Approaching the elections

As a summer election becomes increasingly likely, we will soon be faced with big decisions as several parties try to convince Nova Scotians to vote for them. 

As social workers, we labour in solidarity with our clients, organizations and communities, and with Nova Scotians who are vulnerable, oppressed and dealing with the hurtful outcomes of society. Our profession is committed to social justice, and is mandated by our code of ethics to work for a society that promotes social, economic, political, and cultural equality for all people. A critical analysis of the party platforms, to understand how their positions will impact the clients that we serve, is a helpful process. 

As part of our mandate to serve the public good, the NSCSW will therefore be providing some analysis on each party’s positions, through the lens of the social policy framework that we developed with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS): Creating the future we all deserve: A Social Policy Framework for Nova Scotia. This evidence-based report lays out what is required for a transformative social policy agenda in our province, and we encourage our members to utilize it in order to ensure that they better understand how their votes will address or remedy the injustices and harms we see daily. 

During the anticipated election period, we will evaluate how each party’s platform advances our vision and values using this intersectional and evidence-based framework and these ten guiding principles: 

  1. Interconnectedness
  2. Decolonization
  3. Social Inclusion
  4. Universality
  5. Climate Justice
  6. Decent Work and Well-Being
  7. Public Provision
  8. Fiscal Fairness
  9. Shared Governance 
  10. Democratization. 

Each of these principles are critical in ensuring a society where all Nova Scotians can thrive.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll use this framework to analyze each party’s platform on some of our core social justice and advocacy issues of concern to social workers. We invite you to join us in exploring each of these principles, and examining the proposals made for our province’s future. By working together, we can make decisions that align with our professional values, and that advance the well-being of our clients and all Nova Scotians.

Nadia Siritsky
NSCSW Professional Practice and Advocacy Consultant

Request for proposals: Child welfare policy paper

Child Welfare: The System We Need

The purpose of this policy paper is to answer the following questions using the lens of our social policy framework as a guide: 

  1. What would it take for every child in Nova Scotia to live in a home and a community free of poverty, violence and harm, that allowed them to reach their full potential? 
  2. What would it take to create a child protection system that embraced the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, as well as the calls from the Black and Indigenous Nova Scotians for reform as enshrined in Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in the inquiry into the Home for Colored Children? 

The audience for this paper is Nova Scotians who are searching for quality and effective alternatives to our current child welfare system. This paper is also for system administrators and decision makers who make incredibly tough and challenging decisions daily about the child welfare system. 

Our goal is that this paper generates a process of critical self-reflection that allows Nova Scotians to create space for new approaches to child welfare. We need a new way of thinking about child and family well-being. It is our hope that this paper will spark discussion and action towards this goal. 

For more detail about this project, including background and proposal guidelines, please read the full request for proposals.

To bid on this project, please send your proposal to our Executive Director/Registrar Alec Stratford at no later than 5 p.m. ADT on August 20, 2021.

A city’s betrayal of its most vulnerable

Imagine working and still being unable to afford a place to live. Imagine the struggle involved in trying to keep things together when life’s unexpected storms throws you off kilter. Imagine the gratitude you might feel to find an emergency shelter where you can rest as you try to pick up the pieces of your life and move forward. 

Now imagine being told that you have a week before your shelter is removed. Imagine that a few days before this deadline, you come back to find that your few belongings that you had managed to preserve through your battle with homelessness are all gone, because your city has decided to remove your emergency shelter several days ahead of schedule, without warning.

For many of us, we are called to imagine and have compassion for news events like the one that was described above. But for a growing number of our neighbors in Halifax this is their reality, and it is terrifying and very wrong. These emergency crisis shelters were built by volunteers working with Halifax Mutual Aid to assist those in need until they can be housed permanently. The decisions to remove these shelters, and then to begin doing so at an earlier timeline than announced without notice to those being displaced, were disingenuous and a breach of community trust.

Social workers and community organizations such as the Halifax Mutual Aid Society are having to scramble to try to provide support, at a time when resources are shrinking. While the provincial government recently pledged to provide 25 million dollars in funding, at some point in the future, these promises are of no help to those struggling with homelessness right now. 

Recently, we joined together with the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and several other key stakeholders and community leaders to try to envision effective solutions for our housing crisis. We used our Social Policy Framework together, to create an innovative approach that can ensure that people with housing needs are able to access this basic human right. Most of the calls to action in the resulting report are for the province, but municipal governments also have a key role in housing their residents.

