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Social Work Exam Practice and the Updated NASW Code of Ethics

bookshelfWere you paying attention a couple of posts ago about recent changes made to the NASW Code of Ethics? Let's find out. here's a quick quiz-style question:

Which of the following is a crucial new component of the Cultural Competence section of the Code of Ethics?

A. Combating Stereotypes

B. Cultural Humility

C. Multicultural Competence

D. Social Justice

What do you think? If you know the Code of Ethics well, you'll recognize three of these as being anything but new.

Let's answer the question with a question, this time more in the style of the ASWB exam.

A social worker is confronted by a client for cultural insensitivity. The social worker, seeing that the client is right, apologizes and seems to repair the rift with the client. What action should the social worker take NEXT to remedy the situation?

A. Revisit the rupture with the client and examine any unspoken resentments.

B. In the next session, ask the client to help her better understand and remedy her biases.

C. Seek guidance from others who share the same culture as the client.

D. Engage in learning, self-reflection, and self-correction regarding the misstep.

Okay, this one kind of answer itself, even if you haven't recently read the update to the Code's Cultural Competency section. One just sounds more like the text of the Code of Ethics. Sometimes on the social work exam you get lucky that way.

Why else is this the right answer? Social workers-and people in general-should take care not to give others (particularly those who are disenfranchised in any way) the extra job of educating and hand-holding and putting-at-ease. That's work-usually unwelcome work. Three of these answers fall into that trap. One-D-does not. If an offered answer suggested seeking guidance from a supervisor regarding the misstep, that might have been the one to choose. It's supervisors' job to help social workers navigate difficult areas, often including their own conscious and unconscious biases. One way to think of it: if you're going to ask someone to do work, try to make sure they're being paid for it.

Cultural humility, by the way-that's the quiz answer. The phrase is new to the Code of Ethics, and describes something that wasn't quite there before. Keeping cultural humility in mind can only make you a better social worker-and all-the-more ready to pass the licensing exam.

Good luck!

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New NASW Code of Ethics Updates

nasw code of ethics updatesThe NASW has updated the Code of Ethics, its essential guide to social work practice and a hefty part of the social work licensing exam. Changes for 2020 and 2021 are highlighted here. Among the newer, noteworthy alterations, this paragraph regarding self care:

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.

And this, under 1.05 Cultural Competence:

(c) Social workers should demonstrate awareness and cultural humility by engaging in critical self-reflection (understanding their own bias and engaging in self-correction); recognizing clients as experts of their own culture; committing to life-long learning; and holding institutions accountable for advancing cultural humility.

Other recent and recent-ish changes include this tweak to the Informed Consent section:

(c) Social workers should demonstrate awareness and cultural humility by engaging in critical self-reflection (understanding their own bias and engaging in self-correction); recognizing clients as experts of their own culture; committing to life-long learning; and holding institutions accountable for advancing cultural humility.

This, under the Competence heading:

(d) Social workers who use technology in the provision of social work services should ensure that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide such services in a competent manner. This includes an understanding of the special communication challenges when using technology and the ability to implement strategies to address these challenges.

And, from 1.05 Cultural Awareness and Social Diversity:

(d) Social workers who provide electronic social work services should be aware of cultural and socioeconomic differences among clients and how they may use electronic technology. Social workers should assess cultural, environmental, economic, mental or physical ability, linguistic, and other issues that may affect the delivery or use of these services.

And on from there, including a big section amended in 1.07, Privacy and Confidentiality regarding electronic communications and record keeping. But that's a year old-you already knew it by heart, right?

This, or material nearby in the COE, will be on the exam. Anything in the Code of Ethics may show up on the ASWB exam. Even as there's variation in the amount of macro, medication, or diagnostic questions exam to exam, one guaranteed constant is ethics. Learn it, know it, live it.

For practice questions covering ethics and everything else on the social work exam, sign up with SWTP. If you're looking for ethics-only practice, we've got that too (our Ethics Booster test). Thousands of social workers have used Social Work Test Prep to prepare for and pass the exam. Hope you'll join them soon.

Happy studying and good luck on the exam!



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2021 Code of Ethics Update

code of ethicsThey're changing it again. The NASW Code of Ethics gets (or got, depending upon when you're reading this) an upgrade on June 1st, 2021. The Code will now include greater detail about self-care and cultural humility. Ethics expert Allan Barsky walks through the changes here (in print) and here (on the Social Work Podcast). From the print:

To address the lack of guidance on proactive self-care in the Code of Ethics, new language was added to the purpose and principles sections of the Code. No new standards were added, and no new revisions were made to existing standards. The first change in the purpose section is indicated by the bolded language below:

5. The Code socializes practitioners new to the field to social work's mission, values, ethical principles, and ethical standards, and encourages all social workers to engage in self-care, ongoing education, and other activities to ensure their commitment to those same core features of the profession.

So now taking care of yourself is good, ethical practice. Great! To hammer that home:

The following paragraph is a completely new addition to the purpose section of the Code.

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.

Welcome aboard, self-care! Next up, some changes to 1.05, Cultural Competence. They're bolded:

(a) Social workers should demonstrate understanding of culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures.

(b) Social workers should demonstrate knowledge that guides practice with clients of various cultures and be able to demonstrate skills in the provision of culturally informed services that empower marginalized individuals and groups. Social workers must take action against oppression, racism, discrimination, and inequities, and acknowledge personal privilege.

(c) Social workers should demonstrate awareness and cultural humility by engaging in critical self-reflection (understanding their own bias and engaging in self-correction), recognizing clients as experts of their own culture, committing to lifelong learning, and holding institutions accountable for advancing cultural humility.

(d) Social workers should obtain education about and demonstrate understanding of the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical ability.

