Social Work Ethics And Values: Understanding The Core Values Of Social Work

social work ethics and values

Introduction to Social Work Ethics

The goal of social work is to help individuals enhance their overall well-being. This can be in the form of emotional comfort and practical support. Social workers connect people with resources and services that can address their needs.

Social work is a profession that presents unique challenges. The NASW has created an ethical code to help guide professionals through these challenges. The social work ethics and values define the ideals, guidelines, and standards that should shape professional behavior. 

All social workers, including students, should adhere to the NASW Code of Ethics. It applies to everyone, regardless of their role, their environments, or the populations they assist.

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6 Core Values of Social Work

Ethical issues social workers confront often require deep analysis to prevent harm or injustice. The following are six NASW ethics and values that shape social worker purpose. These codes aim to help social workers perform duties with integrity and ethical clarity:

  1. Service. Serve people in need to address social problems.
  2. Social justice. Speak up against social injustice and promote social change on behalf of the weak and marginalized.
  3. Dignity and worth of the person. Respect each individual and keep the diversity of cultures and ethnicities in mind.
  4. Importance of human relationships. Work to strengthen human relationships to enhance the well-being of individuals and communities.
  5. Integrity. Uphold the social work mission, values, standards, and principles with integrity and reliability.
  6. Competence. Commit to a lifetime of learning and service to contribute to the profession’s knowledge.

Ethical Principles in Action

There are four main ethical principles in social work ethics: 

#1 Autonomy

Principle: It requires us to respect the decisions of adults with decision-making capacities. 

In action: Examples of this principle include protection of privacy and veracity. It also provides confidentiality and the need to get informed consent before intervention. 

#2 Non-maleficence

Principle: This principle links closely to the maxim primum non nocere (first do no harm). It asserts the obligation to refrain from harming others.

In action: A man collapsed from severe acute pain in his right abdomen. A surgeon passing by can remove the appendix in situ using his trusty pen knife. However, non-maleficence restricts the surgeon from doing so for several reasons:

  1. There’s a high risk of infection from the unsterile pen knife and environment. 
  2. The chances of success are lowered due to a lack of staff and equipment. 
  3. If there’s a hospital nearby, performing surgery at the roadside is a highly excessive intervention.

#3 Beneficence

Principle: The obligation to act for the benefit of others. This encompasses providing benefits, balancing risks, defending rights, and preventing harm. It also includes removing harmful conditions and helping disabled individuals.

In action: Same scenario in non-maleficence. But, the principle of beneficence guides the surgeon’s actions differently:

  1. The surgeon calls for emergency medical assistance. This step ensures that the patient receives proper care. 
  2. Provide immediate first aid to stabilize the patient’s condition to ensure the least harm. 

#4 Justice

Principle: This mandates equitable distribution of benefits, risks, costs, and resources. Social workers will follow this principle based on equal share, need, effort, contribution, and merit.

In action: A social worker is working to improve a society’s access to mental health services. They ensure that these services are distributed equitably, without regard for race, gender, and other factors that could lead to discrimination. 

Professional Responsibilities of Social Workers

There are several career options within the field with different types of responsibilities. Yet, the general purpose of a social worker includes the following: 

In society:

  • Identifying individuals or communities in need.
  • Conducting thorough assessments for clients in need.
  • Offering recommendations, devising and implementing assistance plans.
  • Referring clients to relevant resources.
  • Responding to crises and delivering direct services or therapy.
  • Documenting interactions. 
  • Advocating for the welfare of clients.

In the profession:

  • Maintaining professional relationships and ethical standards.
  • Adherence to legal regulations.
  • Participating in supervision and peer support.
  • Advocating for social justice.
  • Participating in policy development.
  • Reflecting on practice and addressing biases.

The importance of social work in the society cannot be overstated. Their strict adherence to ethical standards, competence, and social justice advocacy contribute to a better society.

Applying Ethics in Social Work Practice

The core values of social work are guiding principles that underpin ethical practice in the field. There are six core values of social work, each with its own purpose and significance. Application of the six social work values is mandatory to ensure ethical and effective practice.

Here are three tips on how to apply ethical principles in everyday practice: 

  1. Honor the inherent value and dignity of all individuals. 
  2. Provide culturally sensitive and inclusive services.
  3. Support clients in exercising their rights and responsibilities while promoting social responsibility and accountability.

As a social worker, you’ll face a lot of ethical dilemmas that are more complex than they seem. You’ll deal with many situations in which two or more social worker ethics and principles conflict.

One of the worst dilemmas social workers deal with is maintaining confidentiality while ensuring the safety and well-being of clients. This is particularly difficult when dealing with child abuse, domestic violence, or threats to self or others. 

Regardless of the dilemma, here are a few effective tips to navigate challenges and uphold ethical standards:

  • Study the NASW Code of Ethics
  • Learn an ethical decision-making process
  • Seek professional supervision and consultation
  • Stay updated on developments in the profession and revisions to the Code of Ethics

Education and Training in Social Work Ethics

A bachelor’s is typically the minimum requirement for an entry-level social work position. Yet, pursuing advanced degrees to enhance skills and qualifications is advised. 

Advanced programs often include coursework specifically focused on core values and ethics in social work practice. You’ll be able to enhance your expertise through advanced case studies, role-playing exercises, and supervised fieldwork. 

Financing Your Education in Social Work

A degree in social work can be expensive, which puts a significant toll on students’ learning experiences. Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce out-of-pocket costs.

  1. Choose in-state tuition or online degrees.
  2. Complete the FAFSA.
  3. Apply for external scholarships. The NASW Foundation offers several types of aids for undergraduate and graduate students.
  4. Explore work-study opportunities.
  5. Seeking out paid internships or part-time jobs related to social work.

Conclusion: Upholding Ethical Standards in Social Work

Social work is a challenging yet very rewarding field. You will support human dignity, diversity, and social justice. However, you’ll be faced with various dilemmas that can only be handled through knowledge of the NASW code of ethics.

This field also requires a lifetime of ethical growth and development. This means you must constantly update your skills and knowledge throughout your career.