The Importance of Integrity in Social Work

Many people answer the call to social work because they want to make a difference. And once they begin providing support to clients, they get many opportunities to do so. Of course, many clients are highly vulnerable; to earn their trust, practitioners must exhibit integrity in social work practice.

Practicing integrity in social work may seem like a given. For instance, the New Social Worker boils it down to “choosing the right thing rather than the easy thing.” While that approach may seem simple, social workers face challenges that test their resolve.

Fortunately, resources and support systems exist that empower practitioners to embrace integrity. When they do, social workers meet their responsibilities in honest, ethical ways.

Acquiring Integrity in Social Work to Meet Professional Responsibilities

For a concise framing of integrity in social work, let’s turn to the National Association of Social Work’s (NASW) ethical principles. The NASW Code of Ethics states that practitioners achieve integrity when they “behave in a trustworthy manner.”

But the NASW goes further, detailing how integrity depends on an adherence to six ethical standards. By following these standards, social workers embody integrity as they fulfill their:

1. Responsibilities to Clients.

Committing to integrity in social work goes a long way toward building trust with clients. After all, clients may be more likely to embrace interventions when their best interests are the social worker’s top priority. To exhibit integrity, social workers:

  • Help clients understand available services.
    Many factors may limit how well a client understands social work services, from reading and cognitive disabilities to limited English fluency. Social workers can build trust and meet their ethical commitments by presenting service details in formats that meet client needs.
    Keep sensitive information confidential.
  • Social workers are responsible for safeguarding sensitive details about clients.
    They also respect each client’s privacy. That includes not seeking personal information on social media.
  • Maintain a professional relationship.
    It’s natural for clients to share aspects of their lives while engaging in services. When this occurs, social workers must maintain professionalism. Dual relationships may form during an intervention, but they should not jeopardize a client’s well-being.
  • Build cultural competence.
    Serving diverse communities requires practitioners to build cultural competence in social work practice. Developing this competence enables social workers to understand a client’s perspective. Then they can offer support that respects each client’s heritage and worldview.

2. Responsibilities to Colleagues

Building integrity in social work is not merely a client-centered act. It also involves meeting responsibilities to peers. Social workers recognize when a peer is struggling professionally and offer assistance when their expertise may help. They also respect colleagues and do not disparage their qualifications.

In other words, social workers commit to a variation of the golden rule: Treat other social workers as you would like to be treated.

The Golden Rule for Social Workers
Treat other social workers as you would like to be treated.

3. Responsibilities in Practice Settings

Integrity in social work extends beyond an individual’s commitment to honesty. The NASW core values also push social workers to serve as checks on the behavior of organizations. As such, social workers should take action when they observe policies or practices that fall short of standards for integrity.

Meeting this responsibility includes countering discriminatory practices, such as withholding resources due to a client’s race. These practices do not align with the accepted values and ethics in social work practice. So, it’s necessary to explore procedural changes that will create inclusive resource allocations.

4. Responsibilities as Professionals

Every social worker has limitations, be it in their theoretical knowledge or professional experience. Recognizing those limitations plays into a social worker’s integrity. That’s because social workers put clients at risk by offering services outside their training.

For instance, a social worker may suspect that a client is struggling with mental health. If the social worker lacks the qualifications to intervene, they may seek help from a third-party, such as a mental health counselor.

5. Responsibilities to the Social Work Profession
Advancing the social work profession is vital because if innovation stagnates, so will the quality of services. And each social worker plays a role in ensuring the field progresses.

To spur industry-wide advancement, social workers can:

    • Lead training sessions to share innovations discovered through client support.
    • Document emerging best practices by authoring articles.
    • Engage in research focusing on insights for boosting interventions.

While research is vital, social workers should not require clients to take part in a study. Doing so threatens their integrity because it gives the impression that clients “owe” social workers for their support. Social workers must be transparent when they lead a research study and respect a client’s decision to opt out.

6. Responsibilities to the Broader Society

Social workers often serve as the eyes and ears of communities. While helping individual clients, they may identify issues beginning to affect more people. Acting with integrity in social work practice means sharing these observations with community leaders and policymakers. When they do, social workers help improve society by working to solve the root causes of issues that clients face.

For instance, the Social Work Policy Institute examined how limited access to healthcare can affect community well-being. To expand access, social workers collected the stories of individuals who were on the verge of losing their insurance. These stories gave social workers and policymakers a transparent view of how denying coverage would impact citizens.

Balancing Integrity in Social Work With Day-to-Day Challenges

The rigors of this field can test a social worker’s integrity. Examples appear in a Disability & Society study, which shows how maintaining integrity in social work can seem like a tightrope act. Caseworkers often feel they have no room for error as they pursue interventions. These feelings can diminish a social worker’s confidence as they question if they’re doing the “right thing” for clients.

Fortunately, the NASW Code of Ethics serves as a valuable framework for sustaining integrity during moments of doubt. By following the social work principles outlined in the code, practitioners feel resolved to:

Collaborate With Teammates.

The NASW considers collaboration a matter of ethical responsibility, and with good reason. When social workers always go it alone, they do not benefit from the wealth of expertise that teammates and partner agencies provide.

Developing integrity in social work practice is a vital part of working as a team. It allows social workers to be honest about their limits. This honesty enables them to seek help from teammates who can elevate the quality of interventions.

Protect Clients.

Promoting client well-being is a top concern for social workers. As such, it’s necessary to safeguard client confidentiality throughout an intervention, including when collaborating with teammates and third-party agencies. It’s also crucial to resist a rush to judgment when clients deviate from an action plan. Finger-pointing can cause more than hurt feelings. It can erode the trust that clients feel for social workers and lessen the chance that interventions will succeed.

Commit to Continuous Improvement

Making mistakes is a part of life, and the same is true for social work. To practice integrity in social work, social workers correct their errors and analyze why they occur. Learning from mistakes contributes to a social worker’s integrity because it shows a virtuous commitment to improving client support.

The NASW advocates for social workers to do more than learn from mistakes. They also must dedicate themselves to learning new things through professional development. There are educational opportunities for social workers at every experience level, including newcomers to the field.

If you’re interested in beginning your social work career, pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in social work is an ideal starting point. Campbellsville University’s online BSW program instills the foundational skills needed to thrive as a social worker. You will benefit from flexible courses that fit busy schedules, enabling you to meet your work and family commitments while earning your degree.

Campbellsville University’s faculty specializes in teaching working adults to acquire the knowledge and tools needed to launch a social work career. Beyond learning modern principles and theoretical perspectives, you will build real-world experience through a supervised practicum. This approach allows you to learn to support clients directly, which prepares you to enter the field once you complete the program.

Campbellsville University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The university’s online Bachelor of Social Work program is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).