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Buena Praxis Profesional - Código Deontológico (English)


This Code of Ethics for Social Work was unanimously approved on 9 June 2012 at the Extraordinary General Meeting of the Professional Bodies of Social Workers.

The total or partial reproduction of this material by any means without the prior and express written consent of the General Council of Social Work is prohibited.



The first Code of Ethics for Social Work for social work, edited by the Spanish General Council of Social Work, was approved by the General Meeting of the Professional Bodies of Social Workers at its extraordinary meeting held on 29 May 1999. From then on, over the next ten years, the code has been printed even on six occasions.

This document is an update of the previous text, and is the first Code of Ethics for Social Work of the 21st century to be edited by the Spanish General Council of Social Work, out of the need to gain a deeper insight into the ethical and deontological principles of the profession, considering the new social realities and rules that have a direct impact on the professional activity.

Its objectives, among others, are related to the need to narrow professional responsibilities, further scientific and technical knowledge, define the proper professional conduct before people, service users and other professionals, prevent unfair competition, protect the good reputation   of the profession, encourage constant improvement of professional activities, work at the service of citizens and institutions, establish trust as a key and determining factor in public relations, and serve as the basis for disciplinary relations.

While the previous document laid down the regulatory framework of ethical principles and professional criteria governing the social work profession, this Code attempts to overcome the difficulties encountered by the profession throughout the next decade. This Code reaffirms the social work profession’s commitment before society, incorporating scientific and technical developments and newly-recognised rights and duties of both the social worker and the people who use the social work service.

With regard to the role played by the social worker, his/her roles are:

They are concerned with planning for, projecting, calculating, applying, evaluating and changing social services and policies to the benefit of groups and communities. They work with cases, groups and communities in many functional sectors applying different methodological approaches, in a wide range of organisational environments, and providing resources and services to different sectors of the society at micro-, meso-, and macro-levels. Fulfilment of some of these roles may be inter-related, depending on the specific method of intervention applied.

To sum up:

  • Information       
  • Planning
  • Research            
  • Management and direction
  • Prevention         
  • Evaluation
  • Assistance          
  • Supervision
  • Direct care         
  • Teaching
  • Social inclusion and promotion  
  • Coordination
  • Mediation

To fulfil their roles, social workers rely on a number of social work-specific tools, namely:

  • Social history – a thorough record of personal, family, medical, housing, economic, working, educational and other significant data on the social and family situation of a service user; the request for social work services, diagnosis, and subsequent intervention and follow-up on the situation.
  • Social sheet – supporting documentation of social work, containing information from the social history that qualifies for systematisation.
  • Social assessment report – expert report serving as a documentary instrument, drafted and signed exclusively by the social worker. Its content is the result of a study, performed through observation and interview, that summarises the target situation, evaluation, an expert report, and a proposal for professional intervention.
  • Social evaluation scales – scientific instrument used to identify social situations at a given time. It helps to establish a social diagnosis.
  • Social intervention project – design for social intervention comprising an evaluation and diagnosis of the situation and the individuals to work with, definition of operating objectives, activities and tasks, use of resources, scheduling and evaluation criteria.

Based on these premises, which define the social worker’s activity, a Code of Ethics for Social Work for the social work profession in Spain has been prepared – a document that is essential to the good practice of the profession.

These ethical rules embody the rights and duties accorded to each and every social worker in the course of his/her professional activity.



Article 1. This Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work is the set of values, principles and standards that should guide practice of social workers’ profession in Spain.

Article 2. The duties set out under this Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work, as the product of the legislative will accorded to a public-law entity, are binding on every social worker in Spain in the practice of his/her profession, regardless of the professional or contractual form in which he/she may act. These duties are likewise binding on the professional firms registered with the relevant professional body, notwithstanding any other regulation established by the latter.

The Spanish General Council of Social Work, the Regional Councils, and the Porfessional Bodies of Social Workers (to be collectively referred to as the professional organisations) may agree and approve all such other ethical rules, in addition to this Code, as they may see fit, within their respective jurisdictional and territorial scope, as defined by law, and insofar as they are vested with such power under the laws.

Any rule adopted in exercise of such power shall be supplementary to and consistent with the rules laid down in this Code.

Article 3. Violation of any rule contained in this Code will be considered misconduct as classified under the By-laws of the respective organisations, and will be subject to the disciplinary procedure in place.

Article 4. One of the primary goals pursued by professional organisations is to promote and develop professional deontology and ensure conformity to such standards. Accordingly, they shall especially focus on disseminating the rules of this Code among all social workers and social institutions. Furthermore, they shall present a proposal to include the principles set out under this Code in the curriculum of Social Work students at universities.

