Coming Soon: NASW Code of Ethics Changes

Layout 1Changes are coming to the NASW Code of Ethics. This NASW blog post goes into some details. Essential dates: Nov 1, 2017, copies become available. Jan 1, 2018, the new edition of the code goes into effect.

SWTP will of course be modifying practice to reflect all changes--stay tuned for details!

More from FAQs on the NASW post:

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
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: 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.

Not asked: Will this be on the test? Answer: Count on it. Perhaps not right away--the ASWB exam-writing process can be a slow one.  We'll stay tuned and relay information as we hear it.

Don't worry! The bedrock principles of the Code are not going to change. You already know the essentials of social work ethics as they apply to the exam. It's just a question of putting them into practice.

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Social and Political Action and the Social Work Exam

justiceIt's easy to get distracted as a social worker preparing for the licensing exam by material that seems like it will definitely be on the exam. Privacy and confidentiality, suicide assessment, basic diagnoses--that sort of stuff. No thorough exam prep ignores the NASW Code of Ethics. But will it cover all of the code? Here's an essential piece for social work exam prep and social work practice worth revisiting. It's the final section, 6.04, Social and Political Action:

(a) Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.

(b) Social workers should act to expand choice and opportunity for all people, with special regard for vulnerable, disadvantaged, oppressed, and exploited people and groups.

(c) Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.

(d) Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability.

Lots of social workers have recently been putting these principles action more than they may have in the past. Exam writers are no different. Don't be surprised if they visit this section with increasing frequency as new editions of the exam emerge. Exam writers are like you, only they've been licensed for some time. They read headlines, the watch the news, and, while you do your exam prep, they write exam questions.

Imagine questions like these pulled directly from the code.

A client's access to [some important resource] is limited by [a systemic obstacle]. What should the social worker do?

A client reports experiencing racial discrimination in her hunt for an apartment. What should the social worker do?

A supervisor promotes a social worker over her more qualified colleague who has a disability. What should the social worker do?


Look the code. The social worker "should engage in social and political action," "should act to expand choice and opportunity," "should promote conditions that encourage respect," "should act to prevent and eliminate domination, exploitation, and discrimination." That's all pulled directly from the language of section 6.04. That's the stuff that'll be included in the correct response. Watch out for distractors that involve more mild interventions; "Explore the client's reactions..." "Discuss in supervision..." "Research the problem..." The code wants real action. That's your answer.

Some additional reading on the topic, including a long slide show pdf from Columbia U.:

For exam questions about social justice, the Code of Ethics, and the entire range of likely exam content, get started with SWTP's exams and boosters now!

Happy studying and good luck on the exam!

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Social Work Today: Eye on Electronically Stored Information

communicationFrederic Reamer's Eye on Ethics column is a great way to supplement your social work exam prep. Take a recent column about ethics and electronically stored information. In it, he writes,

During the past couple of years, I have consulted on a number of court and licensing board cases in which formal evidence included copies of social workers' Facebook postings, text messages, e-mail messages, and electronic health records, among other forms of electronic communications. All of these cases focused on ethical issues, including the ways in which social workers managed boundaries, conflicts of interest, confidential information, documentation, and termination of services. In several cases, the social workers were shocked to discover that their digital records could be subpoenaed and introduced as evidence against them.

The column continues with several examples of email and other ecommunication serving to help licensing boards press cases of social worker malpractice. Could any of these serve as the backbone of a question on the social work licensing exam? Sure could!

If you're looking for a  break from practice questions and have some extra reading time, take a look at the column archives. There's lots of exam fodder sitting there. Have at it.

Happy studying and good luck on the exam!

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Code of Ethics Review: Dating Colleagues and the Social Work Exam

social work colleague relationshipWe're working our way through the second section of the NASW Code of Ethics, a question at a time. For complete, 170-question exams covering ethics and much, much more, go here and build the exam bundle that best suits your study plan. Meanwhile, here's some free practice:

Working together at a residential facility, a therapist and case manager develop a strong attraction to each other. Both are social workers and want to be mindful of ethical guidelines as they begin to explore a relationship outside of work. Which of the following BEST describes NASW guidelines for relationships between social work colleagues?

A. The social workers can be in a romantic relationship as long as it's not sexual.

B. The social workers can be in a romantic relationship as long as they don't share clients.

C. The social workers can be in a romantic relationship as long as one isn't supervising the other.

D. The social workers can be in a romantic relationship as long as one transfers responsibilities to avoid making clients uncomfortable.

What do you say?

