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date: 29 January 2023

National Association of Social Workersfree

National Association of Social Workersfree

  • Elizabeth J. ClarkElizabeth J. ClarkDr. Elizabeth Clark is the immediate past Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Her background is health care with a specialization in oncology. She has worked in direct clinical practice, and has held academic positions including an Associate Professorship of Health Professions at Montclair State University (NJ) and an Associate Professorship in Medical Oncology at Albany Medical College. Dr. Clark has published articles about the social work and health care workforces, social policy, and public health, as well as clinical topics such as health care, illness and loss, hope and survivorship. Dr. Clark holds a bachelor's and master's degree in social work and a master's of public health from the University of Pittsburgh as well as a master's degree and doctorate in medical sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership association of professional social workers in the world with nearly 145,000 members. Formed in 1955 by uniting seven predecessor organizations, NASW has a dual mission of protecting and advancing the profession of social work and of advocating for social justice issues. The NASW national office is based in Washington, DC, with chapters in each state, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. There are also separate chapters in New York City and metropolitan Washington, DC, as well as an international chapter for U.S. social workers living abroad.


  • Ethics and Values
  • Policy and Advocacy
  • Social Work Profession

Updated in this version

Updated to reflect current organizational and staff structure including details on the Social Work Policy Institute and NASW Assurance Services, Inc. Future direction section updated to include Social Work Reinvestment Act and Congressional SW Caucus.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with nearly 145,000 members. Over 80% of the members are women, and 12% identify as a member of color. NASW is one legal entity with 56 chapters that serve as administrative units. Chapters exist in every state, as well as in New York City, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam; there is also an international chapter. There is a 21-person national governing board.

The national office, which was first based in New York City and then moved to the Washington, DC, suburbs, has been in its current location near Capitol Hill since 1992. The national office includes the chief executive officer and the level of staff deemed necessary to carry out national programming. In 2012, there were 100 staff members in the national office and 170 located around the country. The operating budget for fiscal year 2012 was $20 million.

When members join NASW, they automatically receive membership in their state chapter at no additional fee. The size and diversity of NASW’s membership are significant assets in the organization’s advocacy efforts on behalf of social workers and the clients they serve.


NASW was founded in 1955 by a merger of seven major social work organizations: the American Association of Social Workers, the American Association of Medical Social Workers, the National Association of School Social Workers, the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers, the American Association of Group Workers, the Association for the Study of Community Organization, and the Social Work Research Group. All the members of the predecessor organizations were “blanketed-in” as members (NASW, 1955), so NASW began with 22,027 members.

Many of the structural elements initiated by the new organization remain in place more than 55 years later, despite debate and efforts for change. For example, the newly formed NASW established a triennial Delegate Assembly as the means through which its membership would determine policy for the association and as a means for revising its by-laws. At the first Delegate Assembly in 1956, delegates amended and adopted 18 policy statements of the predecessor organizations on topics such as civil rights and liberties, economic and labor conditions, immigration, peace, and public welfare (NASW, 1957). Social policy has continued to be a major focus of all subsequent Delegate Assemblies, and NASW publishes all adopted policies online and in a publication called Social Work Speaks (NASW, 2012).

In 1960, the Delegate Assembly adopted a Code of Ethics (NASW, 2008) for the profession. The Code, which has been amended six times (1967, 1979, 1990, 1996, 1999, and 2008), sets the standards of ethical behavior for professional social workers. NASW members affirm that they will abide by the standards set forth in the Code, and NASW monitors member compliance.

NASW (2008) modified the Delegate Assembly to allow it to be held virtually, and the second virtual Delegate Assembly was held in 2011. Delegates join the event through an online platform, and all business is handled virtually, including policy statement creation and modification, program planning, goal setting, and voting.

NASW's Role in Accreditation and Licensure

The 1960 Delegate Assembly approved the establishment of a credentialing program. The first credential, which remains in effect today, was the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW). Qualified members of the predecessor groups who had two years of membership and two years of practice experience were automatically accepted; when the credential went into effect in 1962, 18,500 members were certified. Today, over 30,000 members hold the ACSW credential. NASW has continued to develop its credentialing and certification program, and, in 2010, added two credentials for social work in hospice and palliative care, bringing the total number of credentials offered to 17. The credentials indicate advanced practice experience. In addition, NASW develops standards for social work practice in a variety of settings (such as long-term care settings, school settings, palliative and end-of-life settings, and health care settings) as well as standards for issues such as cultural competence, continuing education, the use of technology in practice, and genetics and social work practice.

To more fully address specific practice areas, NASW has 11 specialty practice sections to which members may choose to belong. These include Administration/Supervision, Aging, Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs, Child Welfare, Children, Adolescents and Young Adults, Health, Mental Health, Private Practice, School Social Work, Social and Economic Justice and Peace, and Social Work and the Courts. The sections offer a variety of continuing education opportunities, including teleconferences, area-specific newsletters, and internet forums.

