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A new Code of ethics for Australia’s community services workers

ACWA Inc - Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Working within an ethical framework is essential in community services where practitioners work with individuals, families and groups to maximise their potential and address social, cultural and economic issues.

As the relevant professional body, the Australian Community Workers Association (ACWA) has set this framework for ethical practice in accordance with industry, employer, client and public expectations.

After a consultative review we are pleased to introduce the updated Code of ethics for Australia’s community work professionals. The revised document provides the foundation for ethical and professional practice in community services and is nationally applicable.

The Code is not intended as a rule book but rather a document that explicitly states the principles that underpin community work and the responsibilities that practitioners have to their clients, employers, colleagues and the profession at large.

To help workers understand how to apply the Code in their practice several supporting resources have been developed. ACWA's Practical Ethics Series and Professional Practice Series tackle specific topics such as: addressing the unethical behaviour of a colleague; and appropriate social media use. Additionally, next month we will be releasing a new practice guide, with indicators for professional practice, to supersede the existing Practice standards.

You will find further guidance below on how to use the Code for your particular circumstances.

Breaches of the code are a serious matter so we encourage you to download your copy and share this news with your networks.

Download the Australian community workers' Code of ethics


Community work is a diverse profession that covers over 50 occupations. For this reason practitioners are often distinguished by the client area within which they work. These can include aged care, disability services, Indigenous and multicultural support, asylum seekers and refugee services, mental health, child and family services, counselling, schools, emergency relief, youth, justice, housing and community development. Roles include intake, support, case work, crisis intervention, team management and advocacy.


This essential document provides a framework for your practice. It is inevitable that ethical issues will arise during your career and the Code will help you make ethical decisions by making explicit your responsibilities to clients, colleagues, employers and the profession.

Professionals in the sector should adhere to the Code at all times and breaches from ACWA members could result in de-registering. Practitioners who work in private practice should display the Code and inform clients of the complaints policy for suspected breaches.

Service providers
The Code of ethics should be adopted alongside your organisational code of conduct as the framework within which your employees are expected to operate. Practitioner responsibilities to employers are outlined in the code but it is important to remember that they also have obligations directly to clients and the profession that may lead to ethical dilemmas.

Breaches of the Code by practitioners are taken seriously so you should review the latest version to make sure your organisational policies are not in conflict with the accepted ethical expectations.

Make sure you have a copy of the Code and are familiar with the ethical framework within which you will be expected to work. Start off with the principles that underpin community work and are presented at the beginning of the document.

As your course progresses your instructors will slowly introduce you to the ethical responsibilities and their complexities, for example, confidentiality as it relates to clients' rights and your professional obligations.

You will be expected to adhere to the Code during your fieldwork placements so we encourage you to ask questions and seek advice from your supervisors while you build up confidence in your practice.

Education providers
You should introduce students to the Code of ethics early in their learning with the principles of community work discussed from the outset of the course. The responsibilities can also be introduced and explained in greater detail prior to the practical fieldwork components.

The ethical framework should be used during course development to ensure graduates are work ready. ACWA maintains copyright of the Code however, you may distribute and republish it freely in your course materials as long as it is attributed to us: Australian Community Workers Association (ACWA) with the full document title and, if possible, a link to the permanent page.

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