Skip to main content
09 Jan

Six Core Values of Social Work

woman-smiling-dressed-in-purple-with-purple-scarf-with-starfish-sitting-at-computer

About the Code

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) code of ethics serves to uphold the profession’s mission. As a profession, social work aims to improve human well-being and help satisfy the fundamental human needs of all people, with special regard to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.1 The storied and defining characteristic of social work is the field’s attention to personal well-being within a social context and the general well-being of society as a whole. A focus on the outside forces that create, contribute and address life problems is fundamental to social work.

Social workers champion social justice and social change, and are perceptive of cultural and ethnic diversity and endeavor to end discrimination, oppression, poverty and other types of social injustice. They may do this through direct practice, community organization, consultation, advocacy and more. All of this is done in service of the central goal of social workers: to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs.1

The social work core values are the root of the field’s mission, and they exhibit what is unique to the role. The core values and the NASW code of ethics that stem from them must be considered within the context and complexity of the human experience.

The Purpose of a Code

Professional ethics are at the heart of social work, and the NASW Code of Ethics provides values, principles and standards to help set a standard for social workers’ behavior. The social work code of ethics is relevant and vital to all social workers and social work students, no matter what their professional function is, which population they serve or where they work.

The NASW Code of Ethics serves six purposes:1

  1. To establish core values on which social work’s mission is founded
  2. To outline wide-ranging ethical standards that emulate the core values and create a set of distinct ethical standards that should be used to advise the practice of social workers
  3. To help social workers recognize important factors when professional responsibilities conflict or moral dilemmas come up.
  4. To give ethical standards that the general public can hold the social work profession accountable to
  5. To familiarize new practitioners to the social work profession's mission, values, ethical principles and ethical standards.
  6. To state the standards that the profession can use to determine if social workers have engaged in unethical conduct.

The Six Social Work Core Values

Below are the broad ethical principles that are founded on social work core values. These principles establish the ideals that all social workers and social work students should aspire to.1

  • Service: Social workers’ main goal is to assist people in need and to address social issues. They hold service to others above their own self interest and draw from their considerable talent, skills and expertise to help those who are marginalized. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some of their skills and time to pro bono services.

  • Social Justice: Social workers oppose injustice and push for social change, especially with and on behalf of the vulnerable and oppressed. They actively work to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about diversity and oppression, as well as ensure their clients have access to necessary services, resources and information. They fight for equal opportunity and meaningful societal participation for all people.

  • Dignity and Worth of the Person: Social workers respect the fundamental dignity and worth of people and treat each individual with care and respect. They are mindful of individual, cultural and ethnic differences and encourage their clients’ socially responsible self-determination. They strive to bolster their clients’ ability to evolve and address their own needs. Social workers are mindful of their responsibility to their client as well as society at large, and they look to resolve conflicts between the individuals’ interests and society’s in a responsible manner consistent with the Code of the profession.

  • Importance of Human Relationships: Social workers acknowledge the fundamental significance of human relationships and see that interpersonal relationships are an important means for change. They engage people as partners in the process for change and endeavor to strengthen relationships in an effort to bolster the well-being of individuals and groups.

  • Integrity: Social workers behave in a trustworthy manner consistent with the mission, ethical standards and values of the social work profession. They act honestly and responsibly and encourage ethical practices on behalf of the organization they represent.

  • Competence: Social workers practice within their areas of competence while honing and augmenting their professional expertise. They continually seek to increase their knowledge and skills and apply them to their practice. They should also strive to contribute to the collective knowledge base of the profession.

The significance of these NASW core values goes far beyond simply complying with the regulations and requirements. In a field where your clients may often be vulnerable, oppressed and unable to advocate for themselves, it’s imperative that those advocating for them be passionate about empowering those who are marginalized by society.


Are You Ready to Advocate for Those Who Need It Most?

If you’re interested in upholding and promoting these social work core values in your future career, consider how the online Master's of Social Work from Yeshiva University can open up many professional avenues, and how an advanced degree can help professional social workers to seek leadership and administrative roles within a constantly evolving and growing field.


1 Retrieved on December 19, 2019, from socialworkers.org/about/ethics/code-of-ethics/code-of-ethics-english