January 6, 2017 - Advocating for Social Work Inclusion in Loan Forgiveness Program

The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Duclos, 

Re: Social work inclusion in the National Loan Forgiveness Program

The Canadian Association of Social Workers is the national association voice for social work in Canada; working to strengthen and promote the profession while advancing issues of social justice. To this end, I am writing on behalf of CASW to advocate for the inclusion of social work under the Canada Student Loan forgiveness program: not only are social workers’ skills so greatly required in many rural and remote regions across Canada, but this would also present a step toward more cost-effective health care for Canadians.

CASW has been very pleased by your government’s actions toward a fairer and more equitable Canada; paying particular attention to your promises around health and mental health. In this regard, I am certain you are aware of the discrepancy between the availability of health and mental health services in urban and rural areas and the wait times this generates.

In light of Canada’s particular context, in which Indigenous communities are often also rural or remote, this means that this already underserved population is made further vulnerable.  Indeed, oftentimes there is no mental health professional available in rural and remote communities, placing undue emotional, financial, and often physical stress on Canadians who need to travel to another location for care.

A 2012 report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) on rural and remote care in Canada, comparing 11 countries, showed that Canadians waited the longest for a health professional. Since then, statistics have only worsened, with the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) identifying the wait times for a mental health professional are particularly egregious – and that waiting for mental health support is particularly harmful.

CASW is aware of the financial realities at play; with soaring health care costs, governments are seeking creative and cost effective solutions. CASW believes that providing incentive through student loan forgiveness for social workers to serve rural and remote locations would greatly alleviate many above the above addressed concerns.

To provide some background information, loan forgiveness can currently be applied to outstanding Canada Student Loan balances only for family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners, and nurses who work in under-served rural or remote communities.

The cost of an initial assessment by a psychiatrist in British Columbia – a province with many remote communities – is upwards of $215. Social workers are highly trained professionals capable of offering many of the same therapeutic services as psychiatrists and mental health nurses at a significantly lower price point. Further, in a community whose size can support only one mental health position, a social worker often provides greater value than other professionals as they can provide more numerous types of care, such as case work, assessment, therapeutic counselling, and referrals to other community supports.
Concurrently, many – especially northern – communities have difficulty attracting mental health professionals. Including social workers in the list of approved professionals for the loan forgiveness program would significantly alleviate these staffing challenges while contributing to better care for those in these underserved communities.

CASW believes that this recommendation is undeniably beneficial not only for the profession of social work and those living in rural and remote communities, but will also help control rising health care costs. CASW looks forward to continuing to support your government in the implementation of positive changes for Canada.

If you would like to learn more about our organization and the work we do to advance social justice in Canada, visit our website at casw-acts.ca. Again, on behalf of the CASW federation, I urge you to implement loan forgiveness for social workers following the precedent of other professions.

Sincerely,

Jan Christianson-Wood, MSW, RSW
President, CASW