Here's what's next in our question-a-section expedition through the wilds of the NASW Code of Ethics: 1.12 Derogatory Language. The code reads:

Social workers should not use derogatory language in their written or verbal communications to or about clients. Social workers should use accurate and respectful language in all communications to and about clients.

Each section of this part of the code has one central aim: protect clients from harm. On the exam, if a behavior harms a client, the social worker in the vignette shouldn't be doing it. You don't necessarily have to have the entire code memorized. You just have to remember that common-sense principle.

Here's a question that illustrates that for 1.12 and borrows from elsewhere in the code:

While out to lunch with a small group of clinic employees, a social worker's colleague refers to one of his case management clients as "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs." How should the social worker proceed?

A) Clarify the meaning of the comment with the colleague.

B) Since the comment was not said in earshot of clients, do nothing.

C) Report the colleague's comment during supervision.

D) Discuss the comment with the colleague.

If you have even a breezy familiarity with the next section of the code, Social Workers' Responsibilities to Colleagues, you've encountered this guideline: if a colleague is incompetent, is behaving unethically, or is otherwise asking for trouble, talk to the colleague first. The meaning of the comment is clear enough as it stands. So, knowing that, according to the code, social workers are supposed to be respectful when communicating to and about clients and knowing that the first step in handling problems with colleagues is to talk to the colleague, you have your answer: D Simple as that!

Yes, good social workers may sometimes let off steam together with humor that can sometimes be at the expense of clients. The code says don't. Good, textbook social workers are ever-mindful of that. It's those good, textbook social workers that populate ASWB exam vignettes.

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November 30, 2015
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