What Is the NASW Code of Ethics?

Social worker supervisor writing on a clipboard

In 1996, the Social Workers Code of Ethics was approved and then revised in 2017 by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The Code of Ethics helps social workers understand their everyday code of conduct.

The Preamble

The Preamble to the NASW Code of Ethics explains the mission of social work professionals. It specifically focuses on the ideals of human well-being, the empowerment of vulnerable people and those living in poverty. The preamble urges social workers to give attention to the environment that creates and contributes to problems for people.

The Preamble specifically lists the core values at the foundation of social work. These include service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, integrity and competence.


The second section of the NASW Code of Ethics explains the purpose for the document. Ethics are at the core of social work and professionals in the field have an obligation to practice and share ethical standards. As such, some of the purposes listed include the identification of core values, the summary of broad ethical principles in the career, the practice of how to deal with ethical uncertainties and a socialization practice designed to help new social workers in the field.

Ethical Principles

Each of the ethical principles in the NASW Code relates to the responsibilities of social workers. The value of service involves placing others above self and drawing on knowledge to help people in need and to address social problems. Social justice describes what social workers do when they look for what needs to change and work on behalf of vulnerable people and communities.

Social workers strive to focus on issues of poverty, unemployment and discrimination. Another value listed in the social workers’ Code of Ethics is dignity and the worth of a person. Social workers treat each person with caring and respect. They keep in mind individual differences and diversity. Social workers try to help people become responsible for themselves and change their situations as needed.

Ethical Standards

The final section of the NASW Code of Ethics is a list of ethical standards. These are relevant to the activities of all social workers while they are on the job. They include information about a social worker’s responsibilities to clients, which is to help promote their well-being and to assist them in becoming responsible for their own goals. The section also outlines how social workers have ethical responsibilities to their colleagues, how they should act in practical settings and how they should conduct themselves as professionals.

If you are an experienced social worker and ready to broaden your expertise, it may be time to consider enrolling in the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Behavioral Health at Grand Canyon University's College of Doctoral Studies. This program is designed for licensed and practicing professionals seeking deeper familiarity with the theories and ethical practices in behavioral health.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.