Social Work Values: What Are They?

social work values
social work values

By Ama Larsen, Assistant Professor, Online Bachelor of Social Work Program, Spring Arbor University

Social work values serve as the groundwork for social workers to be effective in their roles. As students learn the tenants of practice, they are taught that social work values help boost their relationships with clients, the community, and agencies at large.

In turn, this helps them achieve identified goals and have a greater impact with those in their care.

Approved by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in 1996, social work values include:

  • Service
  • Social justice
  • Dignity and worth of the person
  • Importance of human relationships
  • Integrity
  • Competence

In this article, we’ll breakdown each of these core social work values and discuss their importance as it relates to social work.


social work values day

Social Work Values and World Social Work Day

“Not enough is made of the positive relationships and outcomes social workers are part of every day. It’s hard to share the positive stories because they are not ours to share. They are often incredibly private and should remain so. Even so, we can and should do more to highlight those stories that can be told, and World Social Work Day is a great opportunity to do so.” (IFSW, n.d.)

Social work values allow social workers to make a difference daily and are emphasized during World Social Work Day, which is a time when social workers unite to take a stand against common issues globally.

Celebrated every 3rd Tuesday in March since 1983, World Social Work Day has become a recognized event worldwide. It was initially launched by The International Federation of Social Workers in 1983, and later by other social work organizations such as the International Association of Schools of Social Work (The Social Worker).

Gaining momentum each year, this date is a time for social work organizations around the world to promote social work values, and create messages to their local government, communities, and professional groups in an effort to advocate for social justice and human rights.

This year, World Social Work Day takes place on March 17th, 2020, and the theme is “Promoting the Importance of Human Relationships."

According to the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)“…This theme highlights that co-determining relationships between people, communities, nations are essential in addressing the social, economic and ecological challenges…”

The importance of human relationships is one out of six core social work values.


social work values service


Service represents the different types of duty among social work values.

Social workers are called to deliver services to address the needs of people and to tackle social problems (NASW, n.d.).

These social work services can extend to the local community or even worldwide, serving any population in need.

For instance, international social workers develop relationships with local and international organizations to provide resources to protect children and families.

They also make available foreign assistance to promote human rights, deliver aid during wars and national disasters, promote gender equity for the advancement and empowerment of women, and offer support to fight global health issues such as HIV (Social Work Degree Guide, n.d.).

Among social work values, service and its multifunctional approach allows professionals in the field to offer utility when needed. This makes social workers important components of change, both individually and on a large scale.


social justice

Social Justice

Social workers fight for the revolutions needed to address injustices in our societies (NASW, n.d.).

A notable pioneer is Jane Adams, who demonstrates social work values to their fullest extent. Jane Adams was an advocate for social justice and one of the first women to receive a Nobel Peace Prize award in 1931.

She is also well known for her work in the settlement house movement to provide services to vulnerable populations including women, children, immigrants, and minorities (NASW, n.d.).

Another inspiring example of social work values, especially social justice, is international activist Malala Yousafza. Malala is a strong advocate for female empowerment and fair access to education in underrepresented areas such as Pakistan.

After a personal assault from a gunshot by a Taliban terrorist, Malala’s fight for social justice led to international uproar and notoriety.

She was honored as the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize award in 2014, the Liberty Medal, and Pakistan’s first Youth Prize now known as the National Malala Peace Prize (Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.).


social work values dignity


Social work values are meant to inspire change, and dignity allows social workers to focus on the inherent worth of a person.

Social workers are called to show respect, care, and honor a client’s self-determination; they offer support and appropriate resources to others as they strive to change and meet their own needs (NASW, n.d).

Focusing on the dignity of a person encourages positive action; it can shift the way the client is thinking, boost self-esteem, and improve motivation to help individuals follow through on identified goals.

It also protects the quality of work that the social worker provides, keeping in mind that all people are worthy of help despite their situation.

As social workers carry out social work values, they are tasked to develop relationships with clients as they face complex barriers and struggles.

It is during these difficult moments that social workers empower, restore, and equip their clients with the beliefs that they need to reach their full potential.


human relationships

The Importance of Human Relationships

As one of the core social work values, recognizing the importance of relationships emphasizes the impact of human connection.

Developing human relationships allows social workers to build a bridge between themselves and their clients. It’s a fundamental and necessary value in the field of social work to ensure a collaborative approach in the engagement of those within their care, and in the change process (NASW, n.d.).

Social work is a relational profession; to preserve meaningful relationships, social workers must go through an inner transformation to be aware of the destructive applications of personal biases or any power differences (e.g. socioeconomic privilege, etc.) in order to meet the unique needs of each client.

Within the safe space of a healthy relationship, clients are nurtured, validated, and provided with support. Many social workers feel called to the profession due to a strong and innate desire to help others.

