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About Social Workers

Social workers are regulated health professionals who work with individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. Social workers advocate for social justice, human rights, and equitable access to health and social services. They provide counselling, therapy and problem-solving interventions and help individuals gain access to information and resources (e.g., community support programs). In addition, they address broader social issues such as oppression, discrimination, domestic violence, unemployment and poverty.

Social workers are usually employed in hospitals, community health centres, mental health clinics, schools, advocacy organizations, government departments, social services agencies, child-welfare settings, family services agencies, correctional facilities, social housing organizations, family courts, employee assistance and private counselling programs, school boards and consultation agencies. 

Data availability

CIHI’s Health Workforce Database (HWDB) collects aggregate-level, standardized data on the regulatory environment, supply, and demographic and education characteristics of social workers in Canada.

Reports and analyses

Regulatory environment

In Canada, social workers are regulated in all 10 provinces and the Northwest Territories.i

Practice criteria

To practise as a social worker in Canada, an individual must register with a provincial regulatory body as required. The requirements to obtain a licence are similar across the country but can vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another.

Common requirements

  • Hold a minimum of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from an accredited program, except in Alberta where a diploma is accepted
  • Pass the licensing examination through the Association of Social Work Boards (applicable in some provinces)
  • Register with a provincial regulatory body as required

Scope of practice

The scope of practice for social workers is articulated in provincial/territorial regulatory legislation, which outlines the range of responsibilities that define the boundaries of professional practice.

The basic goal of a social worker is to facilitate the “social well-being” and “social functioning” of the “person-in-environment.” Social work is the application of social work knowledge, values, focus and practice methods in a person-in-environment context to accomplish the core functions of social work, which includeii

  • Helping people obtain basic human needs services
  • Counselling and psychotherapy with individuals, families and groups
  • Helping communities/groups provide or improve social and health services
  • Participate in relevant legislative and social policy processes


i. Canadian Association of Social Workers. Social Work Regulatory Bodies. Accessed May 19, 2016.
ii. Canadian Association of Social Workers. Social Work Scope of Practice. 2008.