3.1.1. Social Workers shall establish the nature of their professional relationship with clients, and shall ensure that the relationship serves the needs of clients over the needs of the Social Worker.
3.1.2. In establishing a professional relationship, Social Workers shall take into account relevant contextual issues, while ensuring that the dignity, individuality, and rights of all persons are protected.
3.2.1. In establishing a relationship with appropriate professional boundaries, the Social Worker shall:
- Acknowledge the place of power they holds in all professional relationships, with the potential for harm to others should that power be misused. 1
- Take care to not abuse the power inherent in the professional relationship.
- Develop the professional relationship with voluntary and involuntary clients based upon the principles of mutuality, respect, client motivation, capacity and opportunities for change at all times, and use this knowledge appropriately to facilitate the attainment of intended outcomes. 2
3.3.1. Social Workers shall not:
- Exploit professional relationships for personal gain or gratification.
- Take unfair advantage of any professional relationship or exploit others to further their personal, religious, political or business interests.
- Have a business relationship with a client, borrow money from a client, loan money to a client or accept monetary gifts in any form from a client. 3
- Have a sexual relationship with an organizational colleague where the consequences of such could have adverse effects on a client or working relationship.
3.3.2. Social workers shall ensure that organizational policies related to workplace relationships are followed.
3.4.1. Social workers shall:
- When providing services to two or more people who have a relationship with each other (e.g. couple, family members) clarify with all parties which individuals will be considered clients and also the nature of the professional relationship with other involved parties.
- Clarify with clients the Social Worker’s role and responsibilities when they anticipate a conflict of interest among individuals receiving services. ( e.g. when a Social Worker is asked to testify in a child custody or divorce proceeding involving clients).
- In situations where professional responsibilities to an employer and to a client are in conflict, attempt to safeguard client rights and promote changes by bringing the situation to the attention of the employer and attempting to facilitate a satisfactory resolution of the conflict.
- When a conflict of interest cannot be satisfactorily resolved:
- Cease acting for the client or,
- If the nature of the service is such that the Social Worker cannot cease acting for the client, document the conflict of interest and all measures taken to resolve or manage the conflict.
- Advise their employer(s) or organization(s) of any potential conflicts of interest if the Social Worker intends to provide or provides professional social work services through more than one employer or one organization, including private practice settings.
3.5.1. Social Workers shall not engage in dual relationships with clients that compromise the well-being of the client, impair the objectivity and professional judgment of the Social Worker or increase the risk of client exploitation. 4
3.5.2. Social Workers shall take care to evaluate the nature of dual or multiple relationships to ensure that the needs and welfare of their clients are protected.
3.5.3. If a Social Worker has a present or previous familial, social/personal, sexual, emotional, financial, supervisory, administrative or legal relationship with a potential client, the Social Worker shall assess the potential for harm before establishing a professional relationship with that client. 5
3.5.4. Social Workers shall ensure that the difference between professional and personal relationships with clients is explicitly understood and respected.
3.5.5. If a dual/multiple role relationship develops or is discovered after the professional relationship has been initiated, a Social Worker shall:
- Inform the client of the possible or actual dual/multiple relationships and the possible consequences.
- Inform the client that the Social Worker, as an employee, shall consult with the workplace supervisor regarding this matter. 6
3.5.6. Social Workers shall document all actions taken and the client’s response in the client’s record.
3.5.7. Social Workers who find themselves in a dual/multiple role relationship may continue the professional relationship when unique attributes, specialized skills or services are required and not otherwise available. The Social Workers shall:
- Inform the client of any possible or actual dual/multiple role relationship and its possible consequences.
- Include a description of the dual/multiple role relationship in the client’s record along with a record of the discussion of the relationship with the client.
- Consult with another Social Worker regarding the dual/multiple role relationship and subsequent provision of professional services to the client and include the contents of the consultation in the client’s record.
3.5.8. In all cases when a dual/multiple role relationship exists, the Social Worker is solely responsible for ensuring that appropriate professional boundaries are maintained and that the nature of the client-Social Worker relationship is protected. If after careful review, it is determined that it is not possible to ensure appropriate professional boundaries and the protection of the client, then the professional relationship shall be terminated and the reasons for the termination explained to the client and documented in the record. Following termination of the relationship, the Social Worker shall assist the client in obtaining professional services from another Social Worker or another professional.
3.5.9. In rural or remote communities, or where a Social Worker’s personal circumstances lead them to be in regular contact with clients outside the practice setting, a Social Worker will take reasonable measures to discuss with all clients how accidental or unavoidable contacts will be managed to protect the client’s interests.
3.6.1. Social Workers shall avoid engaging in physical contact with clients when there is a possibility of harm to the client as a result of the contact.
3.6.2. Social Workers who engage in appropriate physical contact with clients are responsible for setting clear, appropriate and culturally sensitive boundaries to govern such contact.
3.7.1. Social Workers shall not, under any circumstances, engage in, or request sexual contact with a client as defined in the definitions.7
3.7.2. Social Workers shall not engage in verbal or physical behaviour with a client that a reasonable person would find to be sexually seductive or demeaning.
