NASW Helps You Handle Ethical Dilemmas

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How the Office of Ethics and Professional Review Helps Members Navigate Ethical Questions

What do you do when a new client discloses that he is good friends with your cousin? Or when a client discloses information that you’re not sure what to do with in light of confidentiality and mandated reporting requirements? When you find yourself in an ethical dilemma, as social workers sometimes do, where can you turn for trusted guidance?

The NASW Office of Ethics and Professional Review (OEPR) provides programming and resources to educate NASW members and the profession on the NASW Code of Ethics. OEPR also provides free ethics consultations to members of the Association and administers NASW’s professional review process.

The NASW Code of Ethics, adopted in 1960, has guided thousands of social workers through confusing terrain for decades. Ethics consultation services provide invaluable support to members who encounter professional questions and dilemmas. In 2021, OEPR received more than 700 requests from members for ethics consultations. Andrea Murray, MSW, LICSW, Director, Office of Ethics and Professional Review is a longstanding member of the department, having spent over 14 years helping members resolve ethical dilemmas.

“OEPR provides consultations to current NASW members who are experiencing an ethical dilemma,” she explained. “We do not provide advice or tell members what to do; however, we do guide them through the Code and point them to the areas of the Code that address their concerns.”

In addition to ethics consultations, OEPR offers other resources that allow members to make ethical decisions. At times, it is also appropriate to refer members to NASW’s legal resources, state licensing boards, professional liability insurers and relevant NASW Press publications.

Code of Ethics Education

Even when not currently faced with a dilemma, it’s important that members understand the NASW Code of Ethics. That’s why, beyond one-on-one ethics consultations, OEPR develops ethics training resources available to the entire membership.

Some of these include:

  • The new interactive online course, Understanding the NASW Code of Ethics, which provides a comprehensive overview of the NASW Code of Ethics through the lens of featured social work ethics experts. The course offers three ethics continuing education credits.
  • The Ethics 8 Series offers members eight useful tips relevant to prevailing ethical issues in social work.
  • The Ethical Standard of the Month Series examines a specific standard in the NASW Code of Ethics and related resources to promote understanding and appropriate application of the Code.

The Professional Review Process

In addition to handling ethical situations and educating the membership, OEPR administers NASW’s professional review process. This peer review process looks at complaints filed against social workers for alleged violations of the NASW Code of Ethics. It’s a collaborative process between the National Ethics Committee, Chapters, and the National Office to provide a peer review of alleged unethical conduct of its members. The process is designed to correct and improve the practice of individual social workers as needed.

NASW Procedures for Professional Review, Seventh Edition guides the processing of inquiries and complaints via criteria that determine which matters will be accepted for review. These criteria filter inquiries and complaints that aren’t commensurate with the scope and intent of NASW’s peer review process. In 2021, OEPR processed over 600 professional review inquiries from the public. Less than two percent of those inquiries resulted in a professional review case.

“We help consumers of social work and allied services get their questions answered and obtain information about opportunities for redress when they have ethics concerns,” explained Murray.

The Importance of the OEPR

Based on the number of requests the office receives each year, it’s not surprising that most NASW members convey that the availability of ethics consultations is one of the most salient and valued benefits of their NASW membership.

“NASW is uniquely poised to offer consultation based on the NASW Code of Ethics which was adopted by the organization in 1960 and continues to be the prevailing standard for ethical practice in social work,” said Murray.

Ethical dilemmas are unexpected, so it’s critically important to have resources you can count on. Finding your way through a gray area is a lot less stressful when you have strong and knowledgeable support behind you.

Learn more about how OPER supports members, and join NASW today to leverage our ethics services and offerings. 

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