A code of conduct is a hallmark of a profession. It prescribes behavior of professionals in serving and protecting clientele, colleagues, and the society at large. The Code of Ethics for the social work profession has been developed through its major professional association, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Evolving from the first Code (1960) that was a one-page statement of 15 principles to the current Code of 27 pages, NASW has historically defined and refined its Code of Ethics in light of emergent practices and research findings, and through analysis of ethical dilemmas that reached the adjudication sanction processes. The Code is developed by a team of experts and ratified by both the Association’s Delegate Assembly and Board of Directors. Licensing bodies in most states require continuing education in ethics (3 CEU's in Illinois) to assure that those licensed not only adhere to defined practice standards, but to ethical conduct as well. Illinois specifically references the NASW Code of Ethics as the ethical standard that must be adhered to by licensees.

Code of Ethics

The NASW Code of Ethics was approved by the 1996 NASW Delegate Assembly and revised by the 1999 NASW Delegate Assembly

The NASW Code of Ethics is intended to serve as a guide to the everyday professional conduct of social workers. This Code includes four sections. The first Section, "Preamble," summarizes the social work profession's mission and core values. The second section, "Purpose of the NASW Code of Ethics," provides an overview of the Code's main functions and a brief guide for dealing with ethical issues or dilemmas in social work practice. The third section, "Ethical Principles," presents broad ethical principles, based on social work's core values, that inform social work practice. The final section, "Ethical Standards," includes specific ethical standards to guide social workers' conduct and to provide a basis for adjudication.

Read the NASW Code of Ethics.



Chapter Ethics Committee
File a Complaint Against an NASW Member

The NASW-Illinois Chapter Ethics Committee (CEC) considers complaints of alleged violations of the NASW Code of Ethics, an employer's personnel standards, or the right of social workers to professional action on behalf of clients. The NASW Code of Ethics applies only to NASW members. If you believe a social work member of NASW is in violation of the NASW Code of Ethics, one of your options is to file a complaint with NASW (see NASW Procedures for Professional Review ).

  1. Contact national NASW Office of Ethics and Professional Review, 800.638.8799, ext. 256, for instructions, OR

  2. Contact the NASW-Illinois Chapter Ethics Committee at 312.435.2100, option 6, OR

  3. Contact the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). If the individual is not a member, contact IDFPR directly as NASW does not have grounds to consider the actions of a nonmember.

Ethics Consultations

The NASW-Illinois Chapter Ethics Committee (CEC) provides individual ethics consultations as a benefit of NASW membership. Ethics consultations are a resource for members who encounter ethical dilemmas and/or have ethics-related questions. 

Consultation services are intended to guide members through the applicable standards in the NASW Code of Ethics along with other pertinent considerations and resources that address their concerns and allows them to make reasoned, ethical decisions. While we can discuss ethical issues, we cannot provide definitive answers for a particular situation or make decisions for members.

Ethics consultation telephone calls are answered on a first come, first served basis. Please leave a brief message clearly stating your name and contact number, and a member of the CEC we will return your call. Due to the high call volume, allow 48 hours for a return call.

To leave a message for the CEC, call 312.435.2100 and select option 6.

Ethics Education

Section 1470.95 of the Illinois Clinical and Social Work Practice Act states that " least 3 of the 30 hours must include content related to the ethical practice of social work."

The NASW-Illinois Chapter is always working on planning future programming. Check our 'Events' page for our latest event offerings, including trainings pertaining to ethics. Know a potential presenter who's knowledgeable on ethics? Consider becoming a speaker with the NASW-Illinois Chapter and submitting our Volunteer Speaker Application form here

If your agency is interested in scheduling in-house trainings in the workplace, contact us


The NASW Code of Ethics is a set of standards that guide the professional conduct of social workers. The 2017 revision includes 19 new changes that address ethical responsibilities when using technology. All social workers should review the new text and affirm their commitment to abide by the NASW Code of Ethics. Currently available in English. Spanish edition coming soon.