Social work values and ethics: How are they applied in real-life situations?

Social work values and ethics How are they applied in real-life situations?

There are a number of values and ethics that social workers are expected to adhere to. However, in their everyday work, social workers are continually coming up against new situations that can throw up many different challenges. While ethics and values are straightforward in theory, when dealing with a new situation, it may be tricky to see how they are applied. But it remains important for social workers to keep their values and ethics at the forefront of their minds and to apply them to any new real-life situations that they encounter.

Learning the ethics and values of social work

Social work tends to attract people whose ethics and values naturally match those required by the profession. A good social work course will clarify these values and help students understand how they should be applied. If you are considering starting a social work career or wish to advance one through further qualifications, a master’s in social work is a good option. These can be found at universities across the country or through online providers. To make sure the course you opt for will meet the required standards and use the necessary social work values and ethics, it is a good idea to see if the course is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE), the national association representing social work in the United States. If you are looking for CSWE accredited online MSW programs, a good option is Keuka College. Their accredited programs include an advanced track MSW for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in social work and a traditional track for those coming to social work as a second career. However you choose to study, once qualified, you should be competent in applying social work values and ethics to the different situations you will face.

The first version of the social work code of ethics was published in 1960. It has been revised since then, but the basic tenets have remained, as social workers remain dedicated to the wellbeing of people without discrimination.


Service is a key value of social work that lays the bedrock for all other ethics and values. Social workers should place the needs of the community above their own personal needs and use their knowledge, expertise, and experience to enhance the wellbeing of others. A situation in which this often occurs is with the voluntary work that many social workers undertake. These may include community drives, particularly in response to difficult situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social justice

Social workers should be concerned with social change, particularly on behalf of the oppressed or vulnerable. Real-life situations they may focus on can include discrimination, poverty, and unemployment, particularly with sensitivity to oppressed groups and cultural and ethnic diversity. Practical ways this can be achieved are by helping give those groups access to services, resources, and information.

Dignity and worth of the person

Social workers are expected to treat everyone with respect and in a caring manner. This includes being mindful of cultural and ethnic diversity and other differences. In their work, they may come across conflicts between the client’s interests and those of broader society, and in order to be true to this principle, they will need to resolve conflicts between the two. Social workers will also want to promote responsible self-determination and find ways to enhance their client’s capacity to achieve this.

Importance of human relationships

Social workers recognize the importance of human relationships and how they can be a vehicle for change. This means engaging with their clients as partners and also looking for ways to strengthen relationships among people with a view to enhancing their wellbeing and that of their families, communities, and social groups.


Social workers need to be people others can trust, and they must always behave in a trustworthy manner. This means they should always keep professional principles, standards, values, and mission in mind as they work. Social work can be a job that is demanding both physically and emotionally, and social workers who care tirelessly for others should also take the time for self-care to safeguard their own wellbeing.


Social workers should always practice within their areas of competence and look for ways to enhance their expertise, knowledge, and experience. This means a social worker should always seek further advice if they are dealing with a situation that goes beyond their competence level. They will also look to develop their knowledge to expand their competence. This may include gaining further qualifications, such as the master’s in social work previously mentioned, or could involve courses that focus on particular aspects of the profession. Additionally, they can subscribe to journals and blogs or attend conferences where the latest ideas in social work are being discussed. Social workers can also learn from each other, and part of meeting this value is for social workers to also contribute to the knowledge base by sharing their experiences and ideas.

The framework of the profession

These established ethics and values are not intended to hold anyone back or prevent them from carrying out their work to the best of their abilities. Instead, they provide a secure framework that will support social workers in their roles and ensure the profession as a whole can operate consistently and to the same high standards.

Social work is always in need of ethical professionals who can use these values to bring improvements both to the lives of individuals and to society as a whole. If this is a profession that interests you, it is well worth investigating courses that will qualify you for this vital role. Social work welcomes those who are choosing it as a second career, finding that previous careers and life experience can stand them in good stead for the challenges of social work. It is not an easy career choice, but it is highly rewarding as, through adhering to the values, you can see the positive changes you can help people make.

Written by Nancy Brown

Nancy is an author at Snooth that updates readers with the latest technology-related news and products as soon as they hit the market and has a strong passion for self-learning and goal orientation. Nancy is an avid sailor and runner who occasionally enjoys cooking and only eats organic food only

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