3.7.3. Social Workers who have provided clinical social work services to a client shall not engage in or request sexual contact, as defined in definitions, with the former client under any circumstances.
3.7.4. Social Workers who have provided other social work services to a client shall not engage in or request sexual contact as defined in definitions with the former client at any time if a reasonable Social Worker would determine that engaging in sexual contact with the client would be exploitative, abusive or detrimental to the client’s welfare. It is the responsibility of the Social Worker to assume the full burden of demonstrating that the former client has not been exploited or abused either intentionally or unintentionally.
3.7.5. Social Workers shall not provide services to individuals with whom they have had a prior relationship of a sexual nature.
3.7.6. Social Workers shall not engage in sexual activities with clients’ relatives or other individuals with whom clients maintain a close personal relationship when there is a risk of exploitation or potential harm to the client or when such activities would compromise the appropriate professional boundaries between the member and the client.
3.8.1. Sexual misconduct8by a Social Worker toward a client9 violates professional boundaries and constitutes professional misconduct and/or conduct unbecoming.
3.8.2. Sexual misconduct represents a profound breach of trust on behalf of the Social Worker involved. The blurring of professional and personal boundaries often results in devastating consequences to the client. Within the professional relationship, the client is always considered to be the vulnerable party. The onus is on the Social Worker to maintain professional boundaries with a client and not to exploit a client in any way. Consent is never a defence to sexual misconduct.
3.8.3. A Social Worker must not engage in sexual misconduct.
3.8.4. A Social Worker must maintain therapeutic and professional boundaries with a current 10, former11 or vulnerable12 former client.
3.8.5. A Social Worker must always obtain informed consent prior to engaging in clinically relevant discussions of a sexual or intimate nature.
3.8.6. A Social Worker must be aware of the impact of transference13 and counter-transference14 particularly around discussion of a sexual and intimate nature. The Social Worker is always responsible for maintaining appropriate professional boundaries and proper documentation of steps taken to maintain professional boundaries.
3.8.7. A Social Worker must not engage in any form of sexual behaviour, conduct, or activity with a current client or vulnerable former client.
3.8.8. A Social Worker must not engage in any form of sexual behaviour, conduct, or activity with any individual with whom a current client has an interdependent relationship (e.g. parent, guardian, child, spouse, partner, or substitute decision maker).
3.8.9. A Social Worker must not communicate with and/or solicit a current or vulnerable former client through any means (including in person, in writing, or electronically) for the purpose of:
- entering in a dating, sexual, intimate, or romantic relationship; or
- engaging in sexual behaviour, conduct, or activity.
3.8.10. A Social Worker must not use any personal or health information obtained in the context of the social worker-client relationship for the purpose of pursuing:
- a dating, sexual, intimate, or romantic relationship,
- a sexual encounter.
- not engage in any form of sexual behaviour, conduct, or activity with a former client for at least a minimum of 2 years, and after 2 years the Social Worker must determine after careful review of the former client’s circumstances that it is appropriate (see vulnerable client).
- shall not terminate the social worker-client relationship for the purposes of entering into a personal or sexual relationship with a client.
3.9.1. A Social Worker must report to the College when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the conduct of a Social Worker constitutes sexual misconduct.
3.9.2. A Social Worker must report to the appropriate regulatory body when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the conduct of another regulated health professional constitutes sexual misconduct.
- Social Workers shall take care not to impose their own advocacy agenda upon individual clients
- This means that the helping process when feasible will involve shared control between the client and the Social Worker toward the achievement of agreed to or acknowledged goals or outcomes. In the case of the involuntary client, mutual agreements may not exist at the outset of the relationship, but a Social Worker’s reasonable adherence to this principle is expected.
- Business relationships do not include purchases made by the Social Worker from the client when the client is providing necessary goods and services to the general public, and the Social Worker determines that it is not possible or reasonable to obtain the necessary goods from another provider.Social Workers may engage in a business relationship with a former client if the former client was notified of the termination of the professional relationship. The Social Worker shall continue to consider the best interest of the client and shall not engage in a business relationship with a former client if a reasonable Social Worker would conclude that the former client continues to relate to the Social Worker in the Social Worker’s professional capacity.A dual/multiple role relationship does not excuse a Social Worker from providing professional services to a client in an emergency situation such as family violence or child/ adult protection.
- Dual or multiple relationships occur when Social Workers relate to clients in more than one relationship, whether professional, social or business. Dual or multiple relationships can occur simultaneously or consecutively. While having contact with clients in different life situations is not inherently harmful, it is the responsibility of the Social Worker to evaluate the nature of the various contacts to determine whether the Social Worker is in a position of power and/or authority that may unduly and/or negatively affect the decisions and actions of their client.
- A Social Worker may engage in a professional relationship with an individual with whom the Social Worker had a personal or business relationship only if a reasonable Social Worker would conclude that the Social Worker’s objectivity and personal judgment will not be impaired by reason of the previous personal or business relationship.
Business relationships do not include purchases made by the Social Worker from the client when the client is providing necessary goods and services to the general public, and the Social Worker determines that it is not possible or reasonable to obtain the necessary goods from another provider.
