by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISWMarc Herstand

When I do speaking engagements on the social work profession I often discuss the unique ethical and advocacy consciousness exhibited by social workers.  Social workers are usually the staff at an agency who speak up to challenge agency policies and procedures that are harmful to clients.  Social workers will also challenge their fellow staff to upgrade their ethical behavior.  They are often the point person in the agency that does community organizing and development on behalf of the clients and issues affecting the clients. Social workers are often the whistle blowers who stick their neck out when ethical behavior is occurring. 

These roles played by so many social workers are not easy and don’t always make us popular but we do it because we know it is the right thing to do.  Our values and conscience will not allow us to do anything else.

Where does this willingness to stick one’s neck out and serve as an advocate, agency conscience and if necessary whistle blower come from?   Is it because of the social work professional program, our continuing education and our Code of Ethics or is it because the individuals selecting social work already have that mindset?  I think it is probably a combination of both factors.   As a BSW and MSW adjunct instructor, I experience many of the students drawn to social work because of their passion to make the world better and improve client’s lives.  I also see students grow in their commitment to advocacy as a result of social work training.  In terms of the continuing education requirement I have definitely seen a huge impact of the ethics requirement in terms of members calling me about ethical dilemmas.

In terms of advocacy our Code of Ethics has had the Advocacy Section 6.0 since 1996, which requires that social workers engage in social and political action, prevent and eliminate discrimination and generally promote the general welfare of society.    This section was a logical edition to our Code of Ethics considering the origins of our profession with Jane Addams and the Settlement House movement and the history of our profession in shaping public policies. 

In terms of our work to promote ethical practice, elsewhere in the newsletter you will see an article on NASW WI’s proposed revisions to MPSW 20, the state conduct code. These proposed changes are based upon the new technology components of the NASW WI Code of Ethics.  They reflect the exponential changes in technology and the use of social media since the state conduct code was completed around 1995.   NASW WI’s proposed revisions to MPSW 20 were developed by Dr. Nick Smiar with feedback from our other ethics presenters.

As we reflect upon this attribute of social work practitioners as leaders in advocacy and ethical practice at agencies and in the community, we can be very proud of our profession.  We make our agencies and communities better places for everyone!