Halifax’s government could have embraced this comprehensive and creative proposal, and been willing to think about new ways to support those currently experiencing homelessness, and increase meaningful access to safe, permanently affordable, secure, supported and adequate housing in Nova Scotia. Instead, our capital city chose not only to remove what shelters were already in place, but to begin doing so several days prior than the short notice given, with a post-tropical storm barreling its way toward us.

The lack of compassion, integrity and critical thinking evident in last week’s decisions is profoundly troubling. As such, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers adds its voice to countless other housing advocates who are calling on officials to cease and desist from the ill-advised and ill-timed removal of shelters that have been erected to try to help people transition to permanent housing solutions, and to embrace the vision and plan that is clearly outlined in Keys to a Housing Secure Future for all Nova Scotians.

Nadia Siritsky
NSCSW Professional Practice and Advocacy Consultant

Navigating Ethical Conflict: Pride and the Library

The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers is dedicated to working towards a society that promotes social, economic, political, and cultural equality for all people. Our profession mandates us to advocate on behalf of people who are vulnerable or oppressed, and to work to ensure the rights of all people to be free from prejudice and discrimination. Our core values and code of ethics specifically identifies the need for social workers to speak out on issues of social justice, to uphold individuals’ rights to self-determination and to fight for social justice for all people.

It is therefore with tremendous dismay and concern that we have observed the Halifax Public Library, and indeed, library systems across Canada, decide to purchase and make available to the public the controversial book: Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier. 

This decision led to a community petition requesting that it be removed, and consultations with 2SLGBTQ+ community members and groups also advocating for its removal. Unfortunately, the Halifax library refused, on the grounds that to do so would be a form of censorship, and that they believe that “Free access to information and ideas is a democratic right of every citizen.”

The library’s response to the petition was followed by a public statement from Halifax Pride, specifically requesting that they “take corrective action to remove the book and review their Collection Development Policy.” Halifax Pride further sought to explain “that the book’s misleading health advice put local trans youth in immediate harm.” Other local organizations have made similar statements, and some groups and individuals have cancelled events that were planned at or in partnership with the library.

The library’s decision to keep the book in circulation has not changed. 

In light of this response, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers has a duty and mandate to join Halifax Pride in its request that “the Halifax Public Library will reconsider its stance and amend their policies to prioritize the health and safety of the public.” We share their concern that this book serves as a serious public health risk to vulnerable members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. We believe that the right to “free access to information and ideas” should not include scientifically unfounded texts that pose a serious health risk to oppressed and marginalized individuals who are already at a significantly higher risk in terms of suicidal ideation, mental health distress, trauma and violence. We call upon the library to revisit its policies that allowed the book to be purchased in the first place.

This book is specifically designed to support parents in their refusal to acknowledge the transgender, non-binary and queer identities of their children. Unfortunately, research shows that parental reactions significantly increase the risk to these youth. Wisdom2Action recently released a report with very disturbing statistics that ought to be considered when discussing the potential harm of Shrier’s book:

  • 70 percent of transgender youth in Canada have experienced sexual harassment.
  • More than one-third of trans youth ages 14 to 18 have been physically threatened or injured in the past year.
  • 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as 2SLGBTQ+, generally as a direct result of parental rejection of their identity. 

The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers is working to ensure that all of our advocacy positions are centred around the voices and perspectives of the people who are most affected by them. We recognize the importance of first voice perspectives to guide decision making, and as such, we honour the voices and perspectives of the 2SLGBTQ+ community that are expressing their concern about this decision. 

The College also has an ethical decision-making tool that we believe can help social workers when reflecting upon this issue, and it too identifies the protection of life as the standard that should take precedence over all others. While, on the one hand, many amongst us may consider this issue to be a philosophical debate about the limits of freedom of speech, we believe that is important to elevate the voices of the 2SLGBTQ+ community that is sounding the alarm regarding the ways in which the Halifax Public Library’s decision can harm the most vulnerable amongst us, who are already at a disproportionate risk for violence, homelessness and suicide as a result of beliefs such those that are represented in this book. 

