Social Work Core Values and Code of Ethics

The first version of the NASW code of ethics, published in 1960, states that social workers are “dedicated to service for the welfare of mankind” and should “promote the well-being of all without discrimination.” These basic tenets hold true today, but the code has since evolved from a one-page document into a robust guide of professional conduct that outlines core values, ethical principles and ethical standards to guide social workers and the social work profession.

The most recent revisions to the code of ethics were published in early 2018. These changes primarily address advances in technology that have occurred over the past 20 years and their implications for ethical practice, including new forms of communication and relationship building.

The following is an outline of the six core values on which the code of ethics is based and associated broad ethical principles social workers should use as a guide in their work. It is paraphrased from the NASW Code of Ethics. You can find this and the current full code of ethics on the NASW website.

Six core values of the social work profession

  1. Service
  2. Social justice
  3. Dignity and worth of the person
  4. Importance of human relationships
  5. Integrity
  6. Competence

Ethical principles based on social work core values


Ethical principle: Serve people in need and work to address social problems.

Social justice

Ethical principle: Challenge social injustice and work for social change on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed people.

Dignity and worth of the person

Ethical principle: Be respectful of every person and mindful of cultural and ethnic diversity.

Importance of human relationships

Ethical principle: Recognize and value the importance of human relationships, and work to strengthen these relationships in order to enhance the well-being of individuals and communities.


Ethical principle: Be trustworthy and uphold the profession's mission, values, ethical principles and ethical standards.


Ethical principle: Practice within areas of competence, continuously develop professional knowledge and expertise, and contribute to the knowledge of the profession.