Honouring Survivors

Msīt Mijua’ji’j Kesite’tasit
Every Child Is Cherished

Flag design by Paulina Meader
Original artwork (petroglyph and double curve) by J.R. Isadore
Translation by Jane Meader
Additional consultation by Rebecca Cope, Raven Augustine, and Barbara Low

National Truth & Reconciliation Week 2023 and its importance to Nova Scotia social workers

As we prepare to mark the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation this weekend, it’s essential to revisit the theme for this year: Honouring Survivors. This theme underscores the importance of acknowledging the historical atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples and the resilience of those who survived. As social workers in Nova Scotia, recognizing, appreciating, and learning from these experiences is critical in our commitment to fostering an equitable and just society.

Honouring Survivors is a potent reminder of the strength, resilience, and courage of Indigenous individuals who endured the horrific experiences of residential schools and other forms of systemic oppression. The theme emphasizes the need for us all to acknowledge the past, learn from it, and take steps towards healing and reconciliation.

Survivors’ stories are not just narratives of pain and suffering but also powerful accounts of resistance, resilience, and cultural preservation. They provide invaluable insights into the injustices that Indigenous communities have faced and continue to face. These narratives illuminate the path towards reconciliation and serve as a guiding light for social workers striving to foster healing and justice.

The role of social workers in reconciliation

As social workers, we have a unique role in supporting reconciliation efforts, given our profession’s role in the genocide of indigenous peoples in Nova Scotia. We are on the front lines, offering support to individuals and communities grappling with the lasting effects of generational trauma caused by colonial policies. We have the opportunity — and responsibility — to incorporate the principles of truth and reconciliation into our practice. Part of this responsibility involves educating ourselves about the history and impact of residential schools and other forms of systemic racism, and understanding this from an intersectional lens. This understanding enables us to provide culturally sensitive and informed care to Indigenous clients, and advocate for policies that promote equity and justice.

Professional development (PD) opportunities that focus on reconciliation are invaluable resources for social workers. These opportunities allow us to deepen our understanding of Indigenous history, culture, and experiences. They equip us with the knowledge and skills to provide culturally competent care and support reconciliation efforts.

Archived PD opportunities, such as webinars, workshops, and seminars, can be found below. These resources count towards our ongoing professional development equirements and contribute to our personal and professional growth.

The National Day for Truth & Reconciliation is a critical time for reflection, learning, and action for social workers in Nova Scotia. By honouring survivors, we acknowledge the past, learn from it, and commit ourselves to fostering a future where every individual is treated with dignity, respect, and justice. Let’s leverage this week and the available learning opportunities to deepen our commitment to reconciliation and enhance our practice.

Selected professional development

Protecting the rights of all our children

By: Alec Stratford, RSW, & Naj Siritsky, RSW

In the end, it all comes down to this: the rights and safety of our children must always be our first priority. This is particularly true in today’s political landscape, where il-considered laws and activism in some provinces are causing harm to vulnerable children by infringing upon their rights. Nova Scotia must not follow suit; instead, we must prioritize children’s well-being at a time when it is under attack.

Kelly Lamrock, New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate, has made significant findings concerning changes to Policy 713 on sexual orientation and gender identity. The policy revisions made by that province’s government have been found to violate New Brunswick’s Human Rights Act and Education Act, and children’s charter rights. 

One of the main issues is that the policy effectively grants parents a veto privilege until their child is 16, which infringes upon the child’s rights to privacy, equality, and accommodation. Lamrock has been vocal about these violations, emphasizing the need for policies that respect and uphold the rights of all children, including those from the LGBTQ+ community. Parents and guardians care for and about their children, but do not own them; children have their own distinct rights.

As Lamrock points out, Canada has a comprehensive framework that upholds and protects the rights of children. This country ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on December 13, 1991, which established a number of laws, policies, and practices affecting children. This Convention recognizes specific rights for children including the right to be heard in legal proceedings that directly or indirectly affect them. Children also have the right to special protection and opportunities that enable their development. One of the most fundamental rights is the right to identity. Every child in Canada holds the right not to be discriminated against, on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender. Furthermore, Article 19 of the Convention identifies the protection against abuse and neglect as a basic right of children. 

