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Social Work: Professional Values, and Ethics

Social Justice Links

"Several organizations and institutions provide their own definitions for social justice. Here are a few:

  • “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.”
    United Nations
  • “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.”
    National Association of Social Workers
  • “Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.”
    Center for Economic and Social Justice


While formal definitions for social justice vary in wording, there are commonalities among them.

  1. Equal rights
  2. Equal opportunity
  3. Equal treatment

With these core values in mind, we can define the phrase as such: Social justice means equal rights, opportunity and treatment for all."

--- Read more from The San Diego Foundation here. 


Read about the National Association of Social Workers' Social Justice Priorities here.


Why There Is a Social Work Code of Ethics

"The National Association of Social Workers Delegate Assembly created the first version of the Code of Ethics in October 1960. It has since been revised several times, but it maintains many of the original principles.

The code serves six purposes:

  1. To establish the core values upon which the social work profession is based.
  2. To create specific ethical standards that should guide social work practice and reflect the core values.
  3. To help social workers navigate professional considerations and obligations when ethical uncertainties arise.
  4. To provide ethical standards to which the social work profession can be held accountable.
  5. To initiate new social workers to the profession’s mission, values, and ethical principles and standards.
  6. To create standards by which the social work profession can assess if a social worker has engaged in unethical conduct. Social workers who pledge to abide by this code must cooperate with its implementation and disciplinary rulings based upon it.

The code is also based on the six core values of the social work profession:

  1. Service
  2. Social justice
  3. Dignity and worth of the individual
  4. Importance and centrality of human relationships
  5. Integrity
  6. Competence"

Read more about the National Association of Social Workers' values and code of ethics at this summary by Simmons University.


The NASW Code of Ethics is intended to serve as a guide to the everyday professional conduct of social workers. This Code includes four sections:

  • The first Section, "Preamble," summarizes the social work profession's mission and core values.
  • The second section, "Purpose of the NASW Code of Ethics," provides an overview of the Code's main functions and a brief guide for dealing with ethical issues or dilemmas in social work practice.
  • The third section, "Ethical Principles," presents broad ethical principles, based on social work's core values, that inform social work practice.
  • The final section, "Ethical Standards," includes specific ethical standards to guide social workers' conduct and to provide a basis for adjudication.

Read the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics here.