Social Workers & Ethical Dilemmas

Written by julie powers
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Social Workers & Ethical Dilemmas
(people icons image by JENNY SOLOMON from

Social workers strive to help individuals, groups and communities to overcome their problems and struggles. As a social worker, you will encounter many ethical dilemmas that involve sensitive issues, such as discrimination, social injustice, oppression, poverty, substance abuse and mental health. You must be aware of these ethical dilemmas that may arise and use impartial judgment unless the situation becomes harmful for you or your client. Also, you should use the Code of Ethics created by the National Association of Social Workers as your primary guide in addressing ethical dilemmas.

National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has created a Code of Ethics, which has been considered the primary source of values, standards and principles to guide all social workers in the United States when ethical dilemmas arise. NASW's ethical principles are based on six core values that all social workers should follow: service, social justice and worth of the person, competence, integrity and the importance of human relationships.

Cultural And Social Diversity

Social workers have an ethical obligation to respect all people regardless of their race, colour, ethnicity, national origin, political views, religious views, sex, sexual orientation and mental or physical disability. As a social worker, your goal is to enhance a person's well-being and help him to overcome his problems and struggles, which are most likely caused by one of the forms of discrimination.

Conflicts of Interest

As a social worker, you must maintain a professional relationship with your clients at all times. There may be times when you have a professional or personal conflict of interest. Thus, you must take the necessary steps to resolve the issue for the betterment of you and your client. If you personally do not agree with a client's way of life or values, you must exercise impartial judgment. You may continue working with your client as long as it does not disrupt your professional duty. However, you may have to discontinue a client relationship if professional obligations require you to act in a way that is not favourable to the client--for example, testifying in a divorce case involving clients.

Sexual Relationships

A sexual relationship of any kind with a client is not tolerated in NASW's Code of Ethics. Also, it is highly recommended that social workers not engage in sexual activities or sexual contact with former clients and personal acquaintances of a current or past client. An inappropriate sexual relationship can cause harm to clients and may make your job as a social worker ethically wrong.


You must keep all information about clients confidential, according to the Code of Ethics. However, when a situation arises where a client is in danger of harming himself or others, you must disclose confidential information to the proper authorities. Further, you must provide information if you are legally required to in a criminal or civil case. And lastly, you must not participate in any deception, fraud or dishonesty nor abuse the confidentiality your clients entrust with you as a practicing professional.

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