Every milestone begins with a foundation. First steps, if you will.
Last December, the College increased its membership to over 20,000 registered members – a significant moment in the College’s 18-year history that elevates its profile within the regulatory community. The 20,000 milestone is something to celebrate and about which we are proud. This achievement wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of College staff as well as our members’ commitment to professional and ethical practice.
The 20,000 milestone has led us to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come and what the future holds for the College and the professions of social work and social service work. This achievement also warrants a moment to reflect on two individuals who have been with the College from the very beginning: Ema Sevdina and Celia Denov, RSW.
The College’s first registered member
Celia Denov, RSW, didn’t know she would become a social worker. After graduating from university with an English degree, she worked as a high school teacher in Tanzania for Cuso International. However, like many who enter the social work profession, Celia had a strong desire to help people and wanted to make a difference.
“I found social work to be a very fulfilling profession,” she said. “Social work has always been an exciting field; a profession that embraces empathy and holistic solutions to societal issues.”
Celia has the distinction of being the first registered member of the College. Celia entered social work in the late 1960s, long before the passage of the Social Work and Social Service Work Act, 1998, and the subsequent creation of the College. An early supporter of the College, she believes that regulation has brought more professionalism and accountability to the professions of social work and social service work.
“When I entered the profession anyone could call herself or himself a social worker or social service worker,” she said. “There were few entry-to-practice requirements. The Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice, a complaints process for the public, and ongoing learning programs didn’t exist.”
Celia spent the first five years of her social work career in a clinical setting. Though she enjoyed working on the frontlines, Celia wanted to make an impact at the systemic level. This would lead the mother of three to earn a master’s degree in social work, specializing in policy and administration. She would also go on to enjoy a long and distinguished career in government, most recently as an Assistant Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS).
“In government, I was able to help people at the policy, systemic level,” she explained. “My work allowed me to get involved in a lot of initiatives that I believe have benefited society, including helping reform children’s services earlier in my career, to addressing women’s issues, among many others.”
Celia remains busy following her retirement from the MCSS. She has been involved in high-profile public protection inquiries, including the Cornwall Public Inquiry, the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario, and – most recently – the Motherisk Commission Inquiry. She has also participated on two tribunals with the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board and the Child and Family Services Review Board. Celia formerly served in a volunteer capacity as the President of the Board of Directors for St. Stephen’s Community House and Social Planning Toronto.
In the future, Celia wants to see the profession of social work continue its role in serving and advocating for the disadvantaged.
“The profession of social work is able to see issues holistically, and to do this from a base of core values,” she said. “The urgent societal issues facing us right now, the needs of indigenous and racialized communities, the need for affordable housing and improved youth mental health, the ravages of poverty and substance abuse, immigration and refugee issues, all require the important role and contribution of social work.”
From Bulgaria to the College
Like Celia, Ema Sevdina has been with the College from the beginning. She is a long-time member of the College’s Registration Department, a group who deserves a great deal of the recognition for the College’s 20,000-member milestone. Her responsibilities in the Registration Department include assessing applications and providing assistance during the registration process.
“When I first started working with the College, it was just me, Glenda McDonald (the College’s founding Registrar) and three other staff,” she said. “Watching the College grow over the years is like seeing the development of a building from foundation to finish.”
Ema immigrated to Canada from Bulgaria with her son in 1995. Though she had a master’s degree in economics, Ema had to start from the beginning, working part-time jobs while taking care of her young son. The College would be Ema’s first – and only – full-time job in Canada.
“It was quite the journey and experience,” Ema says of her early years in Canada. “We literally had to start from scratch. We had to make it work and, in the end, we did.”
Ema possesses a keen attention to detail, which makes her of great value to the College. She remembers everything about the College’s history. After 18 years, she still remembers with great clarity the registration of the College’s first member, Celia Denov, RSW.
The part of her job Ema enjoys most is connecting with people, whether they are students, members or her fellow staff. Every year she volunteers for the College’s Annual Meeting and Education Day and is always ready and willing to meet with stakeholders at College outreach events. Her colleagues enjoy her company and she is a regular contributor to lunchtime discussions.
“I really like helping people,” she said, of her work. “Helping new graduates with the registration process, and hearing their excitement as they are about to become registered social workers and registered social service workers, really makes my day.”
Every milestone requires first steps. The 20,000-member milestone is no different. We celebrate it as it represents years of hard work and dedication. For this, the College thanks its members and staff for their contributions over the last 18 years – for their critical role in helping the College fulfill its important public protection mandate.