The Delegate Assembly of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) on August 4, 2017 approved the most substantive revision to the NASW Code of Ethics since 1996. After careful and charged deliberation, the Delegate Assembly voted to accept proposed revisions to the Code that focused largely on the use of technology and the implications for ethical practice.
The NASW Code of Ethics continues to be the most accepted standard for social work ethical practice worldwide. With emergent technological advances over the last two decades, the profession could not ignore the necessity for more clarity around the complex implications of new forms of communication and relationship building through technology. As such, in September 2015 an NASW Code of Ethics Review Task Force was appointed by the NASW president and approved by the NASW Board of Directors.
A special thank-you to Task Force chair: Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD, National Ethics Committee (past chair)
Task Force members:
David Barry, PhD, National Ethics Committee (past chair)
Luis Machuca, MSW
Frederic Reamer, PhD
Kim Strom-Gottfried, PhD
Bo Walker, MSW, LCSW, National Ethics Committee
Dawn Hobdy, MSW, LICSW, director, Office of Ethics and Professional Review
And NASW staff contributors
Anne Camper, JD, NASW general counsel
Andrea Murray, MSW, LICSW, senior ethics associate
Carolyn Polowy, JD, former NASW general counsel
The Task Force was charged with examining the current Code of Ethics through the lens of specific ethical considerations when using various forms of technology. In September 2015, they embarked on a year-long process that involved studying emerging standards in other professions and examining relevant professional literature, such as the Association of Social Work Boards’ (2015) Model Regulatory Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice.
In addition, Task Force members considered the technology practice standards that were concurrently being developed by a national task force commissioned by NASW, Council on Social Work Education, Clinical Social Work Association, and Association of Social Work Boards. A year later the proposed amendments were presented to the NASW membership for review, and many member comments were incorporated prior to finalization.
2017 Approved Changes to the NASW Code of Ethics
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: When does the new NASW Code of Ethics go into effect?
A: The new NASW Code of Ethics goes into effect on January 1, 2018.
Q: Where can I get a copy of the revised NASW Code of Ethics?
A: Copies of the revised NASW Code of Ethics will be available by November 1, 2017. You can preorder a copy by calling NASW Press at 1-800-227-3590.
Q: Which sections of the NASW Code of Ethics were updated?
A: The sections of the NASW Code of Ethics that were revised include:
The Purpose of the Code 1.03 Informed Consent 1.04 Competence 1.05 Cultural Competence and Social Diversity 1.06 Conflicts of Interest 1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality 1.08 Access to Records 1.09 Sexual Relationships 1.11 Sexual Harassment 1.15 Interruption of Services 1.16 Referral for Services 2.01 Respect 2.06 Sexual Relationships 2.07 Sexual Harassment 2.10 Unethical Conduct of Colleagues 3.01 Supervision and Consultation 3.02 Education and Training 3.04 Client Records 5.02 Evaluation and Research 6.04 Social and Political Action
Q: What educational resources are available to explain the latest revisions to the NASW Code of Ethics?
A: Several resources will be available, including an online training, an NASW chat, a blog, code revision consults, and a posting of the changes with the explanations on the NASW Web site.
Q: Which social workers are accountable to the NASW Code of Ethics?
A: Most social workers are held accountable to the NASW Code of Ethics, including NASW members, licensed social workers, employed social workers, and students.
Q: Do these changes affect social workers who aren’t members of NASW?
A: Yes. The NASW Code of Ethics sets forth the values, principles, and standards that guide the profession as a whole, not just NASW members.
Q: Who was responsible for revising the NASW Code of Ethics?
A: An NASW Code of Ethics Review Task Force was appointed by the NASW President and approved by the NASW Board of Directors.
Q: How am I held accountable if I do not implement these changes by the effective date?
A: If you are a member of NASW, you may be held accountable through the NASW Office of Ethics and Professional Review process, if someone files an ethics complaint against you. You may also be held accountable by a state licensing board if a licensing board complaint is filed against you. Furthermore, you may be held accountable by your employer or your university, which may take disciplinary actions for not implementing the changes. Finally, you may be held accountable through a court of law that looks to the NASW Code of Ethics to establish the standard for professional ethical social work practice.
Q: Have social work schools, employers, agencies, etc., been made aware of the changes?
A: NASW is working diligently to notify the social work profession and stakeholders using various communication channels, including print, social media, and Web-based notices.
Q: Who do I contact if I have additional questions?
A: If you have additional questions, please contact the Office of Ethics and Professional Review at 800-638-8799 ext. 231 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The approved Code of Ethics revisions reflect a collaborative and inclusive effort that drew from a diverse cross-section of the profession. The August 4 approval by the Delegate Assembly marks significant progress in the profession’s ability to respond to our ever-changing practice environment.
The new version of the NASW Code of Ethics comes into effect January 1, 2018. In the meantime, training and technical assistance opportunities will be made available through the Office of Ethics and Professional Review and the NASW website.
Our sincere appreciation again to the task force, NASW staff, and committed members across the globe who contributed to this momentous accomplishment.