The professional organisations shall do their best efforts to make the rules of this Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work, which represent a formal commitment by the Professional Institution and the profession before the Spanish society, and are essential to the practice of a profession of great ethical, human and social importance, become part of the legal system enforced by the public authorities.

Article 5. Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that facilitates social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. The principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility, and respect for diversity are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and improve wellbeing.

Article 6. A social worker is a natural person who holds any official degree authorising him/her to practise the social work profession, granted by a Spanish university. Any professional who holds a degree in Social Work granted by other EU Member States shall submit the appropriate credentials evidencing recognition of their qualifications so as to practise the profession in Spain, or validation, if granted by any third country.



Article 7. Social Work is based on the indivisible and universal values  of human dignity, freedom and equality, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law. Professional practice relies on these principles, by adherence to the following principles:

Basic principles:

  1. Dignity. The human person is unique and inviolable, and has an inherent worth, with his/her own interests and purposes.
  2. Freedom. The person, in possession of his/her human faculties, performs every act without being compelled or restrained.
  3. Equality. Each person has the same rights and duties, compatible with his/her particular characteristics and differences.

From these basic principles derive the following General principles:

  1. Active respect for the person, group or community, as the cornerstone of every professional intervention.
  2. Accepting the person as such, with his/her particularities and differences.
  3. Overcoming categorisation derived from preset stereotypes.
  4. No value judgment of the person and of his/her resources, motivations and needs.
  5. Individualisation expressed as the need to adjust professional intervention to the specific particularities of each person, group or community.
  6. Personalisation, which requires recognising the worth of the recipient, not as an object, but as an active subject in the process of intervention, with intentionality of rights and duties.
  7. Integral development of the person, considered as a whole, including his/her potential abilities and the multiple internal and external circumstantial factors. This entails overcoming partial and unilateral views, and integrating intervention from an inter-professional approach.
  8. Equality of opportunities, of rights, of equity, and of participation, with the certainty that every person has the potential to attain a better quality of life.
  9. Solidarity, to engage in achieving an inclusive society, and  the obligation to object to social situations contributing to social exclusion, stigmatisation and subjugation.
  10. Social justice for society in general and the people they work with, focusing professional practice on helping individuals, groups and communities in their development, and facilitating resolution of personal and/or social conflicts and their consequences.
  11. Recognition of human and social rights, materialising such recognition through their actual exercise.
  12. Autonomy, exercised out of the professionals’ confidence on their own capabilities, without any external coercion.
  13. Self-determination, as an expression of the person’s freedom, and hence of the responsibility for his/her own actions and decisions.
  14. Responsibility and joint responsibility with the user, with all the subjects involved in the professional intervention, and with institutions.
  15. Professional coherence, by being familiar with and following the project and the regulations of the institution where they work.
  16. Professional collaboration, provided in an active, constructive and supportive manner, with the other professionals involved in the professional intervention, and with the user; acting likewise when it comes to their self-organisation under the organisational structures of their professional.
  17. Integrity, which requires the professional not to abuse the relationship of trust maintained with the service user, to recognise the limits between personal and professional life, and not to take advantage of his/her position to obtain any personal benefit or gain.




Article 8. Social workers agree to respect and promote the principles enshrined in this Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work.

Article 9. Social workers must practise their profession based on respect for the fundamental human rights of individuals, groups and communities recognised in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the 2007 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the 1978 Spanish Constitution, and all other declarations and conferences recognised by the International Community and ratified by Spain.

Article 10. Social workers must make decisions based on ethical grounds, in conformity with the IFSW Global Statement of Ethical Principles, the International Ethical Standards for Social Workers, and all the provisions set out in this Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work.

Article 11. Social workers must act based on the principles of the right to privacy, confidentiality and responsible use of information in their professional work, as set out in Chapter IV of this Code.

Article 12. Social workers are responsible for practising their profession in such a manner as to identify and develop the potential strengths of persons, groups and communities and thus encourage their empowerment.

Article 13. Social workers, out of respect for differences, must provide the best assistance possible to every person who may request their professional intervention, according to each person’s identity, and without discriminating on the basis of sex, age, ability, colour, social class, ethnics, religion, language, political beliefs, sexual orientation or any other difference.

Article 14. Social workers must work in close collaboration with the user, encourage their participation, and act with due respect for their interests and the interests of any other person involved.

Article 15. Social workers, by encouraging users’ commitment and engagement, enable them to assume responsibility for the decisions made and the actions taken in connection with their life, insofar as they do not harm the rights and legitimate interests of third parties.

