NASW CODE OF ETHICS

As adopted by the 1979 NASW Delegate Assembly

and revised by the 1990 NASW Delegate Assembly.


The Delegate Assembly has ratified a new Code of Ethics.

This Code will go into effect in January of 1997.

The new Code of Ethics may be found at http://www.ssc.msu.edu/~sw/nasweth.html.

The Draft Code from which the new Code was developed may be found at

http://www.ssc.msu.edu/~sw/drafteth.html.


Preamble

This code is intended to serve as a guide to the everyday conduct of members of the social work profession and as a basis for the adjudication of issues in ethics when the conduct of social workers is alleged to deviate from the standards expressed or implied in this code. It represents standards of ethical behavior for social workers in professional relationships with those served, with colleagues, with employers, with other individuals and professions, and with the community and society as a whole. It also embodies standards of ethical behavior governing individual conduct to the extent that such conduct is associated with an individual's status and identity as a social worker.

This code is based on the fundamental values of the social work profession that include the worth, dignity, and uniqueness of all persons as well as their rights and opportunities. It is also based on the nature of social work, which fosters conditions that promote these values.

In subscribing to and abiding by this code, the social worker is expected to view ethical responsibility in as inclusive a context as each situation demands and within which ethical judgement is required. The social worker is expected to take into consideration all the principles in this code that have a bearing upon any situation in which ethical judgement is to be exercised and professional intervention or conduct is planned. The course of action that the social worker chooses is expected to be consistent with the spirit as well as the letter of this code.

In itself, this code does not represent a set of rules that will prescribe all the behaviors of social workers in all the complexities of professional life. Rather, it offers general principles to guide conduct, and the judicious appraisal of conduct, in situations that have ethical implications. It provides the basis for making judgements about ethical actions before and after they occur. Frequently, the particular situation determines the ethical principles that apply and the manner of their application. In such cases, not only the particular ethical principles are taken into immediate consideration, but also the entire code and its spirit. Specific applications of ethical principles must be judged within the context in which they are being considered. Ethical behavior in a given situation must satisfy not only the judgement of the individual social worker, but also the judgement of an unbiased jury of Professional Peers.

This code should not be used as an instrument to deprive any social worker of the opportunity or freedom to practice with complete professional integrity; nor should any disciplinary action be taken on the basis of this code without maximum provision for safeguarding the rights of the social worker affected.

The ethical behavior of social workers results not from edict, but from a personal commitment of the individual. This code is offered to affirm the will and zeal of all social workers to be ethical and to act ethically in all that they do as social workers.

The following codified ethical principles should guide social workers in the various roles and relationships and at the various levels of responsibility in which they function professionally. These principles also serve as a basis for the adjudication by the National Association of Social Workers of issues in ethics.

In subscribing to this code, social workers are required to cooperate in its implementation and abide by any disciplinary rulings based on it. They should also take adequate measures to discourage, prevent, expose, and correct the unethical conduct of colleagues. Finally, social workers should be equally ready to defend and assist colleagues unjustly charged with unethical conduct.

Summary of Major Principles

I. The Social Worker's Conduct and Comportment as a Social Worker

    A. Propriety. The social worker should maintain high standards of personal conduct in the capacity or identity as a social worker.

    B. Competence and Professional Development. The social worker should strive to become and remain proficient in professional practice and the performance of professional functions.

    C. Service. The social worker should regard as primary the service obligation of the social work profession.

    D. Integrity. The social worker should act in accordance with the highest standards of professional integrity.

    E. Scholarship and Research. The social worker engaged in study and research should be guided by the conventions of scholarly inquiry.

II. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to Clients

    F. Primacy of Clients' Interests. The social worker's primary responsibility is to clients.

    G. Rights and Prerogatives of Clients. The social worker should make every effort to foster maximum self-determination on the part of clients.

    H. Confidentiality and Privacy. The social worker should respect the privacy of clients and hold in confidence all information obtained in the course of professional service.

    I. Fees. When setting fees, the social worker should ensure that they are fair, reasonable, considerate, and commensurate with the service performed and with due regard of the clients' ability to pay.

III. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to Colleagues

    J. Respect, Fairness, and Courtesy. The social worker should treat colleagues with respect, courtesy, fairness, and good faith.

    K. Dealing with Colleagues' Clients. The social worker has the responsibility to relate to the clients of colleagues with full professional consideration.

IV. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to Employers and Employing Organizations

    L. Commitments to Employing Organizations. The social worker should adhere to commitments made to the employing organizations.

V. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to the Social Work Profession

    M. Maintaining the Integrity of the Profession. The social worker should uphold the advance of values, ethics, knowledge, and mission of the profession.

