NASW Code of Ethics for Social Workers

Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social WorkersApproved by the 1996 NASW Delegate Assembly and revised by the 2008 NASW Delegate Assembly

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The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.

Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. “Clients” is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of direct practice, community organizing, supervision, consultation administration, advocacy, social and political action, policy development and implementation, education, and research and evaluation. Social workers seek to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs. Social workers also seek to promote the responsiveness of organizations, communities, and other social institutions to individuals’ needs and social problems.


6 Core Values for social workers

  • service
  • social justice
  • dignity and worth of the person
  • importance of human relationships
  • integrity
  • competence.
This constellation of core values reflects what is unique to the social work profession. Core values, and the principles that flow from them, must be balanced within the context and complexity of the human experience.

6 guiding principles for social workers

1) Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems. 

2) Social workers challenge social injustice.

3) Social workers respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person. 

4) Social workers recognize the central importance of human relationships. 

5) Social workers behave in a trustworthy manner. 

6) Social workers practise within their areas of competence and develop and enhance their professional expertise. 

6 Ethical Standards for social workers

The following ethical standards are relevant to the professional activities of all social workers. These standards concern

(1) social workers’ ethical responsibilities to clients,

(2) social workers’ ethical responsibilities to colleagues,

(3) social workers’ ethical responsibilities in practice settings,

(4) social workers’ ethical responsibilities as professionals,

(5) social workers’ ethical responsibilities to the social work profession, and

(6) social workers’ ethical responsibilities to the broader society.

Some of the standards that follow are enforceable guidelines for professional conduct, and some are aspirational. The extent to which each standard is enforceable is a matter of professional judgment to be exercised by those responsible for reviewing alleged violations of ethical standards.



1.01 Commitment to Clients: Social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients. In general, clients’ interests are primary. (Examples include when a social worker is required by law to report that a client has abused a child or has threatened to harm self or others.)

1.02 Self-Determination: Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals.

1.03 Informed Consent: Social workers should use clear and understandable language to inform clients of the purpose of the services, risks and limits of the requirement of a third-party payer, relevant cost, reasonable alternatives, clients’ rights to refuge or withdrawal consent and the time frame covered by the consent. This is also important to inform consent before audiotaping or videotaping clients or permitting observation of services to clients by a third party.

1.04 Competence: Social workers should provide services and represent themselves as competent only within the boundaries of their education, training, license, certification, consultation received, supervised experience, or other relevant professional experience. Another strategy for Social workers should provide services in substantive areas or use intervention techniques or approaches that are new to them only after engaging in appropriate study, training, consultation, and supervision from people who are competent in those interventions or techniques.

1.05 Cultural Competence and Social Diversity: Social workers should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures. This is important for Social workers should have a knowledge base of their clients’ cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients’ cultures and to differences among people and cultural groups.

1.06 Conflicts of Interest: Social workers should be alert to and avoid conflicts of interest that interfere with the exercise of professional discretion and impartial judgment. Social workers should inform clients when a real or potential conflict of interest arises and take reasonable steps to resolve the issue in a manner that makes the clients’ interests primary and protects clients’ interests to the greatest extent possible. In some cases, protecting clients’ interests may require termination of the professional relationship with proper referral of the client.
Social workers should not
  1. take unfair advantage of any professional relationship or exploit others to further their personal, religious, political, or business interests.
  1. engage in dual or multiple relationships with clients or former clients in which there is a risk of exploitation or potential harm to the client.
“When social workers provide services to two or more people who have a relationship with each other (for example, couples, family members), social workers should clarify with all parties which individuals will be considered clients and the nature of social workers’ professional obligations to the various individuals who are receiving services. Social workers who anticipate a conflict of interest among the individuals receiving services or who anticipate having to perform in potentially conflicting roles (for example, when a social worker is asked to testify in a child custody dispute or divorce proceedings involving clients) should clarify their role with the parties involved and take appropriate action to minimize any conflict of interest.”

1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality: Social workers should respect clients’ right to privacy. Social workers should not solicit private information from clients unless it is essential to providing services or conducting social work evaluation or research. Social workers should protect the confidentiality of all information obtained in the course of professional service, except for compelling professional reasons.

1.08 Access to Records: Social workers should provide clients with reasonable access to records concerning the clients or may cause serious misunderstanding or harm to the client.

1.09 Sexual Relationships

1.10 Physical Contact

1.11 Sexual Harassment: These things should be avoided with clients or clients’ relatives nor there is a  risk of exploitation or potential harm to the client.

1.12 Derogatory Language: Social workers should not use derogatory language in their written or verbal communications to or about clients. Social workers should use accurate and respectful language in all communications to and about clients.

