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More Than a Title: Navigating the Professional Responsibilities of a Registered Social Worker
By Selena Bateman, RSW
Becoming a Registered Social Worker (RSW) means more than the ability to call oneself a Social Worker. RSWs are accountable to service recipients, employers and the College. RSWs are governed by the BC College of Social Workers and must adhere to the Standards of Practice, Social Workers Act, College Bylaws and all applicable legislation. This article highlights the obligations of RSWs in the workplace.
For some RSWs, their employer or supervisor may not be a regulated professional or there may not be other regulated professionals in the organization. Other RSWs may work with many other regulated professionals, such as in hospital settings or interdisciplinary teams. No matter the reporting structure or organizational framework, all registrants are required to follow the minimum acceptable levels of practice that are established in the Standards of Practice. The Standards of Practice document is the key tool used to assist with ethical, safe and effective service delivery – which ultimately works towards protecting the public. As each situation is unique, the Standards are meant to be a set of overarching requirements rather than direct, step by step instructions.
The College governs Registered Social Workers rather than employers or organizations, which is why it is vital to clearly understand and work within the Standards of Practice. Should a RSW’s workplace policy conflict with the Standards of Practice, registrants still hold an obligation to follow the Standards of Practice, in accordance with Standard 2.15:
If there is a conflict between the College Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and a social worker’s work environment, the social worker’s
obligation is to the Code of Ethics and the Standards of Practice.
While this requirement could appear conflictual with workplace environments, keep in mind that there are a breadth of work environments, employers and organizational mandates. Should a RSW recognize that employment practices are inconsistent with the Standards of Practice, the RSW is responsible for advocating for practices that do align, as per Standard 2.16:
A social worker shall advocate for workplace conditions and policies that are consistent with the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the British Columbia College of Social Workers. A social worker will use professional judgment in determining how to advocate. Such advocacymay take the form of documenting concerns and discussing them with a supervisor or manager, or other key persons in the organization.
Some of the RSW requirements that are established in the Standards of Practice may not require such advocacy. For example, RSWs are required to use the RSW designation in conjunction with social work practice. This means that the RSW designation must be added to work email signatures, listed on reports and all other records that the RSW authors. This way the reader knows that the social worker is a regulated professional and what profession the author is part of. It is recommended to refresh one’s knowledge of the Standards of Practice periodically as well as when confronted with challenging situations.
The responsibilities of RSWs do not end with the Standards of Practice. In the unlikely event that a RSW believes that another RSW is harming a recipient of services while practicing social work, they have a legal duty to report this belief to the College. This provision applies even if the information is confidential. This requirement comes from section 40(1) of the Social Workers Act:
A registrant who has reason to believe that another registrant, in the course of practicing social work, is causing or has caused physical or significant emotional harm to or is or has engaged in sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a client, must promptly provide to the registrar a written and signed report on the matter.
Becoming a RSW provides the privilege and recognition of being a professional. This professionalism requires the RSW to practice within professional standards and to be accountable to the public. The decision to become part of a profession holds benefits and obligations, both of which need to be kept in mind while practising.