Who Is Advocating for Social Workers?



We talk a lot about social worker salaries, work environments, and professional responsibilities. When we evaluate how the limiting beliefs and unrealistic expectations of social workers continue to live on decade after decade we need to start at the head. The National Association of Social Workers is guilty of creating, spreading, and basically mandating the detrimental acceptance of self-sacrifice and lack of self-advocacy in the profession.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world. NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies.

The NASW Code of Ethics is a set of standards that guide the professional conduct of social workers that contradicts itself regarding the care, needs, and expectations of social workers. Of course, you’ve read it, memorized much of it, and implemented it into your career, but let’s take a little walk down memory lane with a few specific standards:

NASW Code of Ethics: Ethical Standards

1.01 Commitment to Clients

Social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients. In general, clients’ interests are primary.

Ethical Responsibilities to the Broader Society

6.01 Social Welfare

Social workers should promote the general welfare of society, from local to global levels, and the development of people, their communities, and their environments. Social workers should advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs and should promote social, economic, political, and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice.

6.04 Social and Political Action

(a) Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully.

  • What about our responsibilities to ourselves?
  • Don’t social workers deserve our basic human needs to be met and the opportunity to develop fully?
  • How can social workers realistically be expected to advocate for our clients and not advocate for ourselves?

NASW: Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service).

NASW: Social workers elevate service to others above self-interest.

No dual relationships, no operating outside of your level of competence or licensing no cheating or manipulating clients can all fit into these ethical standards but more often than not, they translate into low wages, toxic loyalty, compassion fatigue, professional burnout, and stigma/shame for the social workers who reject the status quo and that is the problem.

So, after requiring this ridiculous level of self-sacrifice, NASW then made the decision to add self-care to the Code of Ethics!

 NASW: Professional self-care is paramount for competent and ethical social work practice. Professional demands, challenging workplace climates, and exposure to trauma warrant that social workers maintain personal and professional health, safety, and integrity. Social work organizations, agencies, and educational institutions are encouraged to promote organizational policies, practices, and materials to support social workers’ self-care.

So, NASW do you care about social workers or don’t you? Are you with us or against us? What is really going on because the contradictions are unbelievable?

Well, NASW, while you decide what you believe for us and how you want to support us, we will exit toxic workplaces, release dangerous clients, set strong boundaries, command quality pay for our expertise, follow the professional ethics that align with our core values, reject gaslighting behavior, and do everything in our power to avoid compassion fatigue and professional burnout!

You’re welcome to join us on our journey because we’re not turning back!

RELATED: Is Social Work A Job or A Calling?



Nicki Sanders, MSW, supports high-performing women of color in social work leadership in developing careers that feed their hearts, minds, and wallets. As Founder and CEO of Nicki Sanders Leadership Consulting, her mission is simple – to eliminate toxic workplaces by developing skilled, empathetic, and goal-oriented leaders who have the vision, support, and resources to create a culture where business prospers, and employees thrive individually and collectively. Nicki has an extensive background in nonprofit management leading high-functioning, multi-disciplinary teams, volunteer recruitment and retention, and social impact programming. She is an accomplished professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has combined her gift for authentic relationships, Master of Social Work degree, and over 20 years of diverse work experience to create a life and career aligned with her values and purpose. Nicki is a lover of cupcakes, travel, and 80’s hip hop and R&B music.

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