Core Values of Social Work | In Practice

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) does a lovely job of describing and defining the ethical core values of the social work profession. As redundancy is not desirable, you may go here to find these definitions and get a better understanding of the NASW Ethical Principles and Core Values.

As social workers understand, having a strong knowledge base is necessary in order to perform effective and evidence-based practice. The thorough comprehension of ethical guidelines and principles is a necessity in social work, and can significantly hinder practice if not utilized. In order to assist practicing social workers, or those in-the-making like myself, the below sections will depict practical ways in which social workers of varying degrees may perform these values in our profession.


  • Make a goal (!) for yourself to learn about one more local agency in depth, every week. This assists in gaining an incredible perspective on your community and the populations served or not served.
  • Volunteer privately when you have the chance.
  • Donate your own belongings and clothing to an organization.
  • Organize a food drive or clothing drive.
  • Random acts of kindness.
  • Continue to use your skills for pro bono services.

Social Justice

  • Advocate for clients. This could be in the court room, marching on Washington, or bringing attention to outdated or uninformed agency policy.
  • Expand your knowledge on a vulnerable population you don’t know a lot about. This could be in the form of reading a book from the Social Sciences section of Barnes & Noble, attending a seminar or webinar about working with the Native population, or watching documentaries and Google searching.
  • Participate or create a run for a cause your passionate about.
  • Get social on your socials. Every month has some sort of awareness or prevention aspect to it. Research the topics of that month and post about it consistently on social media to raise awareness. This could look like sharing statistics each day in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
  • Get involved in policy making and lobbying!
  • Call your Representatives and Senators!
  • Go Big: Run for office!

Dignity and Worth of a Person

  • Have a self-care day for your client(s)!
  • Utilize empowerment, strengths perspective, and person-centered approach in every day language with clients. Be open and let them know that their life matters to you!
  • Be a culturally competent practitioner! Have interest in diverse cultures, and show your client that you have a genuine interest in learning about who they are.
  • Let your client make the decisions, even if you want them to do something differently.
  • If you have a plan for the session, save a few minutes at the beginning to talk about whatever the clients wants to talk about.
  • Have an open mind!
  • Don’t rush over minor client concerns because you’re busy. Take the time to talk to your client about the minuscule stuff, and they will feel heard.

Importance of Human Relationships

  • Have a client session, every once in a while, that is casual, fun, and stress free. Perhaps take a break from intense therapy, and have a game day. This could also be a self-care day, whatever that may look like for your client.
  • Keep conversations about the client, and make them the center of attention. Praise them wholeheartedly for their efforts and successes. Be their #1 cheerleader!
  • Make your office or meeting space comfortable and cozy. Consider using lamps instead of turning on the fluorescent lights.
  • Don’t look intimidating. Be sure to look professional and ready to take on the day. Dressing well may also inspire your clients to dress better if that is a place for improvement. On the flip side, it could make others feel unequal, uncomfortable, and not welcome. Having a basic neutral outfit with a fun blazer or jewelry can help in this situation. Take off the blazer to look less intimidating, put it on when necessary.


  • Keep up-to-date on edits made to the NASW Code of Ethics.
  • Frame and hang up a short version of ethical principles in your office.
  • Consult other professionals and get supervision EVERY WEEK!
  • If you’re losing hope in the profession, take a mental health day.
  • Work with other professionals to utilize best and most effective practice for client care.
  • Be organized and keep a planner. If you tell a client you’ll call them, make sure you call them. The little things count.
  • Continue to check-in with yourself to make sure your social work priorities are right.
  • Be transparent and don’t mislead or lie to clients.
  • Politely and VERY nicely, keep your coworkers accountable to the profession. If they make a mistake, or perhaps do something you believe to be “iffy,” talk to them about it.


  • Engage in seminars, webinars, and training conferences to expand your knowledge and stay relevant.
  • Become an NASW member, or that of other social services organizations. Connect with other professionals. Go out to lunch, spend time together, and challenge each other to grow. Hold each other accountable.
  • Read updated and new books about topics of interest.
  • Watch a new documentary on Netflix.
  • Read one new peer-reviewed scholarly article every week or two.
  • If you have a DSM-5, but are not professionally licensed to diagnose people, DO NOT diagnose people. Stay in your lane. If cause for concern, always make a referral.
  • Don’t give advice.
  • If a family member asks for your opinion on the psychological, behavioral, etc. aspect of someone, encourage them to ask another professional. Don’t create dual relationships where there aren’t any.
  • Conduct new research and publish your findings. Social work is a relatively new profession. Contributing to the growing research base can widely influence practice.


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