A Social Worker may engage in a business relationship with a former client
if the former client was notified of the termination of the professional relationship. The Social Worker shall continue to consider the best interest of the client and shall not engage in a business relationship with a former client if a reasonable Social Worker would conclude that the former client continues to relate to the Social Worker in the Social Worker’s professional capacity.
- If, after consulting with a workplace supervisor and/or another Social Worker when no workplace supervisor exists, the Social Worker decides to continue to provide professional services to a client with whom the Social Worker has a dual relationship as defined in standards 2.5.1 and 2.5.2, the Social Worker carries the burden of justifying the continuation of services.If the workplace supervisor is not a Social Worker, the Social Worker is encouraged to seek additional consultation from another Social Worker. The Social Worker is advised to document these discussions and the reasons for continuing to provide professional services.
- Sexual contact includes but is not limited to sexual intercourse, either genital or anal, cunnilingus, fellatio, or the handling of the breast, genital areas, buttocks, or thighs, whether clothed or unclothed, by either the Social Worker or the client.
Kissing and hugging have not been included in the definitions of sexual contact due to wide variation in context and acceptability. It would be extremely difficult to establish a definite set of circumstances under which a hug becomes an element of sexual contact. For example, school Social Workers, hospital Social Workers, and Social Workers who work with children often employ supportive hugs in their relationship with clients. It would be counterproductive to effective practice to place a blanket ban on is kind of benign physical contact.
- Sexual misconduct includes any sexualized conduct engaged in by a social worker with a current client or vulnerable former client. See glossary for more detailed definition of sexualized conduct, sexual misconduct, and sexual abuse.
- For the purposes of these sexual misconduct standards, “client” refers to current, former, and vulnerable former clients (see subsequent footnotes) and also includes a parent, guardian, spouse, partner, child, or any substitute decision maker of the individual receiving social work services. Unless stated otherwise it also includes a student being supervised by a Registered Social Worker, or a Social Worker Candidate being mentored by a Registered Social Worker.
- A person becomes a “current client” when a social worker-client relationship is formed and is ongoing. To determine whether a social worker-client relationship exists, consider the following factors:
whether the social worker has provided social work services to the client;
- whether the social worker has charged or received payment from the individual (or a third party on behalf of the individual) for social work services provided by the social worker;
- whether the social worker has contributed to a social work record or file for the individual;
- whether the individual has consented to social work service provided by the social worker; and/or
- other factors relevant to the circumstances of the individual and the social worker.
A social worker -client relationship may exist where one of the above factors is met or when a combination of factors is met.
A client may no longer be considered a current client if care was provided in an episodic setting. Example
- One brief intervention service
- A one-time referral to a service
- A one-time visit in collaborative care practice or urgent care setting
If the current client is an intimate/romantic partner or spouse of the social worker, that person is not considered a current client for the purposes of the sexual misconduct policy. However, social workers shall refrain from providing any social work services to such persons.
- A person ceases to be a current client and becomes a “former client” when the social worker-client relationship ends in accordance with the College’s Standards of Practice.
Social workers considering engaging in any sexual behaviour with a former client shall consider the following:
- ongoing risk to the former client;
- risk of a continuing power imbalance;
- length of time that has passed since the last clinical/professional encounter;
- nature of the social work services provided:
- type, intensity, and duration of the services;
- likelihood of the former client requiring service from the social worker in the future;
- extent of the personal health information accessible by the social worker;
- vulnerability of the client;
- maturity of the client; and
- client’s decision-making ability
A minimum of two years of time must pass to lessen the vulnerability. The exact length of time has not been defined as it may vary based on factors relevant to each former client’s circumstances.
- A “vulnerable former client” is a client who is no longer a current client, but who requires particular protection from sexual misconduct for reasons of ongoing vulnerability. For some former clients, their degree of vulnerability is such that they will always be considered vulnerable former clients. This includes clients to whom a social worker has provided therapy and sex therapy. For clarity, sexual relations between a social worker and clients to whom social worker provided therapy and/or sexual therapy is prohibited at any time following termination of the professional relationship.
To determine whether a former client is a vulnerable former client (other than those provided with therapy and/or sex therapy) consideration should be given to:
- the length and intensity of the former professional relationship;
- the nature of the former client’s problem or issue;
- the type of social work services provided by the social worker;
- the extent to which the former client has confided personal or private information to the social worker;
- the vulnerability of the former client during the social worker-client relationship; and
- other factors relevant to the particular circumstances.
Generally, the lengthier the social worker-client relationship and the greater the dependency, the more likely the person will be found to be a vulnerable former client by those adjudicating an allegation of sexual misconduct.
Engaging in, initiating, or requesting sexualized conduct at any time with a vulnerable former client is sexual misconduct.
Where a social worker is in doubt as to a former client’s vulnerability, or whether the social worker-client relationship has been properly terminated, they may wish to seek advice from the College.
- Transference is the shift of emotions from one person to another.
- Countertransference is defined as redirection of a social workers’ feelings toward a client