    N. Community Service. The social worker should assist the profession in making social services available to the general public.

    O. Development of Knowledge. The social worker should take responsibility for identifying, developing, and fully utilizing knowledge for professional practice.

VI. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to Society

    P. Promoting the General Welfare. The social worker should promote the general welfare of society.

The NASW Code of Ethics

I. The Social Worker's Conduct and Comportment as a Social Worker

    A. Propriety. The social worker should maintain high standards of personal conduct in the capacity or identity as a social worker.

      The private conduct of the social worker is a personal matter to the same degree as is any other person's, except when such conduct compromises the fulfillment of professional responsibilities.

      The social worker should not participate in, condone, or be associated with dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

      The social worker should distinguish clearly between statements and actions made as a private individual and as a representative of the social work profession or an organization or group.

    B. Competence and Professional Development. The social worker should strive to become and remain proficient in professional practice and the performance of professional functions.

      The social worker should accept responsibility or employment only on the basis of existing competence or the intention to acquire the necessary competence.

      The social worker should not misrepresent professional qualifications, education, experience, or affiliations.

    C. Service. The social worker should regard as primary the service obligation of the social work profession.

      The social worker should retain ultimate responsibility for the quality and extent of the service that individual assumes, assigns, or performs.

      The social worker should act to prevent practices that are inhumane or discriminatory against any person or group of persons.

    D. Integrity. The social worker should act in accordance with the highest standards of professional integrity.

      The social worker should be alert to and resist the influences and pressures that interfere with the exercise of professional discretion and impartial judgement required for the performance of professional functions.

      The social worker should not exploit professional relationships for personal gain.

    E. Scholarship and Research. The social worker engaged in study and research should be guided by the conventions of scholarly inquiry.

      The social worker engaged in research should consider carefully its possible consequences for human beings.

      The social worker engaged in research should ascertain that the consent of participants in the research is voluntary and informed, without any implied deprivation or penalty for refusal to participate, and with due regard for participants' privacy and dignity.

      The social worker engaged in research should protect participants from unwarranted physical or mental discomfort, distress, harm, danger, or deprivation.

      The social worker who engages in the evaluation of services or cases should discuss them only for the professional purposes and only with persons directly and professionally concerned with them.

      Information obtained about participants in research should be treated as confidential.

      The social worker should take credit only for work actually done in connection with scholarly and research endeavors and credit contributions made by others.

II. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to Clients

    F. Primacy of Clients' Interests. The social worker's primary responsibility is to clients.

      The social worker should serve clients with devotion, loyalty, determination, and the maximum application of professional skill and competence.

      The social worker should not exploit relationships with clients for personal advantage.

      The social worker should not practice, condone, facilitate or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, marital status, political belief, mental or physical handicap, or any other preference or personal characteristic, condition or status.

      The social worker should avoid relationships or commitments that conflict with the interests of clients.

      The social worker should under no circumstances engage in sexual activities with clients.

      The social worker should provide clients with accurate and complete information regarding the extent and nature of the services available to them.

      The social worker should apprise clients of their risks, rights, opportunities, and obligations associated with social service to them.

      The social worker should seek advice and counsel of colleagues and supervisors whenever such consultation is in the best interest of clients.

      The social worker should terminate service to clients, and professional relationships with them, when such service and relationships are no longer required or no longer serve the clients' needs or interests.

      The social worker should withdraw services precipitously only under unusual circumstances, giving careful consideration to all factors in the situation and taking care to minimize possible adverse effects.

      The social worker who anticipates the termination or interruption of service to clients should notify clients promptly and seek the transfer, referral, or continuation of service in relation to the clients' needs and preferences.

    G. Rights and Prerogatives of Clients. The social worker should make every effort to foster maximum self-determination on the part of clients.

      When the social worker must act on behalf of a client who has been adjudged legally incompetent, the social worker should safeguard the interests and rights of that client.

      When another individual has been legally authorized to act in behalf of a client, the social worker should deal with that person always with the client's best interest in mind.

      The social worker should not engage in any action that violates or diminishes the civil or legal rights of clients.

    H. Confidentiality and Privacy. The social worker should respect the privacy of clients and hold in confidence all information obtained in the course of professional service.

      The social worker should share with others confidences revealed by clients, without their consent, only for compelling professional reasons.

      The social worker should inform clients fully about the limits of confidentiality in a given situation, the purposes for which information is obtained, and how it may be used.

      The social worker should afford clients reasonable access to any official social work records concerning them.

      When providing clients with access to records, the social worker should take due care to protect the confidences of others contained in those records.

      The social worker should obtain informed consent of clients before taping, recording, or permitting third party observation of their activities.