They must use legal coercive measures as less possible, and must only take these measures in favour of one of the parties involved in a conflict, after careful consideration of the arguments raised by each party.

Article 16. Social work is incompatible with supporting, whether directly or indirectly, any individual, group, political force or power structure that causes harm to other human beings through terrorism, torture or other violent means.

Article 17. During social intervention, social workers must aim for, and guarantee every person, group or community, equality of opportunities, access to resources and support to fulfil their needs, especially for those being in situations of vulnerability or some specific situation of social disadvantage.

Article 18. Social workers must provide, based on the characteristics and comprehension skills of the service user, the necessary information on legal and administrative provisions and on the relevant rights, duties, advantages, disadvantages, resources and programmes. On the basis of such knowledge, they must build the professional relationship with the user, and determine the process, expected results and possible conclusion of the intervention.

Article 19. If, for any reason, it is not possible to reach consensus on the matters affecting a user, the professional must endeavour to select the best processes to ensure that the decision to be made is consistent with the interests, wishes and needs of such user.

Article 20. If it is necessary to refer the care of a user to another service, the social worker must do so in the manner that is most favourable to such user, ensuring continuity of the intervention.

Article 21. Where the action or activity of a user poses a(n) (foreseeable or imminent) actual or potential serious risk to himself/herself or to others, steps must professionally be taken, with the team’s consent, if any, to request the applicable authority a precautionary restriction of his/ her right to self-determination.

Article 22. The social worker must ensure that procedures are carried out in such a manner that the user has an appropriate behaviour during their professional relationship based on mutual respect.

Article 23. The position of power or authority over the user that practice of the profession may give to the social worker may never be used by the professional to his/her own interest, benefit or gain.



Artículo 24. In case an intervention is carried out simultaneously with other professionals, the social worker must ensure the necessary coordination for an appropriate intervention within the scope of his/her authority at the institution or organisation where he/she works.

Article 25. The social worker must obtain the user’s consent for the presence of any third party unrelated to the professional intervention, such as interns, professionals being trained or conducting any research or study, volunteers, etc.

Article 26. The social worker must encourage the exchange of knowledge, experiences and ideas with colleagues and professionals from other fields in order to contribute to their mutual development and improve social intervention.

Article 27. The social worker must, selflessly and with the utmost care, provide orientation and guide to, and answer any request from, any colleague who may request so.

Article 28. The social worker must duly register and file any developed documentation so as to be able to transfer or refer it to the necessary professionals and avoid any repetition or regression in the professional activity.

Article 29. The social worker must assess his/her own work as well as the work done as part of a team applying objective and strict criteria and in a loyal and respectful manner.

Article 30. Relationships among social workers must rely on the principles of professionalism, coordination, collaboration, and mutual respect, avoiding any unfair competition.

Article 31. When participating in the selection of colleagues or other professionals, the social worker must follow the ethical rules contained in this Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work. In every case, criteria such as equality, non-discrimination, publicity, merit and ability must be considered.

Article 32. In rendering an expert report, the social worker must show absolute personal respect for the colleague of the opposing  party  or  the author of the professional work his/her report  refers  to, avoiding  any biased opinion discrediting them, and limiting his/her report to the technical aspects of the matter at issue. The content of his/her report must be strictly technical and professional.

Article 33. In case a social worker becomes aware of any violation of the rules set out under this Code by any colleague, he/she must report it in writing to the relevant professional organisation.



Article 34. Social workers must professionally engage with the rights and interests of the service user, reporting, if necessary, to the relevant authority and professional organisations any violation of Human Rights, abuse or any other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment suffered by any person they may become aware of in the course of practice of the profession, even if the persons consent to such situation.

Article 35. The social worker must embrace the principles laid down  by this Code and foster social rights and duties within the organisations and entities at which he/she exercises his/her activity, actively and responsibly giving support, to the extent possible, to the processes aimed at improving the quality of social services.

Article 36. The social worker must be familiar with the regulations, organisation and operation of the entity at which he/she works, respecting its objectives. And should such objectives be found to be contrary to the basic principles of the profession, whether in whole or in part, the social worker is expected to proceed in line with this Code. In the event of conflict between the employment relationship and the respect for  the principles of the profession that might lead to actions incompatible with the ethical principles or the professional quality or efficiency to the benefit of the service user, the social worker may seek the support and protection, as applicable, of his/her Professional Body.

 Article 37. With a view to improving the efficacy and efficiency of organisations and their services, and to the benefit of the service users and the community,  the  social  worker  must  encourage  participation in the improvement of social policies, in planning and organisation, in procedures and protocols, in quality standards and in the code of ethics of the institution or organisation at which he/she works.

