What Are Social Work Values?

The following social work values are outlined in the NASW Code of Ethics, which sets forth ideals to which all social workers should aspire.

Social workers' primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems.

Social workers elevate service to others above self-interest. Social workers draw on their knowledge, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service).

Social workers challenge social injustice.

Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers' social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment,discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.

Social workers respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person.

Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers promote clients' socially responsible self-determination. Social workers seek to enhance clients' capacity and opportunity to change and to address their own needs. Social workers are cognizant of their dual responsibility to clients and to the broader society. They seek to resolve conflicts between clients' interests and the broader society's interests in a socially responsible manner consistent with the values, ethical principles, and ethical standards of the profession.

Social workers recognize the central importance of human relationships.

Social workers understand that relationships between and among people are an important vehicle for change. Social workers engage people as partners in the helping process. Social workers seek to strengthen relationships among people in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and communities.

Social workers behave in a trustworthy manner.

Social workers are continually aware of the profession's mission, values, ethical principles, and ethical standards and practice in a manner consistent with them. Social workers act honestly and responsibly and promote ethical practices on the part of the organizations with which they are affiliated.

Social workers practice within their areas of competence and develop and enhance their professional expertise.

Social workers continually strive to increase their professional knowledge and skills and to apply them in practice. Social workers should aspire to contribute to the knowledge base of the profession.

Learn more

Code of Ethics

The NASW Code of Ethics outlines broad ethical principles, based on social work's core values, that inform social work practice.

Related Publications

NASW Press

The Social Work Ethics Casebook
This publication’s realistic ethics cases provide tools for discussing ethical dilemmas and decision making. The author includes commentary highlighting key ethics concepts and references to relevant standards in the Code of Ethics.

Ethical Standards in Social Work
This volume offers an in-depth analysis of the NASW Code of Ethics, which provides social workers an explicit statement of the profession’s principal mission and core values. 

Social Work Speaks (11th edition)
This is a comprehensive collection of policies adopted and revised by the NASW Delegate Assembly. The policy statements set the parameters for NASW’s positions and actions on a broad range of public policy and professional issues.

woman speaks at rally
working at a food bank
social worker listens to clients
children of diverse backgrounds sit together
woman stands in front of U.S. Congress building
man listening to another speak