On the Code

Happy New Year to all!

I wanted to restart my contribution to this blog with a quick overview of a document I’ve find myself going back to again and again during my time at UNC-CH’s School of Social Work. That document is the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. (Please forgive the absence of proper APA citations, see the link to the Code below…all references, including quotes, are taken from there.)

In fact, when I feel lost in the grind that is the community mental health system or begin to despair at the amount of busyness the School seems to throw at us, I take a look back over the Code to remind myself why I chose this vocational path. I recommend that everyone interested in social work study this text (especially the introductory parts of it) to get an idea of the values that anchor and guide our profession.

So, let’s put it out there—here’s the first line of the Code’s preamble:

“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human wellbeing and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”

Check out that “particular attention” part. We believe that enhancing the wellbeing of all people means specifically attending to and empowering those people left out and/or targeted by mainstream society.

You see this theme throughout the Code. Social justice is one of our six core values. We are admonished to understand oppression “with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identify or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical disability.” We are to neither “practice, condone, facilitate, or collaboration with any form of discrimination” on the basis of those identifies. Moreover, as part of our ethical obligations to society at large, we are expected to “prevent and eliminate” domination, exploitation, and discrimination based on those identifies (ostensibly through our social work practice as well as collective advocacy and political organizing)

In sum, we are a value-based profession. Our Code is both a set of professional guidelines and a statement of aspirational commitments. In other words, we are expected to act on and from those values. Being the best social worker you can be means living our ethics which, at least in my opinion, means committing yourself to the liberation of all peoples from the individual, structural, and cultural oppressions they face.

And you know what? That’s not too bad of an ethical obligation to have. In fact, that’s a large part of what makes social work unique as a profession: the explicit centering of social-identity based oppression and liberation in our national code of ethics. It’s exciting and humbling that social workers are rooted in those values. That’s a fight worth fighting.

Now, the hard part? It’s living up to those values…



Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers:


This entry was posted in Getting Involved, In the Classroom, Outside of the classroom. Bookmark the permalink.