Let's take a look at the relevant section of the code, 2.07, Sexual Relationships. It says:

(a) Social workers who function as supervisors or educators should not engage in sexual activities or contact with supervisees, students, trainees, or other colleagues over whom they exercise professional authority.

(b) Social workers should avoid engaging in sexual relationships with colleagues when there is potential for a conflict of interest. Social workers who become involved in, or anticipate becoming involved in, a sexual relationship with a colleague have a duty to transfer professional responsibilities, when necessary, to avoid a conflict of interest.

After reading that, have you changed your answer?

The answer we like best is....C, the supervision one. You may be able to make an argument for some of the others, but that one's the strongest of the bunch. Let's take them one at a time:

A. This is a letter-of-the-code vs. spirit-of-the-code reading of 2.07. The code specifies a problem with "sexual relationships." Yes, okay. You could defend the answer in court. But you're not in court, you're preparing for the social work licensing exam. You want to choose the BEST of the offered answers, even when another answer seems acceptable. In this case, the answer that leaves no room open to interpretation is C, regarding supervision.

B. Sharing clients isn't mentioned in the code and, though that may get tricky between a therapist and case manager, it's not as tricky and ethically murky as answer C.

D. Avoiding client discomfort isn't mentioned in this section of the code. It's a nice thing to do. It's not as important here as avoiding the misuse of professional leverage.

Answer C is right from the code. And from most HR rule books. The key issue here is the exercise of professional authority. That may or may not be present in a therapist-case manager relationship, but it is certainly present in a supervisor-supervisee relationship. No sexual relationships between supervisors and supervisees. Simple as that.

You have your answer! You have your exam prep! If you encounter a question about this on the exam, you're ready for it. Good luck!

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Code of Ethics Review: Colleague Confidentiality vs. Impairment and the Social Work Exam

burnoutConfidentiality is likely to come up again and again as you prepare for the social work licensing exam. Most questions are likely to cover client confidentiality. If a client's family member calls to discuss the client, what is the best way for a social worker to proceed? Another therapist wants to discuss your former client's case--what then? After enough exam prep, these questions will become very familiar. (Hint: There's no confirming or denying that someone is a client, even to family or a former therapist.)

But how do you answer if you see something like this?

After a staff meeting, a clinician tells another social worker that she is "losing it...totally burnt out...I'm starting to hate my clients!" She says she's going to call in sick tomorrow and "get blackout drunk." What is the BEST course of action for the social worker to take regarding this colleague.

A. Discuss ways to cope with burnout other than binge drinking.

B. Consult with a supervisor regarding the clinician's confession.

C. Report the clinician's misconduct to the state licensing board.

D. Explore how the clinician's burnout is affecting her work with clients.

What do you think?

Let's do a decision tree. Two answers involve going to others--a supervisor or the state licensing board. The other two answers keep things between the clinician and the social worker. Let's look at the code for guidance.

2.02 Confidentiality
Social workers should respect confidential information shared by colleagues in the course of their professional relationships and transactions. Social workers should ensure that such colleagues understand social workers' obligation to respect confidentiality and any exceptions related to it.

This points to the not-going-to-others choices, A & D. But what about the hating clients? What about the blackout drinking? There's also this:

2.09 Impairment of Colleagues

(a) Social workers who have direct knowledge of a social work colleague's impairment that is due to personal problems, psychosocial distress, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties and that interferes with practice effectiveness should consult with that colleague when feasible and assist the colleague in taking remedial action.

(b) Social workers who believe that a social work colleague's impairment interferes with practice effectiveness and that the colleague has not taken adequate steps to address the impairment should take action through appropriate channels established by employers, agencies, NASW, licensing and regulatory bodies, and other professional organizations.

The clinician is voicing psychosocial distress and a planned day of substance use/abuse. But still the code dictates first consulting with the colleague, not with others. There is an exception to this: If the colleague's impairment is undermining her work with clients (that is, her "practice effectiveness"), something more needs to be done. Is there a way to know whether that's happening here? Nothing in the stem is definitive. (Harboring hatred toward clients is part of burnout, not reportable impairment.) Are clients being negatively impacted? The first thing to do to find that out is ask. And, happily, one of the choices here--"Explore..."--has the social worker doing just that! Discussing coping skills, which may or may not be useful to the clinician, can wait. Our answer is D!

Want to read more on the topic? Take a look at these articles:

Better to spend your time on more practice questions! For additional questions covering the NASW Code of Ethics and lots more, sign up for SWTP full-length practice tests now!

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