Only one-tenth of one percent of social workers belonging to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) have ethics complaints filed against them. However, the small percentage of ethics complaints should not be misinterpreted as ethical competence. In order to start the process of developing a means by which to assess ethical competency, this research aimed to develop an empirically reliable and valid instrument, which is known as the Social Work Ethics Competency Measure (SWECM). The SWECM possessed two domains from the 1996 NASW Code of Ethics, which were based upon the highest percentages of ethics complaints filed with NASW and the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners: 1) knowledge of nine clinically related content areas, and 2) synthesis of the content areas.

This study analyzed scores from the SWECM for 115 social workers licensed as Advanced Clinical Practitioners in Texas and who were concurrent members of NASW-Texas. The data analysis showed that respondents could be separated into two groups (i.e., more or less ethically competent). Group membership was derived from a Hierarchical Cluster Analysis and based upon a respondent’s composite score on the number of correctly answered pairs of questions on the SWECM. A Logistic Regression was calculated to determine which variables were crucial to group membership. Results showed thirteen variables to be predictive of group membership: 1) if an ethics CEU course had increased one’s understanding of the Code, 2) marital status, 3) years licensed as an ACP, 4) employment status, 5) having taken a college course on ethics, 6) having consulted the Code, 7) age, 8) annual income, 9) therapeutic orientation, 10) ethnicity, 11) years since highest social work degree, 12) primary work setting, 13) and gender. The overall findings suggested that most social workers were generally aware of popular standards, although there were some notable exceptions. This result is noteworthy because all respondents in this sample were licensed at Texas’ highest level and had passed the widely-used licensing exam from the American Board of Social Worker Examiners, which professes to measure minimally acceptable competence. This discrepancy warrants attention by governing organizations.

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