Social work efforts toward licensure began in the 1940s. Since then, NASW and its state chapters have worked to ensure that all 50 states have some level of licensure for social workers to seek legal recognition, protection, and reimbursement for services, as in other professions. However, the definition of social work and aspects of social work practice are protected by licensure laws and vary from state to state. This lack of a uniformly accepted definition of social work practice remains a challenge for legal regulation. It also contributes to confusion in the public's understanding about the social work profession.

Legislative and Political Activity

The social policy goals established by the NASW Delegate Assembly serve as the base for social action programs at the federal, state, and local levels. The legislative agenda changes from year to year in response to emerging issues, but some topics are relatively constant and recurring.

The national office includes policy and practice staff, as well as a staff person dedicated to grassroots organizing, and a staff person who manages the Political Action for Candidate Election (PACE) function. Many state chapters also have lobbyists on staff or they contract for these services. NASW has the capacity to mobilize its membership across the country and has developed a track record of success on issues of importance to social workers.

NASW is active in electoral politics at both the state and federal levels. Since 1975, NASW’s political action arm, PACE, has raised funds to support social service-oriented candidates at all levels of government. Additionally, encouraging social workers to run for elected office is an important focus for NASW.

Related Entities

In addition to PACE, NASW has several other related entities that assist in carrying out its mission. These include the NASW Press, the NASW Center for Workforce Studies, the separately incorporated NASW Foundation (previously known as the Research and Education Fund), the Legal Defense Fund, and NASW Assurance Services, Inc., a for-profit sub-corporation that offers insurance products for members.

In 1990, NASW initiated the NASW Press, a full-scale publisher that now annually produces five journals in conjunction with Oxford University Press, including the flagship journal Social Work, several reference works, and numerous professional books. Journals are available online; Social Work Abstracts is available online and as a CD-ROM. The Encyclopedia of Social Work (jointly published with Oxford University Press) is available in print and online versions.

In the late 1980s, NASW established a national and chapter management information system to allow for better data collection about its membership. While this information was a valuable resource, data about the entire social work workforce was needed, especially for legislative initiatives. In 2004, grant funding was secured to develop the NASW Center for Workforce Studies. In 2006, the Center released findings from a benchmark study of 10,000 licensed social workers, which defined the status and needs of the profession (Whitaker, Weismiller, & Clark, 2006).

The NASW Foundation was separately incorporated as a nonprofit charitable organization in 2001. Numerous activities are housed in the Foundation. There are several endowment funds that support a variety of scholarships or awards, and the NASW Pioneer Program is part of the Foundation’s activities. The Foundation also launched the Social Work Policy Institute (SWPI) to examine issues that relate to the work of social workers, including how to serve people who have multiple or complex needs and how public agencies and other structures deliver health and human services. Additionally, the Foundation runs the Social Workers Across Nations (SWAN) program which provides a mechanism for social workers to take part in international social work programs to offer their expertise and skills to serve humanitarian needs within the international community on a voluntary basis and to develop collaborative linkages with organizations in other countries around the world.

Further, the National Social Work Public Education Campaign is housed in the Foundation. The multiyear, multimedia campaign began in 2005 and has been developed in partnership with over 60 schools of social work. The goal of the campaign is to promote the social work profession among the general public. The centerpiece of the campaign is, a consumer website written by social workers.

The NASW’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) exists to provide financial support for legal matters of importance to the profession as a whole and for social workers who require legal representation in the course of upholding the NASW’s Code of Ethics. The LDF facilitates NASW’s participation on amicus curiae briefs in significant cases and produces publications on legal issues for social workers.

The NASW Assurance Services Inc. was established in 2007 to provide high quality professional liability (malpractice) and group life insurance for NASW members. About 70,000 NASW members are enrolled in the insurance programs (NASW Assurance Services, Inc., 2007).

Future Direction

In 2007, NASW launched the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative. This important workforce initiative seeks to secure federal and state investments in professional social work to enhance societal well-being. The full initiative includes 56 NASW Chapter reinvestment plans across the country as well as state and federal legislation that affects professional social workers including the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act. Over 100,000 letters of support were sent to Congress on behalf of this legislation, and numerous milestones were reached, including the creation of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, a congressionally-approved bipartisan group of Members of Congress dedicated to maintaining and strengthening social work services in the United States.

NASW also continually evolves in terms of technology and social media efforts. At the time of writing, the NASW Facebook page had over 10,000 fans, and the NASW Twitter feed had over 10,000 followers. NASW also has profiles on LinkedIn and YouTube as well as an RSS feed and numerous blogs.


  • NASW Assurance Services, Inc. (2007). Retrieved from
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (1955). Bylaws of the National Association of Social Workers. New York: Author.
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (1957). Goals of social policy. New York: Author.
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (2012). Social work speaks. Washington, DC: Author.
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (2008). Code of ethics. Washington, DC: Author.
  • Whitaker, T., Weismiller, T., & Clark, E. (2006). Assuring the sufficiency of a frontline workforce: A national study of licensed social workers. Executive summary. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

Further Reading