September 28, 2023 - The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) advocates for the safeguarding of the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ youth in Canada. Recent actions and statements across the country from provincial governments and activists have sought to diminish and threaten the dignity of trans, gender fluid and queer children and youth. We want to reiterate our unwavering support for all 2SLGBTQIA+ people and, particularly at this time, children and youth.
Provincial governments in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have recently adopted anti-2SLGBTQIA+ policies that require schools to notify parents or guardians if students would like to be referred to as a different name or gender than they were assigned at birth. Provinces — including New Brunswick before recent changes — had policies that required school personnel to use students’ preferred names and pronouns and to ask students for permission before telling their parents about name and pronoun changes. This policy was intended to protect 2SLGBTQIA+ students who could face abusive or dangerous situations at home. Canada is now moving backwards. In addition to these new policies, rhetoric at the federal government level, across other provinces and from parental right activists has been inflammatory, targeting trans, gender fluid and queer children and youth. CASW unequivocally condemns these sentiments.
One of the long-standing, guiding principles of social work is the inherent value and dignity of all people. Social workers must uphold each person’s right to self-determination and protect their human rights. Respecting someone’s pronouns and identity is a crucial part of this. For generations, children and youth have been able to grow up and embark on their own journey of self-discovery. Parents or guardians can undoubtedly be part of this process, but it is undeniable that as young people mature, their interests, beliefs and identity are shaped and developed independently.
CASW believes that this right to self-determination for children and youth supersedes the parental/guardian right to be informed about intimate matters of their child’s life. This is in keeping with the “mature minor” doctrine in Canadian common law that dictates that children who are sufficiently mature can make their own treatment decisions.
This is also in line with our code of ethics which states: “Social workers who have children as clients determine the child’s ability to consent and where appropriate, explain to the child and to the child’s parents/guardians, the nature of the social worker’s relationship to the child.”
Another cornerstone of social work — and indeed, most health care professions — is in the importance of confidentiality and respect. CASW acknowledges the harm of outing a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community before they are ready; it can have a severely negative impact on their mental health. Policies or guidance that dictate that someone must out a trans, gender fluid or queer child or young person to their parents are both dangerous and a violation of CASW’s code of ethics.
Social workers have a duty to combat the increase in inflammatory rhetoric, hateful language, regressive policies and acts of violence against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Canada. The profession commits to continuing to provide care to trans, gender fluid and queer children and youth, including proactively. This is a difficult time for many. We must stand in solidarity and put children first.