Article 38. The social worker, when regularly reporting on his/her activity to the responsible authorities of the entity at which he/she works, must do so within the limits of confidentiality, professional secrecy and the basic principles of the profession, as set out under this Code.

Article 39. The social worker must inform the responsible authorities or executives of the institution or organisation at which he/she works about the conditions and resources needed to conduct the social intervention entrusted to him/her, as well as anything that might hinder his/her professional work.

Article 40. The social worker will have autonomy to select, and apply to selection and application of the appropriate techniques, the resources and conditions that favour his/her professional relationships and interventions. Furthermore, the social worker has the right to request the organisation at which he/she works opportunities to take training and refresher courses on all the topics that may help him/her conduct his/her professional activity better.

Article 41. As regards team work and organisation, the social worker must bear in mind that professional documentation is subject to confidentiality, thus its use is restricted by and for the professional purpose concerned. The necessary security measures must be requested to ensure such confidentiality.

Article 42. The social worker must have a global perspective of the work to be done at the institution or organisation at which he/she works, and define priorities by applying objective criteria in line with the entity’s mission and the needs identified in the social reality.

Article 43. The social worker, within his/her scope of professional authority at the organisation where he/she works, must facilitate cooperation with the related entities and organisations whose policies or programmes are aimed at providing adequate services and improving the quality of life of the service users.

Article 44. The social worker must ensure that any report issued at the request of his/her entity or any other organisation conform to the duty of and right to confidentiality. In every case, the requesting entity is bound to refrain from disclosing any such report for any purpose other than the specific purpose for which it was issued, as per the terms of the following Chapter.

Article 45. In the event of any unethical practice by any organisation or entity being detrimental to the rights and/or dignity of the service user, the social worker must report the situation to the Ethics Commission of the relevant professional organisation.

Article 46. From his/her position of primary responsibility towards the service user, the social worker must put forward the necessary changes in policies, procedures and actions through the appropriate channels available at the entities and organisations. Should these entities or organisations disclaim responsibility for their actions, and serious harm to or violation of the rights of the user persists, after exhausting the resolution channels available, the social worker must resort to higher authorities or the broadest community of interest.

Article 47. In the light of the basic principles enshrined in this Code, within the scope of professional intervention (with respect to the service user, other professionals and institutions), and in any professional situation where fulfilment of the institutional rule or mandate comes into conflict with the social worker’s own ethical, religious or moral principles, he/she may exercise the right of conscientious objection, without prejudice to assuming any responsibility for such act that may eventually arise.                                                


Artículo 48. Confidentiality is an obligation in the activity of the social worker, and a right of the service user, and extends to every piece of information the professional may receive during social intervention, by any means.

Article 49. Professional secrecy is binding on:

a.Social workers, regardless of their credentials, scope of action and form of practice of their profession.

b.The professionals working together with the social worker as part of a team who, because of their intervention and regardless of their profession, may have access to any kind of confidential information.

c.Social work interns or volunteers who may occasionally work with the social worker.

The social worker must demand discretion from collaborators, administrative staff, students, volunteers or any other person who, because of their profession, may handle confidential information, informing them about the obligation to keep it confidential, and without prejudice to signing any confidentiality clause pursuant to the data protection legislation.

Article 50. The duty of professional secrecy owed by social workers extends to all kinds of confidential information, no matter how it was gathered. Confidential information is understood as any piece of personal information the service user does not want to disclose. If not sure about the nature of the information, the social worker may request confirmation by the user, preferably in writing, or seek advice from the Ethics Commission of the relevant body or professional organisation.

Article 51. The social worker must inform the service user, during any significant social intervention, about their right to confidentiality with respect to any collected information and about the limits of professional secrecy.

Article 52. The duty of professional secrecy is subject to no temporal limit whatsoever, and will remain in effect after conclusion of the professional services or even after the service user’s death.

Article 53. The social worker must fulfil the following duties regarding confidential information:

1.           Quality: The social worker must collect the information that is strictly necessary to conduct a social intervention, as accurate as possible, being respectful during its collection and update, and using it responsibly.

2.           Consent: Where the information is provided by the service user, consent will be presumed to exist by the mere fact of having requesting it during the professional intervention.

The user must be given guarantees as to the confidentiality of the information to be provided for the professional intervention. The user must be informed about how the organisation works, and that they have at all times the right to give, decline or revoke consent as they may see fit, pursuant to the legislation in force.

