Last updated February 12, 2015 
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Social Work Speaks

10th Edition—NASW Policy Statements

The policy statements contained in this book set the parameters for National Association of Social Workers (NASW) positions and actions on a broad range of public policy and professional issues. Social Work Speaks is a comprehensive collection of policies adopted and revised by NASW’s key policy-making body, the Delegate Assembly. This edition includes all of the revised policies approved by the 2014 NASW Delegate Assembly as well as those approved by previous assemblies.

Since NASW’s inception in 1955, policy statement adoption has been a part of its governance process. The Delegate Assembly, a body of 277 professional social workers representing NASW’s diverse membership, meets at regular intervals (every three years since 1981). The Delegate Assembly has been conducted virtually since 2008. Only a few individuals—the president, the facilitators, the parliamentarian, legal counsel, and necessary national staff— are together in Washington, DC. The delegates from all states and three U.S. territories log in virtually from their homes or a location arranged by their coalition or chapter. Deliberation and voting follow the customary Delegate Assembly process and use Robert’s Rules of Order. Delegates voted on the policy statement revisions during a voting period in June through July 2014, approving the revisions. During the culminating meeting of the 2014 Delegate Assembly broad parameters for the association’s program priority goals were set, and the voting results from the June through July voting period were reported to the full Delegate Assembly, resulting in the adoption of 20 revised policy statements that guide advocacy in the profession’s public policy efforts.

To more fully ensure that policy positions are timely, moving forward, on an annual basis, delegates and other members will consider revisions of current policy statements and propose new policy statements through online policy panels and public comment periods. Delegates give final approval for policies through an online voting process—it is an efficient approach to conducting this part of the business of the association.

The involvement of social workers in policy development continues to be an important part of NASW’s role and is in keeping with the social work profession’s ethical code. The population of the United States is more culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse than it has ever been. There is a rapidly aging population; more people are living longer with chronic health and mental health conditions; we are dealing with trauma due to long-standing family, community, and global conflicts; and there is a widening gap between those who are affluent and the people living in poverty. At the same time, the economic crisis, legislative changes, and redesigns in government and philanthropic funding streams have created new challenges for health and human services agencies and organizations. This affects both the people who receive services and those who work in these settings. Effective programs are being reevaluated and, in some cases, long-standing programs are being eliminated or cut back. Furthermore, people without social work degrees are being hired for positions that social workers previously held. Our social work value systems and our expertise lend themselves to the creation of, and advocacy for, policies that provide effective solutions not only in the United States, but also in the global community, because what happens in one country has repercussions around the world.

The Process

The policy revision process for the 2014 Delegate Assembly continued to use technology innovations that began with the Delegate Assembly in 2008. To strengthen the process, panels for each policy under review included delegates who elected to serve on specific panels because of their areas of interest and expertise, and additional NASW members who were subject matter experts were also engaged in the policy revision process. The panels worked with NASW’s social work staff to review the policies and to identify areas that needed to be updated. Through this process two policies, “Physical Punishment of Children” and “School Truancy and Dropout Prevention,” were eliminated as their intent and recommendations were also included in other broader statements. In addition, the structure of the statements was changed to only include an Issue Statement section and a Policy Statement section, thus those policies revised in 2014 will read a little differently from the policy statements that were revised or added from previous delegate assemblies.

After the initial revisions, policy statements were available online for comment by the membership, then were revised and posted for voting and adoption by the delegates. This allowed members to make suggestions to improve the policies. Policy panels met via teleconferencing, taking comments into account and making necessary revisions. With the opportunity for input, not only by the delegates, but by all NASW members, these policy statements represent the collective thinking of thousands of experienced social work practitioners.

Legislative Activity

Before taking a position on any federal legislation, the NASW national office compares the proposed legislative policy with policies in this book. If the proposed legislation is consistent with the thrust of an NASW policy statement or if it contradicts the statement, NASW’s position will be readily apparent. However, in many cases, the proposed legislation contains some provisions that support NASW’s policies and some that are inconsistent with, or only partially support, the NASW recommendations. In these cases, a decision is not made easily, and other factors must be taken into consideration. NASW then weighs the potential for revising the proposed legislation, the overall value of possible policy gains, political concerns, and other factors before a decision to support the legislation is made. When NASW chapters make decisions on legislative action at the state level, they go through a similar process, starting with the review of NASW policy statements to ensure that actions taken are not in conflict with NASW policy.

For social workers to be heard as one voice on federal policy, the national office coordinates action on federal legislation at the national, chapter, unit, and member level. Action may include endorsements for, or opposition to, a bill before Congress; letters and e-mails to Congress requesting action on a bill; or participation in coalition actions for or against a piece of legislation. Chapters coordinate similar actions on state legislation.

