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What is the NASW code of ethics? The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics was first approved by a committee of delegates in 1960. Intended as both a resource and a guide for social workers, it has gone on to become a generally accepted set of ethical guidelines within the social work profession. The framework of the code allows for the establishment of a recognizable standard for social workers, the field of the types of social work to hold their peers accountable, and a means through which the public can hold social workers accountable. 

Far from a static document, however, the original Social Work Code of Ethics has undergone regular and sometimes extensive revisions beginning in 1967. That first revision made necessary changes to the code that addressed discrimination, challenging social workers to commit to nondiscriminatory practices. Further revisions followed in 1979. During the 1990s, the code was revised four times, mainly dealing with ethical practices around the use of technology. The most recent revisions were added in 2017. 

While it’s important to be acquainted with the entire document, this overview can let you know what to expect from each section.1

Sections 1 and 2: Preamble and Purpose Statement

The first two sections of the code are the Preamble and the Purpose Statement. The preamble provides an overview of the primary mission and values of the profession of social work, while the purpose statement discusses the six primary purposes the document serves. 

Those purposes are to:

  1. Identify the core values of social work 
  2. Clarify the broad ethical principles of social work
  3. Help social workers navigate professional and ethical quandaries
  4. Provide the public with standards for holding social workers accountable
  5. Educate new social workers about the field’s mission, values, principles, and standards
  6. Establish professional, specific ethical standards and provide a framework for handling misconduct 

Section 3: Ethical Principles

The third section of the NASW Code of Ethics lays out the ethical principles upon which the social work practice is built. These principles are aligned with a set of core social work values. They are:

  • Service – The driving ambition of a professional social worker should be to help society and individuals’ need. 
  • Social Justice – On behalf of groups and individuals who are in need, social workers fight against a range of social injustices. Poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other types of social injustices are the primary goals of social change efforts.
  • Dignity and Worth of the Person – A tenant of the philosophy that drives social work is that every person is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • Importance of Human Relationships – Social workers should be committed to helping build relationships between people and using those human relationships to advocate for change.
  • Integrity – From caring for themselves and others to always upholding the core values of the profession, social workers must also perform responsibility and honesty.
  • Competence – Social workers take full of advantage of their individual skills and experience while constantly seeking to better themselves personally and professionally.

These ethical principles are integral to the NASW standards, so acquainting yourself with them is an important part of being a social worker. 

Section 4: Ethical Standards  

Finally, section four of the NASW code concerns the ethical standards themselves. 

According to the code, these standards guide social workers’ behavior according to six ethical responsibilities. Those include the social workers’ ethical responsibilities:

  • To their clients – The code states that social workers must be committed to their clients and respect their right to self-determination and informed consent. Social workers must also meet competence standards, cultural competence standards, avoid conflicts of interest, honor privacy and confidentiality, and maintain appropriate behavior. 
  • To their colleagues – Social workers owe their colleagues respect and confidentiality. They must also be willing to collaborate, avoid inappropriate situations, and hold one another accountable, among other responsibilities the social work code discusses. 
  • In settings where they practice – This section details the standards that social workers must hold themselves to regarding how they practice. It includes standards for social work education, training, consultation, billing, and client transfers, among other things.
  • As professionals – Standards regarding anti-discrimination, private conduct, and impairment are discussed in this section. 
  • To the social work profession – Social workers must uphold the integrity and value of the social work profession through their own work.
  • To broader society – It’s the responsibility of social workers to contribute to society. This means providing services during emergencies, taking part in communities and public institutions, and being engaged in politics. 

Get There With Alliant

Are you thinking about a career in social work? Pursuing a Master of Social Work Degree (MSW) with Alliant could be the path that takes you there. When it comes to how to become a social worker, our type of MSW program gives you the training, experience, and knowledge you need to help you stand out in the field.

Ready to take the next step toward your career goals? Find out more about our MSW degree program today and discover what you can do with a master’s in social work.


  1. “Code of Ethics.” NASW. 2022.…. Accessed May 27, 2022. 

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