3.           Transfer of information and confidentiality warning: When sending or transferring information, the social worker must warn the recipient, in writing, if applicable, that the information is confidential and that it  may  be  used  only  for the requested purpose, and that liability may arise otherwise. Under all circumstances, the principle of prudence must be observed in processing and transferring information. Therefore, the social worker must avoid commenting on or discussing  such information about the users in public, open or non-private spaces.

4.           Restriction: Any information the social worker may provide to his/her colleagues and other professionals must be restricted to the elements regarded as absolutely necessary to fulfil their common purpose, respecting professional secrecy.

5.           Compliance with data protection legislation, administrative laws, or the regulations of the entity for which he/she works: The social worker  must  comply  with  the legislation on data protection, administrative laws or the regulations of the entity for which he/she works, especially with respect to sensitive data and custody of files, as a guarantee of the confidentiality principle and professional secrecy.

6.           Purpose: Any collected information is to be used for the purpose for which it was collected, unless otherwise expressly authorised by the user, required by law, or requested by a court.

7.           Custody and responsible access: The social worker, regardless of the responsibility falling on the other professionals with whom he/she works, or on whomever he/she works for, must keep custody of the documents and information of the service user, and restrict access by allowing its use only by the authorised staff with whom he/she works, as a guarantee of confidentiality.

Article 54. If discharged of the duties of confidentiality or professional secrecy, the social worker must give priority to the user’s life, safety, and physical, psychological and social integrity, disclosing only the confidential information that is absolutely necessary to the smallest group possible of the professional intervention.

For the social worker to breach his/her duty of professional secrecy, an exceptional and extremely serious situation must exist posing a foreseeable and imminent risk to the service user, the social worker or third parties.

Nevertheless, there will be no breach of professional secrecy by the social worker in the following cases:

a.           If released of the duty of professional secrecy, in writing, by the service user, his/her legal representative or heirs.

b.           If required to disclose confidential information by law or by a court. If, nonetheless, the social worker is uncertain as to the limits of the requested confidential information, he/she may seek advice from the Ethics Commission of the relevant professional organisation and raise the question either before or during the trial or proceedings, so as to be discharged of such obligation by the court or administrative authority.

c.            If a formal report is filed by a service user against the social worker for a crime, offence or violation of the Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work, provided that there is no other effective way to defend himself/herself. If acting as a witness, the social worker may apply for a discharge as per item b) above.

d.           If the service user or any third party might become unfairly and seriously affected.

e.           If conducting social intervention as part of a team, regarding the information required for such  intervention,  whether  they are social workers or not. If not, they must be informed of the obligation to keep professional secrecy or confidentiality.

Article 55. In case of doubt as to application of the principles and situations mentioned above to breach the professional secrecy duty, the following order of priority is to be applied:

a.           Priority to protection of the fundamental rights of the service user or any third party especially protected by law.

b.           Principle of safety.

c.            Principle of freedom of choice.



Article 56. The General Council shall create an Ethics Commission, laying down the Internal Regulations that will govern its operation, purpose and roles.

In every case, the Ethics Commission of the General Council may:

a.           Conduct educational and informative activities on professional ethics and deontology.

b.           Issue general reports at the request of the General Council on any matter falling within its scope of authority.

c.            Issue reports on specific matters of ethics or professional deontology, if requested by any public or private body or institution, subject to prior consideration by the General Council.

d.           Issue reports on matters falling within its scope of authority, at the request of the Professional Bodies or Regional Councils.

Article 57. The professional organisations may establish their own Ethics Commissions in accordance with their By-laws and the applicable legislation at autonomous-community level. Otherwise, they may resort to the Ethics Commission of the General Council for the purposes specified in Chapter I.

Article 58. Ethics Commissions shall ensure observance of professional deontology as set forth under this Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work. They shall fulfil the roles listed below:

a.           Developing general guidelines on ethical matters for professional intervention.

b.           Providing general advice to the professionals who request so.

c.            Issuing a report on any specific case submitted to their consideration by the Governing Bodies of the Professional Bodies or Regional Councils, whether at the request of the latter or of their members.

Article 59. The Ethics Commissions may present their opinion, at the request of professional bodies holding disciplinary authority, on any disciplinary proceedings initiated for any alleged violation of the Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work.

In such case, the report by the Ethics Commissions will be mandatory, though not binding.



ONE. This Spanish Code of Ethics for Social Work, once approved by the General Meeting of the Spanish General Council of Social Work, will be published for the information of social workers in general, in the first information bulletin to be issued, and on the websites of the Regional Councils and the Professional Bodies, coming into force 20 days after its approval.


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