The British Columbia College of Social Workers conducts investigations into complaints about registered social workers. This process adheres to principles of administrative law and must be transparent, impartial, objective, and fair. This section provides information about how to make a complaint and what happens in this process.

Please note that in BC not all persons who call themselves social workers are required to register with the College. To determine if a person is registered, please check the online registry by clicking the Find a social worker button. The College cannot investigate complaints about persons exempt from registration.

How to make a complaint?

Anyone may make a complaint about a registered social worker. This may be a client, colleague, or an employer. In some circumstances, colleagues and employers have a duty to report to the college. Persons wishing to make a complaint may call the College office to speak with someone before submitting information. College staff may be able to provide information which will help address concerns related to a social workers conduct. For questions regarding the complaints process, please call the College at 604-737-4916 and ask for the staff person who deals with complaints.

A complaint must be in writing and must be sent to the Registrar of the College. As complaints often contain personal and private information, it is strongly recommended that complaints not be sent by email. The letter of complaint should include sufficient information to explain the concerns about the social worker and what happened in the situation. The College will often require copies of other documentation or information that will help in understanding the events that lead to the concerns. This may include court records or decisions. In some cases an investigator may be hired to conduct interviews with persons involved.

The College will accept any written complaint related to the conduct or behaviour of the Registered Social Worker. The College can also investigate complaints related to the conduct of a Registered Social Worker in their personal life, if the conduct is impairing or impacting the Registrant’s professional judgement. Generally, most complaints relate to the Registrant’s conduct in their professional capacity. We cannot investigate complaints against people who are not registered with the College.

The social worker has the right and is given an opportunity to respond fully to the matters and allegations raised in the complaint.

What happens with a complaint?

Every written complaint received is reviewed. The first level of review is by the Registrar who is authorized under the Social Workers Act to consider and act on certain types of complaints. If the registrar does not dismiss all or part of a complaint, the matter is then delivered to the Inquiry Committee. The Inquiry Committee has authority to consider a broader range of allegations and conduct than that of the Registrar. The Committee consists of experienced social workers and at least one public member of the Board who is not a social worker. The Inquiry Committee’s investigation considers the letter of complaint, an assessment and recommendations made by the registrar, and any other material or evidence related to the matter.

The Inquiry Committee reviews all the material available and may direct further investigation or determine the outcome. If the Committee decides it has sufficient information to determine the outcome they may:

  • Take no further action if in the opinion of the committee there was no misconduct or incompetence.
  • Resolved the matter by reaching an agreement that the social worker will undergo additional training to improve practice or make some other undertaking, or
  • In very serious matters, or if no agreement is reached, issue a citation for a hearing of the discipline committee.

The complainant and registrant will both be notified regarding the disposition of the complaint and the reasons for the decision.

How long will the process take?

The process of investigating and reviewing a complaint and coming to a resolution may be lengthy. The investigation may be delayed if other bodies are investigating the same or other issues. The length of time can depend upon the complexity of the complaint and investigation, and a number of other factors. It may take up to 18 months, or longer particularly if it is determined that a citation is to be issued for a discipline hearing. This timeline may be shortened to approximately 6-8 months if the Registrar disposes of the complaint under section 26(2) of the Social Workers Act.

If the complaint is dismissed by the Registrar, the complainant is notified and given 30 days to make further submissions related to the complaint. The Inquiry Committee is also notified of the dismissed complaint and they have the ability to investigate further. If no additional information is received from the complainant and the Inquiry Committee does not investigate further, the decision to dismiss takes effect 60 days after the Inquiry Committee is notified.

What information about complaints is public?

Information about complaints being reviewed by the Inquiry Committee is confidential and protected by law. However, the social worker is entitled to know the allegations made against them and may receive other information provided by the complainant. The social worker will receive a copy of the letter of complaint if a citation for a hearing is issued. If a resolution agreement is reached with the social worker, the College must provide a summary of that agreement to the complainant.

When a social worker is suspended or loses their registration either by agreement or through a hearing process, this information must be published on the on-line registry. The inquiry committee does not have the authority to suspend or cancel a social workers registration without the social worker agreeing to the suspension or revocation, however the Discipline Committee, after hearing evidence at a hearing may suspend or cancel the registration of a social worker.

Citations for a discipline hearing are public information and are posted under the Discipline section of the website. Discipline hearings are similar to courts and are open to the public. The outcomes of discipline hearings / proceedings are also posted.