These rights are not just theoretical; they must be actualized. Children and youth have the right to life, survival, and development, and to be treated without discrimination. They also have the right to the protection, security, and attention that their parents or guardians can provide. Ensuring these rights are respected and protected is crucial to the well-being and development of every child. It is the responsibility of both the government and society at large to uphold these rights and ensure they are realized. 

Becky Druhan, Nova Scotia’s education minister, recently reiterated the government’s support for all members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Existing guidelines, which have been in place since 2014, state that parental or guardian consent will only be requested for primary through Grade 6 students who wish to use their preferred name, gender identity, and/or gender expression. From grades 7 through 12, consent is not required if the student is capable of giving consent. The guidelines also emphasize the importance of obtaining a student’s permission before disclosing their transgender or gender-nonconforming identity to their parents or guardians. 

Our organization, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, has joined other organizations, health care professionals and concerned community members in calling for an update to these guidelines. Specifically, these guidelines urgently need to be updated to reflect the bans on conversion practices that were legislated in Nova Scotia and federally. No child should be subjected to harmful, illegal conversion practices. No child should be afraid that their school will refuse to support them if they reveal themselves to be queer, trans, or questioning.

The gap between policy and implementation is a pressing issue that needs immediate attention. This is especially true when it comes to protecting our transgender and nonbinary children. We urgently call on the Nova Scotia government to act and ensure these children are protected.

It is unacceptable that vulnerable children are being exploited for political purposes in the hateful backlash that has been gaining momentum in public discourse. Our priorities should be focused on their well-being, not political point-scoring. Nova Scotia has the opportunity to lead by example and show that children’s welfare always comes first.

The harmful influence of these actions on children’s mental health is alarming. The urgency is especially dire because the mounting opposition to the protection of the gender rights of children is a form of hate speech. Swift action is required from the Nova Scotia government to ensure their safety. Our children’s mental health must not be compromised.

Nova Scotia urgently needs to update its guidelines for supporting trans and gender nonconforming students. This will both create consistency across schools and protect students’ rights. Representation is also crucial; we need first-voice representatives from transgender, intersex, and nonbinary communities, along with healthcare providers trained in WPATH standards, to provide input.

Trans and queer representation in our curriculum is not just important, it’s vital. It fosters empathy and understanding among all students. An inclusive curriculum is a steppingstone towards an inclusive society. Research and first-voice advocacy illustrates how critical it is to intervene very early to prevent harm.

Unlike New Brunswick, Nova Scotia does not have a body that can hold government accountable for ensuring the rights of children are met. This exposes children to potential abuse. The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry urged for the establishment of an independent child and youth commission in 2019, underscoring the pressing need to address concerns among young people and advocate for their rights. 

This commission is envisioned not just as a regulatory body, but as a crucial platform that amplifies the voices of our children and ensures their concerns are adequately addressed. However, progress in establishing this commission has been slow, which is deeply troubling given the urgent needs of Nova Scotia’s children. Children, particularly those dealing with mental health concerns, are often unable to advocate for themselves effectively; they need someone to listen to and amplify their voices. It will be important to ensure first-voice representation in the oversight of such a commission, to include the necessary perspective of individuals who are part of historically marginalized and oppressed communities.

Karla MacFarlane, minister of community services, has acknowledged that the commission is long overdue. We remain hopeful that an independent child and youth commission will soon be available for children to contact; it is urgent that funding and legislation be established this year, to ensure that children and youth in Nova Scotia have protections from the politics of hate.

We urge the Nova Scotia government to take immediate action and prioritize the well-being of all children. Let’s ensure that our province is a safe, inclusive space for everyone. The future of Nova Scotia lies in the hands of our children, and we must do everything we can to protect them.

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

Naj Siritsky, RSW, is the professional practice and advocacy consultant at the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers.

Related links:

Lunch & Learn: How to be an ally to Indigenous people

2023 Student Bursaries

Are you studying social work at university?

