7 Core Social Work Values and Ethics to Guide Your Career

Social workers are guided by the Code of Ethics.

Social work values and ethics ensure social workers conduct themselves in a manner that is professional, anti-discriminatory, respectful and strive to empower service users or clients.

Social workers put service users or clients at the core of their practice and aim to support them to reach self-actualisation.


Although values and ethics are not restricted to only the social work profession, research indicates that from ancient to present day, social work emphasises the importance of ‘respect’ for service users or clients.

7 Core Social Work Values and Ethics to Guide Your Career

It appears Biestek (1961) famously expounded the values expected of professionals who work with people such as social workers.

Although Biestek listed 7 principles of casework with service users or clients, he listed 5 as values (grouped together as ‘respect for persons’ while the remaining 2 principles, purposeful expression of feelings and controlled emotional involvement, are less to do with values and more concerned with ‘how to do social work’.

Social work values by Biestek (1961)

  1. Acceptance
  2. Self-determination
  3. Confidentiality
  4. Individualisation where a social worker sees an individual as unique
  5. Non-judgemental attitude.

social work values and ethics

1. Respect for persons

Respect is a core social work value.

It cuts across all aspects of social work practice.

By definition, respect is a moral obligation.

It’s that principle of being friendly, accepting people’s differences without judging them, being tolerant and civil, and recognising that certain behaviors might be seen as respectful by some and disrespectful by others.

There will be times when a social worker has to deal with people who have beliefs and ideas that go against their morals, but should they be disrespectful?

Just because someone has a different opinion from yours, it doesn’t mean that you should be discourteous; as long as those ideas are not harmful to others.

A social worker should be able to put aside their beliefs and help those in need.

Each service user or client has the right to exercise their autonomy.

A social worker’s duty is to adhere to social work ethics and values (acceptance, self-determination, confidentiality, individualisation and non-judgemental attitude).

2. Self-determination

A social worker will help the service user or client develop an important life-changing skill, the ability to make decisions and choices that will positively impact their lives.

Often, those struggling can’t make up their minds and have a hard time deciding.

A social worker’s responsibility is not to make those choices for the service user or client, but to help them understand how to make an informed decision.

According to the social worker dictionary, self-determination can be defined as “An ethical principle in social work that recognises the rights and needs of clients to be free to make their own choices and decisions.” (Barker, 2003).

social work ethics and values

3. Being professional

Should social workers be considered professionals?

Professionalism isn’t a skill you gain overnight by learning, rather by practicing professionalism frequently, it becomes part and parcel of a social workers’ day to day practice.

What does professionalism imply?

A professional is someone competent in what they do.

They have the skills, the knowledge, and values and can do their job correctly.

Sometimes professionals like lawyers are considered “real professionals,” while we underestimate the effort of a social worker because many people don’t realise the work behind this career choice.

It is important to remember that a social worker must be knowledgeable about relevant legislation, policy, and theories.

So, do social workers deserve to be considered professionals?


Thanks to those hard-working social workers; communities and individuals get their needs met, and they definitely deserve the title.

4. Uses and abuses of power

When talking about abuses of power, we instantly think about taking advantage of those who are struggling.

Sometimes, though, abuse of power refers to making false claims and promises during an assessment.

This may be in an attempt to complete holistic assessments as part of a social worker’s daily tasks.

If a social worker claims to solve a client’s problem, they’re probably not being wise with their words because the affirmation “I’ll solve all your problems” is in itself false and no human being can help someone else solve all their life problems.

No matter how experienced they are, it’s just impossible.

A social worker needs to choose their words wisely and also to understand that the primary focus should be on improving someone’s life and making a difference, even if it’s a small one.

In addition, they should focus on promoting independence and autonomy.

There are cases in which a social worker will abuse their power by mistreating a client for their benefit.

As a social worker, when you notice that something feels off, trust your guts and ask for clarifications.

Don’t feel intimidated!

ethics and values in social work

5. Diversity

Different kinds of people need help and support, so social workers work with people who have a diverse background, culture, and language.

Diversity is a variant that is to be expected when studying to become a social worker; not everyone is privileged enough to speak the language of the country they currently live in.

Expect to deal with people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community, individuals who struggle with drug abuse or mental health problems.

It is essential that you don’t judge them and promote anti-discriminatory practice.

They probably have people in their lives that already judge them for who they are or the struggles they are going through.

Social workers are professionals and advocates for equal rights; they support, inspire, and speak out if someone is being mistreated.

6. Social Justice

Social workers are social justice warriors who will do anything to help those who are not being treated equally by society.

Social justice is a type of justice rooted in the idea that everyone should be treated equally and have equal rights and opportunities.

It is not always possible, so instead of equality, I feel the more appropriate word should be equity.

Emphasising the difference is essential; equality stands for treating everyone the same, equity does not.

Equity achieves equality by treating people differently, dependent on need.

You can’t have equality without equity.

values and ethics in social work

7. Importance of Human Relationships

Human relationships are not only important for social workers; everyone needs human relationships in life.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts the human relationship in third place, in love and belonging.

Social workers seek to straighten human connections among people and promote the well-being of individuals or communities.

Relationships are crucial to the survival of humanity; without relationships, humans would soon go extinct.

Promoting human relationships isn’t a laborious task; the first step is to accept and celebrate differences.

The second step is to be more empathetic towards others since we don’t know what other people are going through.

The last step is to just listen and communicate more effectively.

If someone hurts you, tell them; do not assume that they’ll understand; communication is key.


There you have it. 7 social work values and ethics at the core of the social work profession.

Social workers work with people who appear to be disadvantaged.

Understanding these values and ethics will help you as a social worker identify appropriate interventions, and build a positive working relationship with the service user or client.

If in doubt about your understanding of social work ethics and values, then complete a self assessment using these TIPS!

Core Social Work Values and Ethics to Guide Your Career

  1. Respect for persons
  2. Self-determination
  3. Being professional
  4. Uses and abuses of power
  5. Diversity
  6. Social Justice
  7. Importance of Human Relationships


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