Ethics are rules of right and wrong behaviour. Ethical behaviour is behaviour is right according to a system of morals.

Unethical behaviour on the other hand is that which goes against the system.

Any set of rules for proper behaviour is known as a code of conduct. A code of conduct prescribes the behaviour of professionals in serving and protecting clients, colleagues, members of other professions and the society at large.

The code of ethics for the social work profession has been developed by their professional body called the National Association of Social Workers. The N.A.S.W defines the code of ethics in the light of emergent practices and research findings.

Values on the other hand are good and worthy behaviours that one should strive to develop in society.


Ethical values and principles of social work

Ethical values and principles of social work are based on the core values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relations, intergrity and competence. The principles set forth the ideals to which all social workers should aspire.


Value: Social Justice

Ethical principle: Social Workers challenge social injustice

Social workers pursue social change particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ change efforts are focused on issues primary to poverty, unemployment, discrimination and other forms of social injustice.

They strive to ensure equality of opportunity, access to resources and services for all people.  


Value: Dignity and worth of the person

Ethical principle: Social workers respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person. Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful way and promote clients’ self determination.


Value: Intergrity

Ethical principle: Social workers behave in a trustworthy manner.

They act honestly and responsibly.


Value: Importance of human relationships

Ethical principle: Social workers recognize the central importance of human relationships.

They recognize tat relationships between and among people are important vehicles for change.

They engage people as partners in the helping process seeking to strengthen relationship among them in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain and enhance the well being of individuals, communities and families.


Value: Competence

Ethical principle: Social workers practice within their areas of competence.

They strive to enhance and develop their professional expertise and continually seek to increase their professional knowledge and skills and apply them in practice.


Ethical values

Social workers’ ethical values can be identified in their ethical responsibilities to their clients, colleagues, the social work profession, the broader society and as professionals.


Social workers’ ethical responsibility to clients

  1. Commitment to clients

The social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well being of clients.

The clients’ interests are primary. However, social workers’ responsibility to the wider society or specific legal obligations may on some occasions supersede loyalty to clients. The clients must then be so advised.

  1. Self determination

Social workers should respect and promote the right of a client to self-determination.

However, social workers may limit clients’ rights to self determination where clients’ actions cause a serious foreseeable risk to themselves or others.

  1. Informed consent

Social workers should provide services to clients only in the context of valid informed consent.

They must in clear and understandable language, inform clients on issues about the purpose of services risks involved, costs, alternatives and right to refuse or accept service.

  1. Competence

Social workers should provide services and represent themselves as competent only within the boundary of their education, training, certification, experience and license. They should not provide services in an area using technique new to them before engaging in appropriate study and supervision by competent people.

  1. Cultural competence and Social diversity

They should understand culture and its functions in human behaviour in society organizing the strength and weakness that exist in all cultures.

This means they should provide services sensitive to the client’s culture and understand cultural diversity with respect to race, ethnicity, national original, sex, age, marital status and religion.

  1. Conflict of interest

Social workers should be alert to and avoid conflicts of interest. Protecting the client’s interests may require termination of the professional relationship with proper referral of the client.

They should not take advantage of any professional relationship or exploit others further their personal business, interest, religion or political interests.

Social worker should be clear to clients with whom they have common relationships clar ify their role and take appropriate action to minimize any conflict of interest.

  1. Privacy and confidentiality

Social worker should respect client’s privacy and should not solicit private information from clients unless it is essential to providing services or conducting social work evaluation and research.

Once private information has been shared, standards of confidentiality must apply.

Social worker may also disclose confidential information without appropriate and valid consent from the client or a person legally authorized to give consent on behalf of the client.

This however does not apply to information necessary to prevent serious foreseeable harm to the client or any other person or when the law requires disclosure without the client’s consent.

They should therefore inform the client of the disclosure before it is made.

The social worker should also inform the client of the policies regarding disclosure and should only disclose confidentiality in private and not in public areas.

  1. Access to record

Social workers should provide clients with reasonable access to records concerning the clients and the confidentiality of individuals’ identity in the records should be protected.

  1. Physical cond

Social worker should not engage in physical contacts with clients when there is possibility of psychological harm to the client.

  1. Sexual harassment

Social workers should not harass clients sexually, which includes sexual advances, solicitation for sexual favours etc.

  1. Derogatory language

Social workers should not use derogatory language in their written or verbal communication to or about clients. They should use accurate and respectful language in all communications to client.

  1. Payment for services

When setting fees, social workers should ensure that their fees are fair, reasonable and commensurate.

Consideration should be given to clients’ ability to pay.

Social worker should avoid accepting goods and services from the client as payment for services. They should not solicit private fees for providing services to clients who are entitled to such services available through the social workers employer or agency.

  1. Clients who lack decision making capability

Social workers should take steps to safe guard the interest and rights of client who lack the capacity to make informed decisions.

