History of the NASW Code of Ethics

NASW’s Delegate Assembly approved the first edition of the NASW Code of Ethics on October 13, 1960. Since then, the Code has emerged as the standard bearer for defining the values and principles that guide social workers’ conduct in all practice areas.

With the latest revision in August 2017, today’s Code is used as a model for social work practice across the United States and worldwide. It has been adopted by many organizations and incorporated into a number of state social work licensing laws

  • NASW’s Delegate Assembly approved the first edition of the NASW Code of Ethics on October 13, 1960. 
  • It defined the social work profession and the responsibilities of the social worker. 
  • It outlined fourteen responsibilities for social workers.

Read the original Code of Ethics (PDF)

  • The first revision of the original 1960 Code occurred in 1967, when a principle was added to address non-discrimination.

Read the 1967 version (PDF)

  • represented a significant revision to include 6 sections of standards, consisting of 82 principles and a preamble. 
  • it set forth principles related to the social workers’ ethical responsibility to clients, colleagues, employers and employing organizations, the social work profession and society.
  • introduced the enforcement of ethical practices among social workers using the code as a basis and standard for the everyday conduct of social workers.

read the 1979 version

  • in 1990, the code was modified following an inquiry by the us federal trade commission. this revision focused on principles related to solicitation of clients, fee setting and accepting compensation for referrals. 
  • in 1993, five new principles were added to the code. they included principles related to social worker impairment and dual relationships. 
  • the last major revision of the nasw code of ethics was in 1996. the need for a new code emerged due to the profession developing a wider understanding of ethical issues not addressed in the 1979 code. furthermore, developments in health care, litigations, publicity in the media all forced the profession to pay more attention to ethics. 
  • the 1999 revision was minor and clarified circumstances in which social workers may need to disclose confidential information without a client’s consent.

read the 1990 version (pdf)
read the 1993 version (pdf)

read the 1996 version (pdf)

read the 1999 version (pdf)

Examining the Code’s Continued Relevance 

  • In 2006, NASW hosted a Social Work Ethics Summit to examine the continuing relevance of the Code. This was co-sponsored by the NASW Legal Defense Fund, the Social Work Ethics and Law Institute and the Wicher’s Fund. 
  • The Summit convened a small group of social workers representing diverse practice specialties, academia, research, licensing and regulatory boards, and attorneys to examine the 1999 Code of Ethics. 

  • Read the 2006 Summit Report

The 2008 revision incorporated sexual orientation, gender identity and immigration status into the existing non-discrimination standards.