(e) Social workers who provide electronic social work services should be aware of cultural and socioeconomic differences among clients' use of and access to electronic technology and seek to prevent such potential barriers. Social workers should assess cultural, environmental, economic, mental or physical ability, linguistic, and other issues that may affect the delivery or use of these services.

Social workers shouldn't just have an awareness of culture and its function, they should demonstrate that awareness. Give this another read: Social workers must take action against oppression, racism, discrimination, and inequities, and acknowledge personal privilege. Not might or should sort-of-must. If it wasn't already clear, taking action against inequity of all kinds is part of the job description.

Will these additions appear on the ASWB exam? Answer: Sort of. It takes a while for exam questions to get written, approved, tested, and accepted. But these changes are a primarily a strengthening of already-existing concepts in the Code. The call to social and political action was in there. Self-care was already good clinical practice.

So, as an exam-prepper, you needn't get worked up about the additions. But as an ethics-minded social worker, you have still more clarity about what it is you're supposed to be doing every day. It's a lot. Much respect!

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Social Work Exam Content: Self-Determination

downtownSelf-determination shows up multiple times in ASWB exam content outlines. Here's how self-determination appears in the clinical outline's Professional Values and Ethics section:

  • Techniques for protecting and enhancing client/client system self-determination
  • Client/client system competence and self-determination (e.g., financial decisions, treatment decisions, emancipation, age of consent, permanency planning)
  • The client's/client system's right to refuse services (e.g., medication, medical treatment, counseling, placement, etc.)

Three appearances? That tells you something. This is a topic worth knowing-not just for the social work licensing exam, but for social work practice.

Okay, so what's to know? Let's first open up the NASW Code of Ethics for basic principles. Here's the section, which appears right up top in Social Workers' Ethical Responsibilities to Clients:

1.02 Self-Determination

Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. Social workers may limit clients' right to self-determination when, in the social workers' professional judgment, clients' actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others.

What does this mean in practice? Julie Fanning puts it nicely in her article, If I Were My Client I Would…:

Clients often make life choices we wouldn't choose for ourselves.  Sometimes people prefer to be homeless rather than live in an apartment.  Sometimes people will choose to cheat on their spouse.  Sometime people will stay in a job that seems to be completely unhealthy.  Someone could choose to not take psychotropic medication and still function in the community.   A client's religious or other cultural values might feel abhorrent to you but it is not on the social worker to change them but to meet the client where they are at and let them live their own destiny.  It can be frustrating for a social worker because you want so much for your client's to be successful.  Each of the clients we work with know themselves better than we know them.

If you were your client, you'd do things your way. But clients don't have to do things your way. They get to choose. That's self-determination.

How might this look on the exam? Exam writers might grab any of the examples from the above paragraph and throw them into a vignette. Like this:

After many months of effort, a social worker finds a Section 8 apartment for a homeless client. After seeing the apartment, the client says he prefers to sleep on the street. "I like the open air," he says. The social work is worried that the client's judgment is impaired and that he is putting himself in unnecessary danger. How should the social worker intervene?

Right? Thinking like an exam writer, what options would you include? One correct answer (the self-determination one) is required. Plus a couple of look-good-but-aren't-the-right-answer choices. And maybe one clearly wrong one. Something like these:

A. Convince the client to try the apartment out for a month before deciding.

B. Discuss the pros and cons of apartment versus street living with the client.

C. Bring up the client's decision in a group setting so he can hear from others in a similar situation.

D. Insist that the client try the apartment for his own safety.

How would you answer?

Taking the options one-by-one. A has "convince." That's acting on the social worker's worries, not the clients self-determination. Not the answer. B has "discuss"-usually a good idea (except sometimes in imminent harm situations where more decisive action is indicated). Put a pin in it as a maybe. Answer C involves eliciting help from group members. This might be an effective way to shame the client into a safer decision, but again, the client can make a dangerous choice. It's his choice to make. Finally, D, "insist." Pass.

That leaves B and C as the only viable answers. One doesn't involve shame or using others to bend the client to the will o the social worker. So, there you have it. The correct answer is B.

Got it? Great! Will this be on the exam? Very likely. Maybe not exactly in this form, but the basic concept is a crucial part of social work and something the ASWB will often test for. Now you're ready!

Find more questions about self-determination and many, many other topics on our full-length practice tests. Sign up to get started.

Happy studying and good luck on the exam!

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Ethics and the ASWB Exam

Social Work EthicsRegardless of which ASWB exam you're taking-Bachelors, Masters, Advanced Generalist, or Clinical-questions about ethics are going to take up a big chunk of the test (between 19-25%). The ASWB exam outlines (available on the ASWB site) each break ethics knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs, in ASWB-speak) the same way:

1. PROFESSIONAL VALUES AND ETHICAL ISSUES

2. CONFIDENTIALITY

3. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND USE OF SELF

In future posts, we'll start tackling some of the specifics, exam feeding fundamentals like informed consent, self-determination, and boundaries. But you already know where to find just about everything you need to know about social work ethics to prepare for the social work licensing exam. Yep, the NASW Code of Ethics. Exam-prepping isn't complete without careful review of this crucial doc.

Just reading the ethical principles and standards can be a little less than scintillating, though. To read about ethical principles playing out in social work practice, take a look at the long-running Eye on Ethics column from Social Work Today. Or tune into this two-part conversation on social work ethics from the Social Work Podcast (generally a great, free test-prep resource). YouTube has a collection of ethics-educations offerings as well.

And of course, there's SWTP. Our exams are loaded with ethics questions just like the ones you'll encounter on the licensing exam. If those aren't enough for you, we have a booster test that contains only ethics questions.

See you back here for more ethics exploration. Until then, happy studying and good luck on the exam!

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