    I. Fees. When setting fees, the social worker should ensure that they are fair, reasonable, considerate, and commensurate with the service performed and with due regard of the clients' ability to pay.

      The social worker should not accept anything of value for making a referral.

III. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to Colleagues

    J. Respect, Fairness, and Courtesy. The social worker should treat colleagues with respect, courtesy, fairness, and good faith.

      The social worker should cooperate with colleagues to promote professional interests and concerns.

      The social worker should respect confidences shared by colleagues in the course of their professional relationships and transactions.

      The social worker should create and maintain conditions of practice that facilitate ethical and competent professional performance by colleagues.

      The social worker should treat with respect, and represent accurately and fairly, the qualifications, views, and findings of colleagues and use appropriate channels to express judgements on these matters.

      The social worker who replaces or is replaced by a colleague in professional practice should act with consideration for the interest, character, and reputation of that colleague.

      The social worker should not exploit a dispute between a colleague and employers to obtain a position or otherwise advance the social worker's interest.

      The social worker should seek arbitration or mediation when conflicts with colleagues require resolution for compelling professional reasons.

      The social worker should extend to colleagues of other professions the same respect and cooperation that is extended to social work colleagues.

      The social worker who serves as an employer, supervisor, or mentor to colleagues should make orderly and explicit arrangements regarding the conditions of their continuing professional relationship.

      The social worker who has the responsibility for employing and evaluating the performance of other staff members, should fulfill such responsibility in a fair, considerate, and equitable manner, on the basis of clearly enunciated criteria.

      The social worker who has the responsibility for evaluating the performance of employees, supervisees, or students should share evaluations with them.

    K. Dealing with Colleagues' Clients. The social worker has the responsibility to relate to the clients of colleagues with full professional consideration.

      The social worker should not assume professional responsibility for the clients of another agency or a colleague without appropriate communication with that agency or colleague.

      The social worker who serves the clients of colleagues, during a temporary absence or emergency, should serve those clients with the same consideration as that afforded any client.

IV. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to Employers and Employing Organizations

    L. Commitments to Employing Organizations. The social worker should adhere to commitments made to the employing organizations.

      The social worker should work to improve the employing agency's policies and procedures, and the efficiency and effectiveness of its services.

      The social worker should not accept employment or arrange student field placements in an organization which is currently under public sanction by NASW for violating personnel standards, or imposing limitations on or penalties for professional actions on behalf of clients.

      The social worker should act to prevent and eliminate discrimination in the employing organization's work assignments and in its employment policies and practices.

      The social worker should use with scrupulous regard, and only for the purpose for which they are intended, the resources of the employing organization.

V. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to the Social Work Profession

    M. Maintaining the Integrity of the Profession. The social worker should uphold the advance of values, ethics, knowledge, and mission of the profession.

      The social worker should protect and enhance the dignity and integrity of the profession and should be responsible and vigorous in discussion and criticism of the profession.

      The social worker should take action through appropriate channels against unethical conduct by any other member of the profession.

      The social worker should act to prevent the unauthorized and unqualified practice of social work.

      The social worker should make no misrepresentation in advertising as to qualifications, competence, service, or results to be achieved.

    N. Community Service. The social worker should assist the profession in making social services available to the general public.

      The social worker should contribute time and professional expertise to activities that promote respect for the utility, the integrity, and the competence of the social work profession.

      The social worker should support the formulation, development, enactment and implementation of social policies of concern to the profession.

    O. Development of Knowledge. The social worker should take responsibility for identifying, developing, and fully utilizing knowledge for professional practice.

      The social worker should base practice upon recognized knowledge relevant to social work.

      The social worker should critically examine, and keep current with emerging knowledge relevant to social work.

      The social worker should contribute to the knowledge base of social work and share research knowledge and practice wisdom with colleagues.

VI. The Social Worker's Ethical Responsibility to Society

    P. Promoting the General Welfare. The social worker should promote the general welfare of society.

      The social worker should act to prevent and eliminate discrimination against any person or group on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, marital status, political belief, mental or physical handicap, or any other preference or personal characteristic, condition, or status.

      The social worker should act to ensure that all persons have access to the resources, services, and opportunities which they require.

      The social worker should act to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, with special regard for disadvantaged or oppressed groups and persons.

      The social worker should promote conditions that encourage respect for the diversity of cultures which constitute American society.

      The social worker should provide appropriate professional services in public emergencies.

      The social worker should advocate changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions and to promote social justice.

      The social worker should encourage informed participation by the public in shaping social policies and institutions.

 

Last modified: October 30, 1996

J.T. (Tim) Stocks, Ph.D. / jtstocks@ssc.msu.edu

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