As social workers honor the importance of human relationships and other social work values, their efforts can be kept true to the purpose of their work.


social work values integrity


Among social work values, honesty and responsibility are principles that guide the work and behaviors of social workers as they strive to provide resources to help clients succeed (NASW, n.d.).

As a relational profession, social work promotes the practice of integrity to safeguard relationships, protecting both clients and social workers.

Maintaining integrity allows social workers to keep their relationship with their clients transparent. It also holds them professionally accountable to follow through on tasks.

An example of demonstrating social work integrity in a relationship is meeting deadlines and coming through with resources for a client. A social worker may also seek additional support for cases when needed to assure goals are met.

Social work values, like integrity, help preserve the client-social worker relationship—a powerful motivator for change in itself.


social work values competence


Social workers incessantly endeavor to increase their knowledge and skills (NASW, n.d.). Compared to other social work values, competence is a tool that helps social workers become better equipped at meeting the shifting, complex needs of individuals and the population.

The need for professional competence stems back to the 1800s when Mary Richmond—a pioneer in the field—laid the groundwork for social work as a practice.

To become more effective in her role, Richmond worked to understand how best to systematically diagnose influencing factors affecting individuals in poverty; she also sought to learn how these individuals were affected by their environments (Social Welfare, n.d.).

Social work also took a shift in the early 1900s after the field was publicly scrutinized as a profession (Social Work Degree Guide, n.d.).

As a result of this criticism, social work evolved into a respected field with educational standards and policies, eventually prompting the development of NASW’s core social work values, which are recognized today.

The need for social workers to understand and work within current dynamics means that they must have access to relevant tools, continually learning new forms of interventions and practices.


social work day

Celebrate Social Work Values This March

On World Social Work Day, take a stand with other social workers worldwide. Wherever you are at in your journey, you can join others who are uniting for the voiceless, marginalized, and vulnerable populations worldwide.

For those who are not yet social workers, and still want to promote social work values on World Social Work Day, there are a few ways you can show your support:

Attend a Social Work Conference

The IFSW, NASW, and other peer social work organizations hold a variety of conferences and events each year. Many workshops offer opportunities for professional development, networking, and continuing education credits.

Learn more about social work values as you attend a national or local conference. You can also spread awareness about them on social media if you can’t make it.

Poster Competition

Each year, the IFSW holds a competition where anyone can draw, create, and design their own poster. Winners appear in advertising campaigns around the world and the IFSW will also award a lifetime membership in the organization.

Visit the United Nations

With World Social Work Day being a time for solidarity worldwide, you can show your support of social work values by attending a special event at the United Nations.

Hundreds of people attend these events at the U.N. each year and they are hosted by the IFSW. As a guest, you will have to register in advance, but the event is typically free of charge.


social work values volunteering


You don’t need to be a social worker to lend a helping hand. In fact, many who pursue social work as a career are motivated to do so because they gain satisfaction from helping others.

Most social work organizations will welcome volunteers, and have both short and long-term opportunities. From soup kitchens, to sponsoring a foster child, to visiting the elderly, there are countless areas in the field where you can offer support.

Make a Donation

Nonprofits rely on public funding, which may very well be scarce. One way to support social work values or a cause is to offer a donation.

These additional funds could help pay for everyday supplies that social workers use, like paper and pens. They could also go towards resources that are intended to help those in need, such as public transportation cards for individuals in a job-readiness program.

Become a Member of the IFSW

Offering different membership levels, the IFSW is one of the main organizations behind World Social Work Day. As a member, you can take advantage of various resources including discounts, news about upcoming events, and networking opportunities.

Visit the IFSW website to learn more about how you can get involved.


spring arbor university social work values

Social Work Values at Spring Arbor

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Social Workers have a number of duties that they handle and many deal with stress on a daily basis. At Spring Arbor University, we honor social workers today and every day for the tireless work that they do for individuals, groups, and communities.

Recently recognized by GradReports as one of the top online Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) programs for 2020, Spring Arbor will help you become professionally equipped to make a difference in your local community and around the world.

Spring Arbor’s BSW program is fully accredited and conveniently online. Our students embark on an enriching, faith-based educational journey.

With your degree in hand, you will be prepared to put social work values into practice and touch countless lives as an ethical agent of change.

Click here to learn more about furthering your social work education.



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IFSW. (n.d.). World social work day 2020. Retrieved from

NASW. (n.d.). Read the code of ethics. Retrieved from

Social Welfare. (n.d.). Richmond, Mary. Retrieved from

Social Work Degree Guide. (n.d.). What is international social work? Retrieved from

Social Work Degree Guide. What is the history of the social work profession. Retrieved from

The Social Worker. Retrieved from