Frontline Initiative Code of Ethics

From personal to professional ethics:
A holistic approach


 Ruth Luckasson, J.D. is a Regents’ Professor and Professor of Special Education at the University of New Mexico.

The ethics we learn in our personal lives — to help others, be honest, be fair, be kind, be respectful, try to do good in the world — guide us in our actions with other people and make our communities better places. These personal ethics are usually not written down in one place, but are carried in our hearts. Parents and community leaders informally teach us personal ethics throughout our lives. 

Strong personal ethics are necessary, and can be a basis for ethical actions in our work as Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). However, the professional work of providing direct support presents unique challenges and questions and requires the guidance of professional ethics. 

Professional ethics are different from personal ethics in that professional ethics are —

  • Written down in a “code” in order to become part of work, training, and employment contracts;

  • Formally taught through professional development and courses so that every employee has the opportunity to learn and apply the ethical principles;

  • Carefully designed to cover unique situations in the profession.

A professional code of ethics is critical to help individual workers make better decisions in their daily work. Professional ethics guide our actions to be more consistent with the values of the profession. Having a code of ethics marks the profession as a true profession in the eyes of others and unites the profession around a high standard of actions. As a result, the profession is more likely to be respected for its contributions.

Direct support is a profession, and adhering to the NADSP Code of Ethics is essential for every member of the profession.

Writing a code of ethics and adopting it is a critical step in the development of a true profession. Direct support is a profession, and adhering to the NADSP Code of Ethics is essential for every member of the profession.

Given the critical nature of professional ethics, what should be done in order to highlight professional ethics in work with individuals with disabilities?

For DSPs themselves, it is essential to learn and follow the NADSP Code of Ethics.

For provider agencies, it is essential to include the NADSP Code of Ethics in all training and to incorporate it in all policies and procedures. 

For state and federal funders, it is essential to respect and incorporate the NADSP Code of Ethics in funding and monitoring.

As a professional organization, NADSP must promote wide discussion of the principles of the NADSP Code of Ethics and continually update the Code so that it reflects best practices in the profession. It is also critical for NADSP to provide opportunities for all members to engage in continuous learning and practice of highest standards of professional ethics.

In conclusion, personal ethics are an essential foundation to professional ethics. But professional ethics go further. The NADSP Code of Ethics provides an ethical framework for workers, agencies, funders, organizations, and individuals receiving supports. Being a professional in this field means fulfilling professional responsibilities. This includes applying the NADSP Code of Ethics to all aspects of providing direct support.