September 20, 2017
The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
House of Commons
Dear Minister Goodale,
On behalf of the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW), I am writing to stress the importance of the inclusion of social workers in future research and initiatives around the topic of first responders/public safety officers and the incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
CASW was very pleased to note that your mandate includes the creation of a national strategy for PTSD, and with the recent results of national study, Mental Disorder Symptoms among Public Safety Personnel in Canada, confirming the negative impact on Canadian first responders, your government’s leadership is now required to define the scope of future research and legislation.
To this end, CASW is concerned about the lack of stable definition of the categories of Public Safety Officer and Emergency Responder. Indeed, Mental Disorder Symptoms among Public Safety Personnel in Canada defines public safety personnel (PSP) as “include[ing], but … not limited to, correctional workers (security and nonsecurity roles), dispatchers, firefighters, paramedics, and police officers.” There is clearly an understanding that this title can include many types of roles and occupations. Defining the scope of these titles is paramount in ensuring that all Canadians at risk will be protected from the onerous process of proving that their condition is the result of trauma encountered at work.
To provide some context about our profession, social workers are routinely exposed to potentially traumatic events through their work in the areas of mental health, child welfare and protection, hospitals and other community settings. Additionally the demand is growing for social workers’ skills during police emergency response due to the frequency of mental health related calls.
In fact, social workers are often the first to respond and investigate situations of extreme physical, sexual and psychological abuse. In these circumstances social workers are often called upon to complete emergency investigations, often without the accompaniment of law enforcement. As a consequence, social workers often witness to the most heinous acts humans impose on themselves and each other; often experiencing both chronic and acute trauma due to constantly processing the trauma of others.
CASW makes two concrete recommendations in this regard:
1) More research at the national level to better understand a larger scope of occupations affected by ‘operational stress injuries’ (OSI), which includes PTSD, to better protect all Canadians. CASW calls for more research specifically on the additional areas of social work practice that are at risk of OSI, to either incorporate in the current proposed national strategy or to investigate the inclusion of a category of certain health and social occupations.
2) The creation of a framework that will improve the ability to track PTSD and all OSI is necessary; to establish guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and management, and create education materials to be used by public health providers.
Again, on behalf of the CASW federation, we look forward to supporting your office in the development of a national strategy to address PTSD that includes the profession of social work.
Jan Christianson-Wood, MSW, RSW