  1. Interruption of services

Social workers should make reasonable efforts to ensure continuity of services in the event that services are interrupted by forces such as illness, disability or death.

  1. Termination of services

Social worker should terminate services to clients and professional relationship with them when such services and relationships are no longer required or serve the client’s needs or interest. They should however not abandon the clients who are still in need of services.

They must not terminate services to enter into social, financial or sexual relationship with the client. Social worker who participate the termination of service to a client should notify client promptly.


Social Worker’s ethical responsibility to colleagues

  1. Respect

They should treat colleagues with respect and avoid negative criticism of colleagues in communication with others and must not make demeaning comments regarding colleagues’ level of competence, race, tribe, sex, age etc.

They should always cooperate with other colleagues when such cooperation serves the interests of the clients.

  1. Confidentiality

They should respect confidential information shared by colleagues in the course of professional relationship.

  1. Interdisciplinary collaboration

Social workers who are members of a disciplinary team should fully participate and contribute to decisions that affect the well being of clients.

  1. Disputes involving colleagues

Social workers should not take advantage of disputes involving a colleague and an employer to advance their self interests and neither should they exploit clients in dispute with colleagues.

They should also not involve client in their dispute with colleague.

  1. Consultation

They should seek advice of colleagues whenever such consultations are in the best interest of clients. Also, they should not only consult colleagues who have demonstrated expertise and competence on a subject in question.

  1. Referral for services

Social workers should refer clients to other professionals when the other professional’s specialist knowledge and expertise is needed to serve the client fully.

They are prohibited form giving or receiving payment for referral.

  1. Sexual relationship and sexual harassment

Social workers who act as supervisors should not engage in sexual activities with colleagues over whom they exercise professional authority due to potential conflict of interest.

They should neither harass their colleagues especially subordinates.

  1. Incompetence of colleagues

A social worker who knows of a colleague’s incompetence should consult with that colleague when possible and assist the colleague in taking remedial action.

  1. Unethical conduct of a colleague

They should take remedial measures to discourage, prevent, expose and correct unethical conduct of colleague and should be aware of the procedures of handling complaints.

When they believe a colleague has acted unethically, they should seek resolutions by discussing the case with the colleague.

They should always defend and assist colleagues who are unjustly charged with an ethical conduct.


Social Workers’ ethical responsibilities as professionals

  1. Competence

Social workers should not only accept employment on the basis of their correspondence. They should strive to become and remain proficient in the practice.

  1. Discrimination

They should not practice, condone, facilitate or collaborate in any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, colour, religion etc.

  1. Private conduct

Social workers should not let their private conduct interfere with their ability to fulfill their professional responsibility.

  1. Dishonesty, fraud or deception

They should not participate in or associate with any form of dishonesty, fraud or deception.

  1. Impairment

Social workers should not allow their own personal problems, psychological distress or mental health, difficulties interfere with their work. Those with such problems should seek professional help.

  1. Misinterpretation

They should make clear distinction between statements made and action taken as representatives’ of a social work organization and in their personal capacity.

Those who speak or act on behalf of an organization should accurately represent the official position of the organization or profession.

Social workers should also only claim the credentials which they have.

  1. Solicitation

They should not solicitate clients especially those vulnerable to manipulation or coercion and neither should they solicit for endorsement from clients vulnerable to influence or manipulation.

  1. Acknowledgement credit

Social workers should only take credit for work whose performance they have contributed to and honestly acknowledge the work and contribution of others.


Social Worker ethical responsibility to the social work profession

  1. Integrity

They should work towards maintaining and promoting high standards of practice and uphold and advance the values, ethics, knowledge and mission of the profession.

Social workers should also contribute to activities that promote respect for the profession and act to prevent unauthorized and unqualified social practice.

  1. Evaluation and research

Social workers should promote research to contribute to social work knowledge and follow guidelines laid down for the developed of the same.

Their clients’ involvement should also obtain consent from the participants. They must not induce participants and should protect participants from nay harm or danger.

They should only discuss collected information for professional purposes.

Those engaged should maintain the confidentiality of participants by not communicating information unless proper consent is obtained.

Research findings must be made accurately.


Social Workers’ ethical responsibility to the broader society

  1. Social welfare

Social workers should promote the general welfare of the society. This should be from local to the global level and include the development of people, their communities and the environment.

They should advocate for living conditions suitable for the fulfillment of basic human needs and promote social, economical, political and cultural values and institution that help in the realization of social justice.

  1. Public participation

They should facilitate participation by the public in shaping social affairs and institution.

  1. Public emergency

Social workers should provide professional service in public emergencies to the greatest extent possible.

  1. Social and political action

Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to resources, employment, services and opportunities to meet basic human needs and develop fully.

They should advocate for policies that improve social conditions and promote social justice especially with regard to the vulnerable, disadvantaged and oppressed.

They must also promote conditions that encourage social and cultural development globally as well as the elimination of discrimination on the basis of political inclination or ethnicity.

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