Social work is a dynamic field that started as a movement to reduce poverty and inequality. In Canada, social work began with a group of home visitors—volunteers driven to help vulnerable people, spread hope and advocate for social justice.
Over the past century, social work has evolved into an academic discipline and regulated profession founded on theories of social work, social science and humanities. The field advances through academic research, evidence-based practice and Indigenous ways of knowing.
Social workers are regulated health professionals who work with individuals, families, groups and communities to improve individual and collective well-being. They respond to social issues like racism, poverty and unemployment. As well, social workers advocate for social justice, human rights and fair access to health and social services.
Canadian social workers share the following core values:
- Respect for the inherent dignity and worth of persons
- Pursuit of social justice
- Service to humanity
- Integrity in professional practice
- Confidentiality in professional practice
- Competence in professional practice
What Do Social Workers Do?
Social workers serve people.
Social workers believe people are resourceful, resilient and able. Working in a variety of settings, social workers help people attain physical, mental and spiritual well-being. They also address broad social issues like oppression, discrimination, domestic violence, unemployment and poverty. They do this in many different ways, including:
- Social policy analysis
- Community capacity building
- Health promotion
- Collaboration with other professions
Where Do Social Workers Work?
Social work can take place in person and virtually. You’ll find social workers in a variety of settings, including:
- Advocacy organizations
- Child welfare settings
- Community health centres
- Consultation agencies
- Correctional facilities
- Employee assistance and private counselling programs
- Family courts
- Family services agencies
- Government departments
- Human rights organizations
- Mental health clinics
- Private practice
- Social services agencies
- Social housing organizations
- School boards
- Youth drop-in centres
How to Become a Social Worker
Universities across Canada offer degree programs in social work at the bachelor, master’s and PhD levels. The programs involve a combination of knowledge-based coursework and practical experience gained through practicums, as well as self-reflection to complement the knowledge and experience components.
If you’re considering applying for a social work program, review the prerequisites required to get into the program. Often, prerequisites include liberal arts courses, such as social policy, sociology, psychology and philosophy.
During the first two years of most social work bachelor programs, students study the general arts before applying to a school of social work. The school of social work will consider a variety of factors, including applicant experience, GPA, and personal outlook.
Volunteering is a great way to gain practical experience in the profession. Some schools of social work require a minimum number of hours of relevant volunteer or work experience to be considered for admission.
Contact specific schools of social work for their admission requirements, including prerequisites and volunteer experience.
Beginning Your Career
To work as a social worker in Canada, you will need:
- A bachelor’s degree in social work
- Note: Alberta requires either a bachelor’s degree in social work or a diploma in social work
Depending on where you live and your specific career goals, you may also need:
- Supervised practical experience (practicum)
- Provincial/Territorial written and oral examinations
- Membership in a provincial/territorial association of social workers
To practice as a social worker in the following provinces/territories, you will need to be registered with a regulatory authority within your province or territory:
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
Can I Become a Social Worker if I Have a Criminal Record?
Yes, you can work as Registered Social Worker if you have a criminal record. In many cases, your lived experience can be useful in your career because it’ll help you to connect with clients.
Here’s what you should know about pursuing social work with a criminal record:
- Education: Most social work schools will ask students to disclose a criminal record when they apply to school and when assigning practicums. We recommend discussing your situation with the schools you are applying to for information on how to proceed.
- Registration: Most provinces and territories require social workers to be certified by a regulatory body. Check with the regulatory body in your province or territory about their policy on criminal records.
- Employment: Many jobs in social work require a criminal record check, especially when working with vulnerable people. Be honest with potential employers about your criminal record. Explain what you’ve learned and how your experience will help you serve others.
Many social workers work full-time, although part-time work is also available. They may work in person or virtually.
Social workers who work directly with clients spend more of their time with clients in their offices, in the client’s home, in the field or online. They also spend time consulting other professionals, such as psychologists, teachers, physicians, lawyers, and others involved in a specific case.
Salaries vary depending on location, job title and duties. In 2022, people working as social workers across Canada earned between $22.00-$46.10 per hour.
For salary information in your region, please contact the appropriate Provincial/Territorial regulatory body.
How Many Social Workers are there in Canada?
In 2018, there were roughly 52,823 social workers in Canada.
The social work profession is legislated and regulated at the provincial/territorial level. To find out how many Registered Social Workers there are in your region, please contact the appropriate Provincial/Territorial regulatory body.
In general, job openings in social work are projected to rise between 2019-2028 because of increased demand and job vacancies created by the retirement of the baby boom generation.
Future prospects vary across Canada depending on the province or territory. To learn more, please contact the Provincial/Territorial regulatory body in your region.