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About Sickkids
About SickKids

March 8, 2016

Social workers at SickKids: innovative approaches to addressing individual, family and systemic challenges

The celebration of Social Work Month across Canada provides an opportunity to revisit the origins of hospital social work and honour the growth and development of the profession over the years.

The first social worker hired in a hospital setting was Ida Maude Cannon. In 1906, Dr. Richard Cabot, a senior physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, hired Cannon to jointly organize the first North American hospital-based social work program. Cannon noted that Dr. Cabot “was presenting the idea of social service within the hospital where sick patients, although separated from their home and families, nevertheless cannot separate themselves from their personal problems.” Even then, social workers recognized and worked to address the link between health and social conditions.

In those days, social workers were devoted to a number of concerns, notably the needs of newcomers to North America and those living in poverty. They acted as advocates for a number of issues, which continue as concerns today, such as access to housing and medical care, fair wages, life-skills education, safer childbirth and the control of alcohol and substances.

In 1915, Cannon became Chief of the Massachusettes General Social Service Department, the first hospital social work department. Cannon and Dr. Cabot promoted the inclusion of social and community factors as a part of the medical treatment plan. Cannon also recognized the importance of representing the views of the patient in treatment plans. As time passed, she established training and clinical supervision programs for staff, held regular case conferences and started up social work student training programs.

With the commemoration of Social Work Month, we recognize the lasting power of the work of the pioneers in hospital social work over a century ago. SickKids’ social workers continue to focus on the individual, their family and the conditions in which they live.  Social workers believe in a person-in-environment approach to care that recognizes the interactions between health/mental health and the social determinants of health.  Social workers continue to advocate for the rights of patients and families to be part of treatment planning.  

“We are proud to continue our tradition of helping to support individuals and families to solve problems and find their voice in turning issues into answers,” says Barbara Muskat, Director, Department of Social Work.

The theme of this year’s Social Work Month is Social workers help turn issues into answers. At SickKids, social workers have developed a number of innovative approaches to address individual, family and systemic challenges. Social workers were instrumental in:

  • Bringing the Family Legal Health Program to SickKids, sponsored by Pro Bono Law Ontario. This program offers legal consultation on health-related issues and referrals to Legal Aid lawyers in the community for families with limited financial resources.
  • Establishing the Resource Navigation Program, providing easy access to community supports, such as applications to the Trillium Drug Program and Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD) services.  
  • Establishing the Family Therapy Training Program, offering strengths-based family therapy services for SickKids families, as well as intensive training in this modality for staff and students.

Learn more about Social Work at SickKids.