1.13 Payment for Services: There should be fair, reasonable, and commensurate fees for the services.

1.14 Clients Who Lack Decision-Making Capacity: When social workers act on behalf of clients who lack the capacity to make informed decisions, social workers should take reasonable steps to safeguard the interests and rights of those clients.

1.15 Interruption of Services: Social workers should make reasonable efforts to ensure continuity of services in the event that services are interrupted by factors such as unavailability, relocation, illness, disability, or death.

1.16 Termination of Services: Social workers should terminate services to clients and professional relationships with them when such services and relationships are no longer required or no longer serve the clients’ needs or interests.



2.01 Respect: Social workers should treat colleagues with respect and should represent accurately and fairly the qualifications, views, and obligations of colleagues. Social workers should avoid unwarranted negative criticism of colleagues in communications with clients or with other professionals. Unwarranted negative criticism may include demeaning comments that refer to colleagues’ level of competence or to individuals’ attributes such as race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical disability. Social workers should cooperate with social work colleagues and with colleagues of other professions when such cooperation serves the well-being of clients.

2.02 Confidentiality: Social workers should respect confidential information shared by colleagues in the course of their professional relationships and transactions. Social workers should ensure that such colleagues understand social workers’ obligation to respect confidentiality and any exceptions related to it.

2.03 Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Social workers who are members of an interdisciplinary team should participate in and contribute to decisions that affect the well-being of clients by drawing on the perspectives, values, and experiences of the social work profession.

2.04 Disputes Involving Colleagues: Social workers should not take advantage of a dispute between a colleague and an employer to obtain a position or otherwise advance the social workers’ own interests. Social workers should not exploit clients in disputes with colleagues or engage clients in any inappropriate discussion of conflicts between social workers and their colleagues.

2.05 Consultation: Social workers should seek the advice and counsel of colleagues whenever such consultation is in the best interests of clients.

2.06 Referral for Services: Social workers should refer clients to other professionals when the other professionals’ specialized knowledge or expertise is needed to serve clients fully or when social workers believe that they are not being effective or making reasonable progress with clients and that additional service is required. Social workers who refer clients to other professionals should take appropriate steps to facilitate an orderly transfer of responsibility. Social workers who refer clients to other professionals should disclose, with clients’ consent, all pertinent information to the new service providers. Social workers are prohibited from giving or receiving payment for a referral when no professional service is provided by the referring social worker.

2.07 Sexual Relationships

2.08 Sexual Harassment: Both strictly prohibited in social work practice (Relationship with clients or clients’ relatives)

2.09 Impairment of Colleagues: Social workers who have direct knowledge of a social work colleague’s impairment that is due to personal problems, psychosocial distress, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties and that interferes with practice effectiveness should consult with that colleague when feasible and assist the colleague in taking remedial action.

2.10 Incompetence of Colleagues: Social workers who have direct knowledge of a social work colleague’s incompetence should consult with that colleague when feasible and assist the colleague in taking remedial action. Social workers who believe that a social work colleague is incompetent and has not taken adequate steps to address the incompetence should take action through appropriate channels established by employers, agencies, NASW, licensing and regulatory bodies, and other professional organizations.

2.11 Unethical Conduct of Colleagues: Social workers should take adequate measures to discourage, prevent, expose, and correct the unethical conduct of colleagues. Social workers who believe that a colleague has acted unethically should seek a resolution by discussing their concerns with the colleague when feasible and when such discussion is likely to be productive.



3.01 Supervision and Consultation: Social workers who provide supervision or consultation should have the necessary knowledge and skill to supervise or consult appropriately and should do so only within their areas of knowledge and competence and be responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries. Social workers should not engage in any dual or multiple relationships with supervisees in which there is a risk of exploitation of or potential harm to the supervisee.

3.02 Education and Training: Social workers who function as educators, field instructors for students, or trainers should provide instruction only within their areas of knowledge and competence and should provide instruction based on the most current information and knowledge available in the profession. Social workers who function as educators or field instructors for students should evaluate students’ performance in a manner that is fair and respectful. Social workers who function as educators or field instructors for students should not engage in any dual or multiple relationships with students in which there is a risk of exploitation or potential harm to the student. Social work educators and field instructors are responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries.

3.03 Performance Evaluation: Social workers who have responsibility for evaluating the performance of others should fulfill such responsibility in a fair and considerate manner and on the basis of clearly stated criteria.

3.04 Client Records: (a) Social workers should take reasonable steps to ensure that documentation in records is accurate and reflects the services provided and store records following the termination of services to ensure reasonable future access. Records should be maintained for the number of years required by state statutes or relevant contracts.

3.05 Billing: Social workers should establish and maintain billing practises that accurately reflect the nature and extent of services provided and that identify who provided the service in the practice setting.

