Revised Code of Ethics Part 2: Informed Consent

By Heidi Tobe on November 6, 2017

Last week, we presented the first blog in a four part series on the substantial revisions made to the NASW Code of Ethics-the most substantial revision since 1996. In our last blog, we covered the topics of privacy and confidentiality. Today, we delve into the complex topic of informed consent. We will review the major changes and additions, and end with a free practice question for those of you preparing for your social work licensing exams!



Generally speaking, the changes surrounding informed consent adds to what already existed in the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics and updates it to address the unique informed consent issues that arise around the increased use of technology and social media in our field.

  • When we are meeting with new clients, we should always discuss our policies regarding the use of technology in the services we are providing. For example, if we are using texting for appointment reminders, or using a web based scheduling system, we should be discussing this with our clients.
    •      1.03 (e) Social workers should discuss with clients the social workers’ policies concerning the
    •      use of technology in the provision of professional services.
  • If we make audio or video recordings, or permit observation by a third party, we must obtain the client’s informed consent beforehand.
    •      1.03 (h) Social workers should obtain clients’ informed consent before making audio or  
    •      video recordings of clients or permitting observation of service provision by a third party.
  • If we use technology to provide social work services (be that via phone, video chat, text, ect.), we should always obtain informed consent during the initial meeting with the client. Further, it is our responsibility when using such technology to verify both the identity and location of the client.
    •      1.03 (f) Social workers who use technology to provide social work services should obtain
    •      informed consent from the individuals using these services during the initial screening or
    •      interview and prior to initiating services. Social workers should assess clients’ capacity to
    •      provide informed consent and, when using technology to communicate, verify the identity and location of clients.
  • It is our responsibility to take into consideration our clients’ emotional, physical, and intellectual abilities, assessing each individual’s capacity for electronic or remote social work services as well as their ability to understand the potential benefits and risks of these services. In instances where clients do not want to receive technology based services, we should connect them to alternative service modalities.
    •      1.03 (g) Social workers who use technology to provide social work services should assess the
    •      clients’ suitability and capacity for electronic and remote services. Social workers should
    •      consider the clients’ intellectual, emotional, and physical ability to use technology to receive
    •      services and the clients’ ability to understand the potential benefits, risks, and limitations of
    •      such services. If clients do not wish to use services provided through technology, social workers should help them identify alternate methods of service.
  • Lastly (this was touched upon last week), we should obtain consent from our clients prior to conducting an electronic search involving them. So, if you want to google your client to gather addition information about them, you need their consent first. Exceptions to this can be made when it is in order to protect the client, prevent imminent harm to others, or is for “other compelling professional reasons.” For example, if a client was having what appears to be a severe allergic reaction in your office and you do not have any emergency contact information, after calling an ambulance it may be appropriate to find a relative or person of contact via a google or Facebook search in order to determine if the client has any health issues or allergies the hospital should be aware of upon his or her arrival.
    •      1.03 (i) Social workers should obtain client consent before conducting an electronic search    
    •      on the client. Exceptions may arise when the search is for purposes of protecting the client
    •      or other people from serious, foreseeable, and imminent harm, or for other compelling
    •      professional reasons.

So with that, let’s jump into our practice question of the week!


A newly licensed social worker has been meeting with a client for two months. The social worker is concerned with some patterns of disordered eating the client reported and is unsure of how to proceed. The social worker invites her supervisor who specializes in eating disorders to sit in on the next session. The client does not express any concern upon seeing another person in the room. The session is conducted and the therapist and supervisor then meet to explore a treatment plan and appropriate interventions. Having the supervisor sit in on the session can be described as:

A. Ethical, because it was in the best interest of the client to have a specialist involved in her treatment

B. Ethical, because it was recommended by the supervisor

C. Unethical, because the social worker should not be treating a population she does not have experience with

D. Unethical, because the social worker did not obtain the client’s consent to have a third party in their session

So, what do you think? Leave your answer in the comments below and be sure to tune in tomorrow for the answer and a discussion of the rationale! Next week we will look at topics of competence, cultural awareness and social diversity with another FREE practice question.


National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Code of ethics of the national association of social workers. Retrieved from:…




Commenter Name
November 22, 2017

D. Because stem did no indicate that SW obtain clt consent for supervisor to sit in session. Even though, it is in the clt best interest always obtain consent or ask clt permission first.

Commenter Name
November 11, 2017

You don't need informed consent within your own agency but she should have asked clt first

Commenter Name
November 8, 2017

A. The client had already been being seen. It was in the best interest of the client to address the issue with someone with the expertise.

Commenter Name
November 7, 2017

D. There is no consent from client to to have the therapist supervisor sit in the session.

Commenter Name
November 7, 2017

I chose D

Commenter Name
November 7, 2017

I believe it should be D. She did not request consent to have the supervisor in the room

Commenter Name
January 26, 2019

If it was a superviosree would it be ethical for the supervisor to be in the room

Commenter Name
January 27, 2019

Only if there was both a discussion and written consent from the client.

Commenter Name
January 28, 2021

D. Social worker did not obtain consent from the client.

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