NASW Code of Ethics Updates – ASWB Exam

NASW Code of Ethics Updates – ASWB Exam

The NASW – the National Association of Social Workers, was developed with a mission to promote and protect social workers and the overall profession. Established in the mid-1950s, the National Association of Social Workers now operates as the largest professional organization for the social work profession- maintaining a chapter in every state, U.S. territory, and internationally.

Additionally, the NASW seeks to enhance the well-being of families, individuals, and communities. One of the fundamental ways the NASW serves its member and society is by developing and enforcing the NASW Code of Ethics.

The NASW Code of Ethics

Social worker ethics, defined by the NASW code, identify the core values of Social Work. The Code of Ethics Social Workers must comply with include:

  • Essential ethical principles that reflect a professional social worker’s core values.
  • Ethical standards that guide a social worker’s practice.

In addition, the social worker Code of Ethics is the basis upon which a member of the public can hold a practitioner accountable. Learn more about the Code of Ethics and its importance on the ASWB exam here.

The 2021 NASW Code of Ethics Updates

The Delegate Assembly of the NASW has set forth the following Code of Ethics amendments through careful consideration. These modifications were the response to the unique set of challenges created by shifting systemic changes, as well as a global pandemic. They became effective June 1, 2021.

In 2020 and 2021, there were two significant revisions –

  • The stated inclusion of “self-care language” within two sections of the Code of Ethics –
    • The Purpose of the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics Section.
    • The Ethical Principles Section also adds the value of integrity.
  • The reinstatement of Standard 1.05 – Cultural Competence and how it relates to a professional’s ethical responsibilities.

Self-care has been proactively included as a defined concept (and preventive measure) because it encourages professional excellence by reducing worker impairment while increasing job satisfaction and longevity. The changes to the NASW Purpose section are as follows –

NASW Code of Ethics 2021 Amendments

The self-care principle was also added to the Ethical Principles section, under the specific guideline that social workers must choose trustworthy actions.

Ethical Principle: Social Workers behave in a trustworthy manner.

Source – NASW

Reinstatement of Standard 1.05 – Cultural Competence

The reinstatement of Standard 1.05’s title (and further revisions) was defined by the National Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity’s recommendations. The concept of “cultural competence” is a broad category with many essential aspects, including cultural sensitivity, humility, and awareness.

The following language is now included in this NASW Code of Ethics update –

Cultural Competence Updates to NASW Code of Ethics.

Source – NASW

The NASW also offers a 90-minute webinar. Register here for the 2021 Revisions to the NASW Code of Ethics: Self-Care and Cultural Competence.

An Overview of the NASW’s Code Of Ethics

The National Association of Social Workers’ Ethics Code is divided into four primary sections.

The Preamble

The preamble summarizes the core values and mission of the professional social worker. These core values include –

  • Service
  • Social justice
  • Dignity and a person’s value or worth
  • The Importance of human relationships
  • Integrity
  • Competence

Learn more about each of these sections in our post on “Understanding the Code of Ethics

The Purpose of NASW’s Code of Ethics

Social worker ethics are at the core of professional work in the social work field. Social workers have a professional obligation to communicate the industry’s foundational values and its ethical standards and principles.

The NASW Code of Ethics offers professionals a set of principles, standards, and values that help guide social workers in their professional decision-making when ethical issues arise as a part of a typical work day. Note that these are not rules, per se, because the code of ethics social work professionals use must be applied contextually to a specific situation.

The Ethical Principles

These principles in the Code of Ethics provide comprehensive ethical guides that define social work practice. A principle is an ideal, a truth, a behavior, or a belief that serves as the basis of a system’s foundation. These principles help social workers reach their primary professional objectives while maintaining the required and inherent worth and dignity of their clients and related parties.

  • Social workers are mindful of the essential nature of human relationships.
  • Social workers help those in need.
  • Social workers assist and challenge the social problems/injustices that cause individual, familial, or community necessities.
  • Social workers’ behaviors are based on trust.

Social work professionals tend to be lifelong learners whose professional choices not only help clients they contribute to the overall profession and society as a whole.

The Ethical Standards

Ethical standards for social workers, which may include enforceable guidelines, define a social worker’s ethical responsibilities as they relate to –

  • Clients
  • Colleagues
  • Practice settings
  • Professional work
  • The social work profession, and
  • Broader society.

NASW Resources

The following offers additional resources regarding these Code of Ethics revisions for 2021 –

If you’d like to learn more about the Code of Ethics and try (2) Code of Ethics ASWB practice questions, view our Understanding the Code of Ethics post here.


► Learn more about the course here:

About the Instructor, Meagan Mitchell: Meagan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has been providing individualized and group test prep for the ASWB for over five years. From all of this experience helping others pass their exams, she created the Agents of Change course to help you prepare for and pass the ASWB exam!

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Disclaimer: This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment


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