CASW was founded in 1926 to monitor employment conditions and to establish standards of practice within the profession. The CASW Code of Ethics has a long tradition of guiding the social work profession in Canada.

In 1932 CASW identified ethics as a study project. After thorough discussion in committee, in board meetings, and in branches, a simple code of ethics was adopted in 1938.

After 1940, the national committee on ethics was discontinued. It was decided that, in instances of unethical behaviour, the national board or local branches should implement the code on a casework basis rather than a punitive basis, through a special committee appointed by the executive branch or the national board, and that in all cases the social worker involved should have a fair hearing.

In the early 1950s, in the light of new developments and new forms of practice, it was decided that the CASW Code of Ethics should be reviewed and revised. After a long period of study, a new Code of Ethics was adopted in 1956 for a testing period of two years. A plan of implementation was adopted suggesting that, if possible, ethical questions be dealt with by a panel of experts at the local level, with reference to the national level only if the issues were too involved for the local group. On only two occasions in this era were questions of serious importance drawn to the attention of the national board.

June 1964
A revised Code of Ethics was adopted by the CASW Board.

June 1983
An amended Code of Ethics was adopted by the CASW Board.

A revised Code of Ethics was adopted by the CASW Board.

Given changes in knowledge and practice, CASW decided to consider a review of the 1994 CASW Code of Ethics. In light of current literature and the need for the CASW Code of Ethics to be consistent with both international and provincial developments in Codes of Ethics, in 2002 the CASW Board decided to revise the CASW Code of Ethics.

Process for Developing Code of Ethics
From the beginning, CASW planned to develop a new Code of Ethics that incorporated current research as well as the knowledge, experience, and expertise of CASW member organizations and local experts. The new Code of Ethics was developed in three phases.

Phase 1: Critical Appraisal of the Literature (September 2002)
Objective: To conduct a focused review of the relevant professional and bioethics literature and prepare a report of salient concepts and issues.
Outcome: A report entitled CASW-ACTS Project to Research and Develop a National Statement of Ethical Principles Phase I: Critical Appraisal of the Literature (2002) was developed and is available on the Members’ Site of the CASW website.

Phase 2: Review of International Codes of Ethics (December 2002)
Objective: To conduct a comparative analysis of the 1994 CASW Code of Ethics and codes of ethics from the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), Australia, Britain, and the United States. To conduct an analysis of relevant provincial/territorial codes of ethics and selected standards of practice, as they relate to ethical issues.
Outcome: A report that indicated the similarities and differences between the CASW Code of Ethics and other documents, which led to a recommendation that CASW revise the Code of Ethics.

Phase 3: Consultation on Draft CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice (March 2003-November 2004)
Objective: To draft a Code of Ethics that incorporates knowledge from phase 1 and phase 2 as well as includes information received from consultations with member organizations and other experts in the field of ethics.

Process of Consultation:
• CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice were drafted
(March 2005).
• Each CASW member organization was given a copy of the draft Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice and encouraged to obtain local review and provide written feedback.
• Personal consultation was held with presidents of provincial/territorial social work associations (Spring 2003).
• Feedback received from consultations was incorporated into a revised copy of the CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice.
• Second draft was circulated to CASW member organizations, lawyers, and experts with experience in social work ethics for comment.
• Teleconference was held to discuss key issues in which changes were being introduced, and local experts were invited to a discussion about the new Code (Fall 2003).
• Personal consultation was held with presidents of provincial/territorial social work associations (Spring 2004).
• Further revisions, based on consultations, were incorporated, and drafts of the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice were submitted to the CASW Board for approval (Fall 2004).
• CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice were ratified and signed by all CASW member organizations (June 2005).


Development of the 2024 Code


Several key factors in Canadian society emanating from both historical and contemporary social justice issues impacted the development of the 2023 Code.

In 2008 the federal government apologized for their role in the residential school system and acknowledged the resulting intergenerational trauma that led to several reports and laws of significance that have impacts for social work education, advocacy, and practice.

  • 2015: The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Report (TRC) and 94 Calls to Action.
  • 2019: Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls & Supplemental Report: Quebec.
  • 2019: Canadian Association of Social Workers Statement of Apology and Commitment to Reconciliation.
  • 2019: An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth, and families[1].
  • 2021: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act[2].


The Development Journey

In 2018 the CASW Board established a federation committee to review and revise the CASW Code of Ethics, Guidelines for Ethical Practice (2005) and Scope of Practice (2008) with a commitment to upholding the ten principles of the TRC Commission.

In the initial phase of the project (November 2018 to April 2020), CASW engaged a consulting firm to facilitate a national consultation process that included interviews with subject matter experts and focus groups with Indigenous stakeholders to seek insights as to how the Code impacted their experiences with the profession and gather their perspectives on what revisions were necessary to reflect contemporary issues and to honour the principles of Truth and Reconciliation. A national membership on-line survey was launched in early 2020. While some of the consultation activities were successfully completed, all in-person consultations were put on hold in early 2020 because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 world pandemic and the project was subsequently paused to allow CASW and partners to focus on Pandemic-related priorities.

In Spring 2021, CASW contracted with a second consulting firm and the Code of Ethics project resumed by using video conferencing methods to support consultations.

The first version of a revised Code of Ethics (herein, the ‘Code’) was informed by literature and jurisdictional reviews, focus groups with subject matter experts, and data from an online survey of CASW membership completed in early 2020.  Input on the first draft was sought from social workers across the nation through a second online survey in French and English and through focus groups.

Partner organizations promoted focus groups for their membership and other focus groups engaged diverse social workers who identified as Indigenous, Francophone or Black. Additionally, social workers who identified as First Nation, Inuit, Métis, racially marginalized, members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, or having intersecting identities participated in focus groups and reviewed the Code. Over 1,092 members participated in consultations and their feedback informed draft 2 which was subsequently reviewed by the Federation Code Committee, Partner Organizations, and key informant stakeholders. In total through three phases of consultation over 1,100 social workers and 238 service users contributed to the development of the Code. The final version was approved by the Federation in June 2023.


Incidents in Society that Affected the Development of the Code

The development of the Code occurred over a period when there was social upheaval in many sectors of Canadian society.

  • 2020: World Pandemic, highlighted gaps in health care, mental health, and adequate care for vulnerable populations.
  • 2020: Significant events of systemic racism and gun violence and corresponding social justice movements in Canada including Black Lives Matter.
  • 2021: Discovery of unmarked graves located near Residential Schools across Canada.
  • 2022: A historic $40 billion settlement in principle to compensate First Nations children harmed by underfunding of child welfare was announced by Ottawa and subsequently overturned by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal due to some children being left out.
  • 2022: Significant incidents of domestic terrorism and hate motivating crimes towards Indigenous, Muslim. Chinese, Asian, and the 2SLGBTQ+ communities.
  • 2022 & 2023: Unprecedented wildfires, drought, floods and other weather events exacerbated by climate change.

It is within this social context that the Code was drafted and then reviewed by social workers working in roles across the full Scope of Practice. The current times underscores social worker’s ethical responsibilities to respect and uphold the dignity and worth of all people, advocate for social justice and elimination of discrimination toward all people, undertake the personal journey of knowledge, truth and reconciliation with Indigenous people, commit to continually developing cultural competence and humility, act with honest and integrity in their practice, continually develop and nurture working relationships with service users and colleagues, protect confidentiality and strive to provide competent social work services.


[1] Government of Canada. (2020). An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, S.C. 2019, c. 24. Retrieved from Laws Website Home Consolidated Acts

[2] Government of Canada. (2021). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act S.C. 2021, c. 14. Retrieved from Justice Laws Website