Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, it is an honour for me, as a social worker from Quebec, as well as for the organization of which I am president, the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators, to have this opportunity to present our views on the study entitled: “A Framework for Success: Practical Recommendations to Further Shorten the Foreign Qualification Recognition Process”.
Since this is our first meeting, I hope you won't mind if I take a few moments to introduce our organization.
As its name suggests, the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators is a national association representing provincial and territorial social work regulatory authorities. In that capacity, we represent approximately 40,000 social workers right across the country who are our members.
The Council was established in 2009 in response to a desire on the part of regulatory authorities to create a forum for review, development and discussion of views and policies relating to matters of common interest, as well as national and international issues related to licensing and regulations.
In other words, the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators represents the preferred forum for discussion of issues relating to social work regulations at the national and international levels.
Even though we are generally proud of our performance when it comes to admitting foreigners into our profession—and I will come back to this point a little later—the work underway in your committee with respect to foreign credential recognition is of interest to us.
As a regulatory body, we are concerned about the harm that may come to people as a result of social phenomena. Indeed, pretty well right across the country, social issues are becoming more complex and, despite the efforts made by our governments, poverty continues to affect tens of thousands of Canadian families and children who do not have access to decent living conditions.
An aging population is also forcing us, as a society, to take another look at our relationship with seniors, particularly the most vulnerable among them. Groups and communities also need more and more support to make their voices heard and demand their rights.
At the same time, depending on the communities, a number of provinces are having to deal with or anticipate shortages of social workers of various magnitudes, particularly in rural communities or in such disciplines as youth protection and mental health.
Here in Canada, we are greatly in need of new blood in the field of social work and, that being the case, bringing more social workers from abroad would certainly be a welcome move.
Whether we are talking about pan-Canadian mobility or foreign credential recognition, our profession has done its homework and can certainly be cited as an example.
Clear evidence of that is the Agreement on Internal Trade signed in 1994 by the federal, provincial and territorial governments with a view to facilitating labour mobility, which has meant that, since 1999, social workers who are licensed by a provincial or territorial regulatory authority are able to practice their profession anywhere in Canada.
The Quebec-France Understanding on the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications signed by Quebec and France authorizes the licencing of social workers of French nationality who apply using a fast track process.
Again with a view to removing barriers to full mobility, the council has begun developing a Canadian competency framework for social work.
The purpose of this framework is to develop a pan-Canadian profile of the baseline social work competencies, in order to facilitate mobility while at the same time maintaining public safety.
This pan-Canadian competency framework will be an extremely useful tool in terms of facilitating and expediting file review and the admission of foreigners, as well as establishing national standards with respect to the skills required for social work practice in Canada.
As I referred to earlier, we can be proud of our performance when it comes to bringing foreigners into Canada who want to practice their profession as social workers here. However, it's important to review the figures. Indeed, using 2010-2011 as a reference, fewer than 200 individuals from the United States and other countries applied for foreign credential recognition or training with provincial or territorial social work regulatory authorities.
To my knowledge, the vast majority of these individuals had their applications processed and accepted within extremely reasonable timeframes. So, given the increasing demand for social workers in the coming years, and our effectiveness in quickly recognizing the qualifications of people wishing to practice our profession in Canada, we conclude that, were we more visible at the international level, we would be in a position to attract more social worker licensing applicants. And that's where you come in.
Indeed, with a view to developing the necessary tools to ensure optimal visibility internationally, the Canadian Council is in need of a financial contribution from the Canadian government. The social work profession must be included amongst the listed professions in the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, just as occupational therapy, nursing, engineering, pharmacy, speech therapy and audiology are.
Our hope is that a series of well-defined measures can be developed that will make it possible to promote the social work profession both here and abroad. In that respect, we believe there is a need to redouble our efforts here in Canada to introduce the social work profession to our youth, including in Aboriginal communities, to ensure that a new generation of professionals can emerge.
This financial assistance would also give us a chance to reflect further on how to organize and provide retraining or skill upgrading that some applying to practice the profession might require, or develop paid social work practicums for immigrants to allow them to acquire work experience in Canada. We are also considering setting up a Web site as a virtual bridge between ourselves and the world, as a means of informing immigrants that there is room for them in Canada within the social work profession.
In closing, the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators is anxious to play a constructive role in supporting the government as it takes steps to attract skilled workers to Canada in those areas where there is a demand, as is the case for social work.
We believe it would be possible to significantly increase the number of social work licensing applicants from abroad by developing tools to increase the visibility of social work practice in Canada, so that it becomes an attractive option to ever increasing numbers of individuals living abroad.
Here in Canada, social work regulatory authorities have done their homework. Bridges have already been built between the provinces and territories with a view to facilitating social worker mobility. Soon all the necessary components will be in place to admit licensing applicants from abroad, quickly assess their skills and thereby give them timely access, wherever possible, to a social work license.
If we want to substantially increase the number of applications, we will need to have a greater presence and be more proactive. I hope we can count on the support of committee members as we seek financial assistance from the Government of Canada.