The level of responsibility & autonomy of social workers

Written by carolyn ritter
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The level of responsibility & autonomy of social workers
Social workers help people improve their lives. (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Social workers wear many hats. Some social workers provide support and advice to clients seeking to improve their outlook, lifestyle or social and family interactions. Others advocate for a disabled or mentally or physically ill client. Some social workers work with municipal and government agencies to help their clients obtain housing, emergency funds or medical care. Others help clients deal with domestic or child abuse. Social workers sometimes are the sole support for endangered or distressed clients. Being a social worker carries with it a high degree of responsibility. Social workers have the autonomy to intervene in situations they deem critical.

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Types of social workers

Medical and public health social workers assist clients with serious, chronic or fatal illnesses. They may help a patient obtain post-discharge medical care or community assistance or they may counsel the family or friends of a patient with a terminal illness. Child, family or school social workers provide social and psychological support. They may address behavioural problems, drug abuse or student pregnancy. Some social workers treat clients with substance abuse or mental health concerns. They use therapy, rehabilitation, teaching and community resources to improve their clients' situations.

Code of ethics

The National Association of Social Workers adheres to a Code of Ethics that details the essential values and principles that should govern social workers. Social worker responsibilities include effective client service, social change and justice, promotion and recognition of a client's dignity and worth, a recognition of the importance of human interaction and relationships, personal integrity and professional competence.

Client responsibilities

A social worker's primary goal is to positively impact his client's well-being. A social worker strives to help clients set reachable goals. Clients, however, are responsible for understanding the proposed services offered by a social worker and the associated limits and risks, costs and alternative treatment options. Clients also have a right of refusal.


Social workers have an obligation to place their client's well-being first. However, when a client's goal conflicts with established policy or legal restraints, social workers need to consider the values and standards expressed in the Code of Ethics. In some case, societal needs or restraints may supersede a client's needs or goals. Social workers must work within the law and can refuse or limit any client solution that involves imminent or potential risk.

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