3.06 Client Transfer: When an individual who is receiving services from another agency or colleague contacts a social worker for services, the social worker should carefully consider the client’s needs before agreeing to provide services. To minimize possible confusion and conflict, social workers should discuss with potential clients the nature of the clients’ current relationship with other service providers and the implications, including possible benefits or risks, of entering into a relationship with a new service provider. If a new client has been served by another agency or colleague, social workers should discuss with the client whether consultation with the previous service provider is in the client’s best interest.

3.07 Administration: Social work administrators should advocate within and outside their agencies for adequate resources to meet clients’ needs. Social workers should advocate for resource allocation procedures that are open and fair. When not all clients’ needs can be met, an allocation procedure should be developed that is nondiscriminatory and based on appropriate and consistently applied principles. Social workers who are administrators should take reasonable steps to ensure that adequate agency or organizational resources are available to provide appropriate staff supervision.

3.08 Continuing Education and Staff Development: Social work administrators and supervisors should take reasonable steps to provide or arrange for continuing education and staff development for all staff for whom they are responsible. Continuing education and staff development should address current knowledge and emerging developments related to social work practice and ethics.

3.09 Commitments to Employers: Social workers generally should adhere to commitments made to employers and employing organizations. Social workers should work to improve employing agencies’ policies and procedures and the efficiency and effectiveness of their services. Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate discrimination in the employing organization’s work assignments and in its employment policies and practices.

3.10 Labor-Management Disputes: Social workers may engage in organized action, including the formation of and participation in labour unions, to improve services to clients and working conditions. The actions of social workers who are involved in labour-management disputes, job actions, or labour strikes should be guided by the profession’s values, ethical principles, and ethical standards. Reasonable differences of opinion exist among social workers concerning their primary obligation as professionals during an actual or threatened labour strike or job action. Social workers should carefully examine relevant issues and their possible impact on clients before deciding on a course of action.



4.01 Competence: Social workers should accept responsibility or employment only on the basis of existing competence or the intention to acquire the necessary competence.

4.02 Discrimination: Social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability.

4.03 Private Conduct: Social workers should not permit their private conduct to interfere with their ability to fulfill their professional responsibilities.

4.04 Dishonesty, Fraud, and Deception: Social workers should not participate in, condone, or be associated with dishonesty, fraud, or deception.

4.05 Impairment: Social workers should not allow their own personal problems, psychosocial distress, legal problems, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties to interfere with their professional judgment and performance or to jeopardize the best interests of people for whom they have a professional responsibility. Social workers whose personal problems, psychosocial distress, legal problems, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties interfere with their professional judgment and performance should immediately seek consultation and take appropriate remedial action by seeking professional help, making adjustments in workload, terminating practice, or taking any other steps necessary to protect clients and others.

4.06 Misrepresentation: Social workers should make clear distinctions between statements made and actions engaged in as a private individual and as a representative of the social work profession, a professional social work organization, or the social worker’s employing agency.

4.07 Solicitations: Social workers should not engage in uninvited solicitation of potential clients who, because of their circumstances, are vulnerable to undue influence, manipulation, or coercion. Social workers should not engage in solicitation of testimonial endorsements (including solicitation of consent to use a client’s prior statement as a testimonial endorsement) from current clients or from other people who, because of their particular circumstances, are vulnerable to undue influence.

4.08 Acknowledging Credit: Social workers should take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they have actually performed and to which they have contributed. Social workers should honestly acknowledge the work and the contributions made by others.



5.01 Integrity of the Profession: Social workers should uphold and advance the values, ethics, knowledge, and mission of the profession. Social workers should protect, enhance, and improve the integrity of the profession through appropriate study and research, active discussion, and responsible criticism of the profession. Social workers should contribute time and professional expertise to activities that promote respect for the value, integrity, and competence of the social work profession. These activities may include teaching, research, consultation, service, legislative testimony, presentations in the community, and participation in their professional organizations.

5.02 Evaluation and Research: Social workers should monitor and evaluate policies, the implementation of programs, and practice interventions and should promote and facilitate evaluation and research to contribute to the development of knowledge. Social workers engaged in evaluation or research should carefully consider possible consequences and should follow guidelines developed for the protection of evaluation and research participants. Appropriate institutional review boards should be consulted. When evaluation or research participants are incapable of giving informed consent, social workers should provide an appropriate explanation to the participants, obtain the participants’ assent to the extent they are able, and obtain written consent from an appropriate proxy.



6.01 Social Welfare: Social workers should promote the general welfare of society, from local to global levels, and the development of people, their communities, and their environments. Social workers should advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfilment of basic human needs and should promote social, economic, political, and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice.

6.02 Public Participation: Social workers should facilitate informed participation by the public in shaping social policies and institutions.

6.03 Public Emergencies: Social workers should provide appropriate professional services in public emergencies to the greatest extent possible.

6.04 Social and Political Action: Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practise and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice. Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, colour, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability.

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