You could be eligible for a $500 student bursary!

College bursaries will be awarded to several NSCSW members who are attending accredited social work programs in the fall of 2023.

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. It is not mandatory for applicants to disclose whether or not they belong to any equity-seeking groups. However, preference for bursary awards may 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 enrolment from your university.

The deadline for applications is October 31, 2023. Bursary decisions will be announced in late fall.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to be a student member of NSCSW to apply?

You need to be an NSCSW member, and a student in an accredited social work program. The bursaries are therefore open to social work undergrads with student membership, and also open to RSW, SWC, and associate members of NSCSW who are pursuing postgraduate social work degrees. We love to support lifelong learning.

Are you a social work student in a BSW program, but not a NSCSW member yet? Check out the benefits of student membership, and sign up today!

But do I have to be a Nova Scotian? Or going to school in Nova Scotia?

Not necessarily; you can be from here, living here, working here, or going to school here.

Most of our student members are enrolled in a social work degree program at Dalhousie, Université Sainte-Anne, or Cape Breton University. But some went to high school in Nova Scotia and have moved to attend a university outside the province. And we definitely have members who are registered and practicing in Nova Scotia while completing an MSW or doctorate program via remote learning.

You do still need to be a member though. Did we mention how useful and affordable our student membership is for undergrads?

How do I know if my social work program is accredited?

Accreditation means that a separate organization has confirmed that the university’s program meets or exceeds accepted educational standards. The National Indigenous Accreditation Board and the Canadian Association for Social Work Education accredit bachelors and masters level social work degrees at Canadian universities. The Council for Social Work Education is the equivalent organization in the United States. Student members studying farther abroad should confirm that their school meets the accreditation standards in that region. Social service diplomas offered by community colleges or private career colleges are not considered equivalent to an accredited social work degree. If you’re still not sure, ask!

Can I use my acceptance letter as proof of enrolment?

Not quite. You need to show that you’re actually enrolled in the Fall 2023 semester.

A proof of enrolment letter from your school’s registrar office is ideal; these documents have exactly the information we need, without any additional disclosures of private info. However, we know wait times at the registrar can get long in September, so we understand if some applicants find it faster and easier to sign into the university’s online portal and send us a class schedule and tuition receipt.

How will I find out if my application was successful?

Bursary recipients are selected by NSCSW Council in late November. We’ll reach out directly to the successful recipients with the good news by the end of that month, so make sure your contact information in the application form is complete and correct.

Names of the award recipients will then be included in our member newsletter in December, and we’ll publish a student spotlight about them in Connection magazine. You can read about the bursary winners from 2021 and 2022!

Postgraduate seminar: Bowen family systems theory

Connection Summer 2023: Decolonizing social work

Lunch & Learn: Funding mental health

Collaborating in equitable health care delivery, research, education and advocacy

We are excited to share a collaboration between the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW) and a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded project titled, “Voices That Count: Providing Culturally Inclusive Mental Health and Substance Use Health Service Delivery to Youth of African Descent in Canada.” led by Dr. Ifeyinwa Mbakogu.

This partnership embodies our shared commitment for advancing the provision of equitable mental health and substance use (MHSU) care for marginalized groups in Nova Scotia. The study encompasses a range of research methods, including interviews, focus group discussions, and art-based approaches, involving youth of African Descent (and their caregivers) who have interacted with or sought access to mental health and substance use services in Nova Scotia. Additionally, the project involves a survey targeted at mental health and substance use service providers in Nova Scotia.

We are proud to help support this initiative, while looking forward to disseminating findings from the project and collaborating to advocate for the recommendations. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for a special mini-conference in February!

Be part of the research, and help us have a better understanding of the unique challenges, barriers and opportunities that exist in Mi’kma’ki by completing the following survey: surveys.dal.ca/opinio/s?s=74115.

For further information or inquiries about this collaboration, please feel free to reach out to ifeyinwa.mbakogu@dal.ca or voices@dal.ca. You could also visit the project website: voicesthatcount.vzy.io.

Lunch & learn: Flower power

Lunch & learn: Mobilizing action to implement social policy