also a loss associated with this new identity — Portapique will now be identified as that place— and these are all aspects of the aftermath. 

Being trauma-informed means that we will commit to listen, and respond to our grievers; we will create spaces for them with the people they choose (experts within and without), in safe and respectful ways. We will learn new tools of communication, and not pathologise nor patronise the impact of what started in Portapique on the dreadful night of April 18. This collective trauma will require collective healing. 

A public inquiry means we’re learning that silencing mourners is not responsive or healthy. It will not be an easy process, but honest dialogue has the opportunity to create collective healing and support social change.


Serena Lewis is a Registered Social Worker who lives in Colchester County, NS. She has worked in the field of grief with schools, hospice and palliative care, long term care, corrections, and alongside First Nations communities. Serena is committed to see recognition of grief as a proactive means to support mental wellbeing, and strives to support grief /death literacy through trauma-informed practice.

Ethics hours available online

Great news for our members: the record of your professional development hours you have tracked in your member profile now shows how many ethics hours you have completed since 2016. Please check your NSCSW member account to review your hours.

As you know, all social workers associated with the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers must complete five hours of professional development in social work ethics over a five year period. This is in addition to your annual professional development requirement (i.e. 40 hours for most members).

This requirement stems from a bylaw change at the 2014 AGM, and took effect in 2016. Any members who were registered before 2016 will have until December 2020 to complete their first five hours. Members who joined the College later will need to complete their hours within their first five years of registration.

You must meet this requirement before the deadline in order to complete your registration renewal. If completion of your hours is not documented in your member profile, your registration may be interrupted.

Where to find ethics PD

The NSCSW Council does not limit members to pre-approved options for professional development; each NSCSW member can assess which learning options available to them are appropriate to their practice, as long as they are specific to social work ethics.

The NSCSW Ethical Decision-Making Tool is always available to use in your practice; it can also be used for collaborative learning. For example, some social workers have formed small lunch-and-learn telepractice groups through their workplace. Your group can select an ethical challenge from the daily experience of your members, and use the Ethical Decision-Making Tool to guide your discussion. Everyone attending the session should keep a personal record of the event date, topic, and amount of time spent in discussion.

The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) offers many learning resources that are free for NSCSW members, including webinars and a full-text journal database. Members of our College can visit the CASW website to create an account and claim your free national membership.

We hope you will also find these selected resource links helpful as you complete your professional development hours:

If you have further questions, please contact our Professional Practice Consultant, Annemieke Vink.

mail_outline