Hopefully, the library will use this moment in time to reflect and make the changes necessary so that the potential harm to vulnerable communities is prioritized as a deciding factor when considering future books to purchase. The significant public outcry can be a call to change, and it is in this spirit that we join the 2SLGBTQ+ community in calling upon the community to revise its policies. We offer two of our tools to assist the library as it develops its own decisional framework:

The College is proud of the advocacy of the Halifax Public Library Community Navigator, who is a social worker and who has been working with community members to improve their experience at the library and is working with a group of library 2SLGBTQIA+ staff and allies to build education and awareness surrounding this issue. After speaking with the community, the library updated the description of the book to more accurately reflect its contents. They have also worked with local community groups and the IWK to compile the most recent and relevant trans affirming resources, and purchase any not in the collection. A suggested reading list of trans-affirming books is included each time the book is checked out, along with community resources that can assist parents and family members in supporting their children as they navigate the path of exploring gender identity. This list is also publicly available at the library branches outside of the book.

This compromise ensures that individuals who might be seeking information by reading this book are warned and provided with additional resources. In addition to the insert that is provided in the book, the online catalogue has a digital equivalent of the insert. When the book pops up in search results, for example, there is a link underneath titled “Recommended by HPL” which heads to this living list, which the library will continue to update as new resources become available.  

As social workers, we have an obligation to do what we can to mitigate harm against vulnerable populations, and so, on this month of Pride, we stand proudly with the 2SLGBTQ+ community in affirming the right of all people to self-define themselves and to be treated with respect. We appreciate the compromise that the library is attempting to navigate, and hope that this public debate helps more people to understand the complexity of gender development and the need to be gender-affirming. 

May the library revisit its policies that allowed this book to be acquired and ensure that the protection of vulnerable and at-risk populations is considered in future purchasing decisions. May they continue to seek ways to connect readers with supportive resources, and work to regain the trust of their community. And may we, social workers, continue to advocate for change within the systems where we work and beyond; may we strive to transform moments of contention into moments of education and awareness. 

Nadia Siritsky
NSCSW Professional Practice and Advocacy Consultant

Extension of temporary changes to professional development requirements

To accommodate and to encourage personal self-care and reflection, and as well as to maintain safety in our practice, the Board of Examiners and Council of the College have extended 2020’s temporary changes to the Professional Development Requirements policy until the end of 2021.

Regulations state that all active members are required to submit evidence of 40 hours of social work-related professional development as part of their application for renewal. The hours must have been obtained in the most recent 12 months prior to application. Members must also complete 5 hours of social work ethics professional development over a recurring 5-year period, in addition to their annual 40 hours. These regulations will be maintained, but accommodations will be made to the various categories of professional development.

Therefore, when members are tracking their professional development activities in 2021:

  • The requirement for ethics hours will remain the same.
  • The minimum amount of formal professional development for active members will be 5 hours. All 40 hours can still come from this category.
  • All remaining hours of professional development can come from any other category. This may include informal learning activities, supervision, consultation, volunteering related to social work, and personal development.

Unless the College communicates otherwise, members should expect professional development requirements to revert to normal in 2022.

Related content:

Webinar: The Inherent Jurisdiction of Indigenous Nations over Child Welfare; Exploring the Maw-Kleyu’kik Knijannaq (Keeping our children together) Initiative in Nova Scotia

Workshop: The Mourning After; Supporting the complexities of grieving

Big Ideas: Conversations about mental health

Learning with Pride

For the 2SLGBTQ+ community and their allies, June is considered Pride Month, a chance to learn, honour, celebrate and recommit ourselves to working for justice and equality for all people. As social workers, we are aware that this community is especially at risk, and in need of advocacy and support. In light of this, we want to share a few resources that may be especially helpful.

Sometimes, we mean well, but do not always use words that reflect our intention. Lack of understanding or awareness can cause us to use terms that can cause harm or pain to those listening. As social workers we are mandated to continually grow in our knowledge and skills, and this resource can be especially useful:

» LGBTQ2+ Terms Reference and Media Style Guide

A lack of understanding about the history of a community can lead to continued harm of that community, due to decisions made that ignore the larger context. The following resource is a good and brief summary of historic events leading up to our current Pride celebrations and events:

» History of Canadian Pride

And here and now in Nova Scotia, Wisdom2Action offers important information and tools for supporting youth, who may have unique needs related to their intersections of age, gender, sexuality, culture, and disAbility:

» Wisdom2Action Resources

May this month usher in a year of healing and justice-making for us all; may we rejoice at our successes, and double-down on those issues that are not yet successes.

Nadia Siritsky
NSCSW Professional Practice and Advocacy Consultant

Special General Meeting