Dealing With an Ethical Dilemma? NASW Can Help!

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“Is it okay to terminate with a client who isn't progressing and no longer adheres to the recommended treatment plan?”

“My employer isn’t a social worker and asked me to post my clients' records in a portal that doesn’t protect their privacy and confidentiality; what should I do?”

These are just two questions that can create unexpected challenges for social workers through the course of their work life.

But there is good news for NASW members. If you find yourself in an ethical dilemma, we’re here to help. Turn to NASW for trusted guidance. NASW adopted the profession’s Code of Ethics in 1960 and since then, we have guided thousands of social workers through unexpected ethical challenges.

Get to Know the NASW Office of Ethics and Professional Review

The NASW Office of Ethics and Professional Review (OEPR) educates members on the Code of Ethics, provides free ethics consultations and conducts professional reviews. If you find yourself in need of their services, you’ll hardly be alone. In 2021, OEPR received more than 700 member requests for ethics consultations.

Andrea Murray, MSW, LICSW, Director, Office of Ethics and Professional Review, has spent over 14 years helping members through ethical dilemmas.

“OEPR provides consultations to current NASW members who are experiencing an ethical dilemma,” she explained. “We don’t 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 and may refer you to legal resources, state licensing boards, professional liability insurers, and relevant NASW publications.

Access Educational Resources for the NASW Code of Ethics

Understanding the Code of Ethics from the start can make handling these situations easier. That’s why, beyond one-on-one ethics consultations, OEPR develops ethics training resources available to all NASW members.

Some of these include:

  • Understanding the NASW Code of Ethics — a new interactive online course that provides a comprehensive overview of the NASW Code of Ethics through the lens of featured social work ethics experts. The course provides three ethics continuing education credits.
  • 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 Ethics 8 Series offers members eight useful tips relevant to prevailing ethical issues in social work.

Understand the Professional Review Process

Finally, OEPR administers NASW’s professional review process. This peer review process examines 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 review alleged unethical conduct of members and correct and improve the practice of individual social workers as needed.

NASW’s Procedures for Professional Review guide 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.

“OEPR plays a vital role in helping consumers of social work and allied services get their questions answered and obtain information about the opportunities for redress when they have ethics concerns,” said Murray.

The Importance of the OEPR

NASW members rank ethics consultations as a highly valued benefit of membership.

“NASW is uniquely poised to offer consultation based on the NASW Code of Ethics which has been the prevailing standard for ethical practice in social work for more than 60 years,” said Murray.

No one plans for an ethical dilemma to pop up, but when one does, you can feel confident in how to handle the unexpected situation. Finding your way through a gray area is a lot less stressful knowing you have NASW’s strong and knowledgeable support behind you.

Learn more about the NASW Code of Ethics, and how the OEPR supports NASW members

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National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics

NASW Code of Ethics

The NASW Code of Ethics defines the values and principles that guide social workers’ conduct in all practice areas.

Read the NASW Code of Ethics

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Ethics 8

The Ethics 8 Series offers 8 useful tips related to prevailing topics in social work practice.

Find answers to your ethical questions

Understanding the NASW Code of Ethics

Earn 3 ethics CEs while exploring the evolution of social work ethics through the lens of the NASW Code of Ethics. Examine the content, composition, and application of ethical standards via engaging activities and case scenarios that capture diverse social work settings.

Instructors: Dr. Frederic G. Reamer; Andrea Murray, LCSW; Terricka Hardy, LCSW, ACSW, BCD; and Stephanie Asare-Nti, MSW, LCSW-C

Register for "Understanding the NASW Code of Ethics"

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