Social Work Policy Institute

In 2009 NASW created a think tank, the Social Work Policy Institute (SWPI), to strengthen social work’s voice in public policy deliberations, inform policymakers through the collection and dissemination of information on social work effectiveness, and create a forum to examine current and future issues in health care and social services delivery. Building on the policies approved by the NASW Delegate Assembly, SWPI examines issues that relate to the work of social workers, including how to serve people who have multiple or complex needs and how public agencies and other structures deliver health and human services. SWPI hosts think tank symposia on critical issues facing the profession and the clients we serve (for example, end-of-life care, supervisory practice in child welfare, policies to support veterans and military families, achieving racial equity, and investments in the social work workforce), bringing researchers and frontline social workers together with representatives of government agencies, foundations, and national organizations to study an issue in depth and develop an action agenda that targets research, practice, and policy improvements and workforce development strategies. For more information about SWPI’s work, visit

Legal Action and the Legal Defense Fund

The NASW Legal Defense Fund (LDF) initiates or participates in a number of amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs annually in precedent-setting cases that advance social policy and the social work profession. In deciding which cases to support with a brief in a federal or state court, NASW looks to its Delegate Assembly–adopted policy statements for guidance. For example, NASW filed a brief in the Supreme Court seeking review of a Sixth Circuit Court decision in Campbell-Ponstingle et al. v. Kovacic et al., 724 F. 3d (6th Cir. 2013), which permitted social workers in Ohio to be sued for having removed without a warrant two children from their home where there were allegations of abuse. In another case, Hall v. Florida, 134 S. Ct. 1986 (2014), in which NASW joined in a brief by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, the issue of how to determine mental disability for the application of capital punishment was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s majority opinion relied heavily on the amicus brief, which presented information about the bases for determining an IQ score and the need to consider development and other factors besides an IQ number in assessing mental disability. NASW participated in a number of successful cases advancing social policy on same-sex marriage and family issues. For example, the New Mexico Supreme Court, in Griego et al. v. Oliver and Salazar and the State of New Mexico, 138 N.M. 331 (2013), ruled in a unanimous decision that the state constitution requires that same-sex couples must be treated equally under the law with the same fundamental right to marry as other couples). In a New Jersey–based case challenging in federal court the application of a state statute that prohibited the use of reparative therapy for teenagers, King v. Christie, F. 3d. (3d. Cir. 2014), NASW, along with other mental health groups, supported the statute in an amicus brief.

In addition, in the New Hampshire case State of New Hampshire Supreme Court v. Michael Soto (2013-566, 2014 N.H. Lexis 103), the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous ruling holding that it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life without parole was applied retroactively to juveniles held in New Hampshire prisons who had been sentenced before the Supreme Court’s ruling. These cases illustrate the importance and influence of NASW policy statements in the legal advocacy of the association. In addition, the statements are referenced when developing positions in relation to proposed federal and state legislation and regulations.

Policy Study and Analysis

Social Work Speaks may be used as a text or as supplementary reading for overview, introductory, or macro courses in social and public policy. The book may also serve as an adjunct to a wide range of specialty courses because so many of the policy statements address specific fields of practice.

As an articulation of what one Delegate Assembly viewed as an ideal policy, individual statements are useful for analysis and review. They are excellent resources for classroom discussion and debate, and they can be used to raise questions such as the following:

  • What important issues have practitioners raised in the subject area?
  • Are the issues ones I deem critical?
  • In my opinion, are there major issues that were not considered?
  • Do I concur with NASW’s policy stance?
  • What documentation did NASW provide for the conclusions?
  • On what course work, research, other readings, or practice experience do I base my stance?
  • How do the positions compare with the public positions of other groups and organizations on the same subject?
  • How might the statements be improved?
  • How can I use the statements to become a more effective advocate?

For lobbying or analysis, policy statements should be considered in the context of their purpose and the time in which they were adopted. Social workers developed the statements to serve as broad parameters for advocacy work and to help professionals who are concerned with social issues focus their thinking. Nonetheless, because of the breadth of issues and the constantly emerging new information, readers may find that they need more specificity than what the statements contain. Contemporary professional literature will serve as an important extension of the policy statements, and NASW national and chapter offices may also provide updated information in many areas (see

Moving Forward

As readers use these statements, they may also want to consider the need for new policy statements to be developed or for an existing policy statement to be revised and approved by delegates between 2015 and the 2017 Delegate Assembly. NASW members may submit their recommendations for new and revised policy statements at Social workers who want to be informed and involved in policy analysis, advocacy for social policies, or the formulation of future policy statements will find the 10th edition of Social Work Speaks a useful volume.

Darrell P. Wheeler, PhD, ACSW, MPH
President, NASW

Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW
Chief Executive Officer, NASW