Ethical Issues in Social Work

Social workers uphold the values of the profession by acting on behalf of their client’s best interest. While social workers are multitasking and making quick decisions, ethical principles are at the forefront in their practice. Social workers have an ethical responsibility to their clients while maintaining relationships with professionals, agencies, employers, and the community. The National Association for Social Workers founded in 1950 developed a Code of Ethics for social workers. Listed are some of the rules that social workers adhere to which are set forth by the Code of Ethics.

*Commitment to clients

A social worker practices with the intent to do no harm to her clients. Social workers assist clients in the effort to advocate, educate and facilitate positive gains. The commitment that social workers make to clients is a professional partnership that helps clients through a crisis.

*Informed consent

Social workers facilitate informed consent when exchanging records, phone calls and referrals on a client’s behalf. Social workers operate under the premise of protecting the client’s interest. Sensitive, private issues are discussed while facilitating the client to seek help. While social workers help clients seek alcohol or mental health treatment, a release of information is required. Social workers provide extensive information to clients to help them make an informed decision in their treatment process.

*Conflict of interest

Social workers are active people in the community with their own experiences to draw upon. They each present with their own set of beliefs, family history and understandings about the world. Social workers are aware of transference and counter transference issues and need to honestly evaluate potential conflict of interest. Child protective social workers who know a client on a personal basis reassign these clients to another worker to avoid conflict of interest. Social workers make active decisions to step back when necessary on behalf of the client.

*Self determination

Respect is a major value within the field of social work. Clients have the right to be respected. Clients make decisions that are not always in their best interest. Social workers provide support and education to assist in making informed decisions. Clients have the right to make their own decisions unless they have had their rights taken away. Court process, guardianship, and involuntary treatment act are examples of these.


Social workers provide services to clients while demonstrating standards of competence. Social workers possess qualifications that facilitate their work. Degrees, practicum training, professional credentials, licenses, case study programs and continual course work help support individuals in this line of work. Clients have a right to be aware of the competence that is held by the social worker. Social workers should be aware of personal strengths and weaknesses in order to provide the best care for their clients.


Social workers are exposed to sensitive and private matters. Confidentiality must be upheld at all times. Information that social workers are privy to might be newsworthy, however the client’s right to confidentiality is the priority. This right should never be broken.

Social work has changed greatly over the past three decades as most professions have. Social work is a stressful career due to challenging caseloads, lack of resources, long hours, and decreased staffing. Social workers will face ethical dilemmas that don’t contain an easy answer. A variety of perspectives complicate the process in working toward the best interest of the client. Social workers are negotiating various systems to assist clients throughout the day. Social workers are adept at identifying ethical issues and evaluating these. Groups of colleagues support one another to discuss ethical issues as they arise. Getting support and professional consultation to discuss ethical issues helps social workers to manage these challenges. In the end, social workers can provide the best ethical care for their clients by recognizing strengths, limitations and seeking help when needed.