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THE HISTORY OF SOCIAL WORK

1.

Social work as a profession is of recent origin. The first social welfare agencies
appeared in urban areas in the early 1800s. These agencies or services were private and
were developed primarily at the initiation of the clergy and religious groups.

2. In 1900s these services were provided exclusively by the clergy and affluent dogooders who had no formal training and little understanding of human behavior or of
how to help people. The focus of these private services was on meting such basic
physical needs as food and shelter and on attempting to cure emotional and personal
difficulties with religious admonitions.
3. An early social welfare organization was the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism,
founded by John Griscom in 1820.This society investigated the habits and circumstances
of the poor, suggested plans by which the poor could help themselves and encouraged the
poor to save and economize. One of the remedies was house to house visitation.
4. By the latter half of the 1800s fairly large number of private and relief agencies had been
established in large cities to help the unemployed, the poor, the ill, persons with physical
or mental abilities and orphans. Their program were coordinated and sometimes
overlapping and so an English invention- the Charity Organization Society (COS) soon
caught the interest of a number of American cities.
5. Starting in Buffalo, New York in 1877, COS was rapidly adopted in many cities. In COS
agencies joined together 1. To provide direct services to individuals and families- in this
respect, they were the forerunners of social casework and family counseling approaches;
2. To plan and coordinate the efforts of private agencies to meet pressing urban social
problems in this respect they were the precursors of community organization and social
planning approaches.
6. Charity organizations conducted detailed investigation of each applicant for services and
financial help, maintained a central client registration system to avoid duplication and
used volunteer friendly visitors extensively to work with those in difficulty. The friendly
visitors were primarily doers of good works, as they generally gave sympathy rather
than money and encouraged the poor to save and to seek employment. Poverty was
viewed as a personal shortcoming. Most of the friendly visitors were women.
7. Government with COS movement was the establishment of settlement houses in the late
1800s. Toynbee Hall was the first settlement house, established in 1884 in London;
many others were soon formed to larger larger US cities.
8. Many of the early settlement house works were the daughters of the ministers. The
workers who were from the middle and upper classes would live in poor neighborhood to
experience the harsh realities of poverty. Simultaneously, in cooperation with
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neighborhood residents, they sought to develop ways to improve living conditions. In


contrast to friendly visitors, they lived in impoverished neighborhoods and used the
missionary approach to teaching residents how to live moral lives and improve their
circumstances. They sought to improve housing, health and living conditions, find jobs,
teach English, hygiene, and occupational skills and change environmental surroundings
through cooperative efforts. Settlement houses used change techniques that are now
called social group work, social action and community organization.
9. Settlement houses emphasized environmental reform while they continued to struggle
to teach the poor the prevailing middle class values of work, thrift, and abstinence as the
keys to success, In addition to dealing with local problems by local action, settlement
houses played important roles in drafting legislation and in organizing to influence social
policy and legislation. The most noted leader in the settlement house movement was Jane
Adams of the Hull House in Chicago who summarized settlement house as follows: The
Settlement, then is an experimental effort to aid in the solutions of the social and
industrial problems which are endangered by the modern conditions of life in great city.
(Adams, 1959).
10. Settlement house leaders believed that by changing neighborhoods they would improve
communities and through altering communities they would develop a better society.
11. The first paid social workers were executive secretaries of the COS in the late 1800s. In
the late 1800OS received some contracts from the cities in which they were located to
administer relief funds. In administering these programs, COS hired people as executive
secretaries to organize and train the friendly visitors to establish accounting procedures to
show accountability for the funds received. To improve the services of the friendly
visitors, the executive secretaries established standards and training courses.
12. In 1898, training course was first offered by the New York Charity Organization Society
by 1904, the New York School of Philanthropy offered a one year program. Soon after
colleges and universities began offering training programs in social work. Initially, social
work education focused on environmental reform approaches to meet social problems.
The enactment in 1935 of the Social Security Act to meet the needs of the poor and the
unemployed is an example of an environmental reform approach.
13. Richard Cabot introduced medical social work into Massachusetts General Hospital in
1905. Gradually, social workers were employed in schools, courts, child guidance clinics
and other settings.
14. In 1917 Mary Richmond published Social Diagnosis, a text that presented for the first
time a theory and methodology for social work. The book focused on how the social
worker should intervene with individuals. The process is still used today and involves the
study (collecting information), diagnosis (stating what is wrong), prognosis, and
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treatment planning (stating what should be done to help clients improve). This book was
important because it formulated a common body of knowledge for casework.
15. In 1920s Freuds theories of personality development and therapy became popular. The
concepts and explanations of psychiatrists appeared particularly appropriate for social
workers who also worked in one to one relationships with clients. Social workers at t
his time used therapy than reforms.
16. In the 1960s social workers expressed a renewed interest in sociological approaches or
reform. Several reasons account for this change. Questions arose about the relevance
and appropriateness of talking approaches with low income clients who have urgent
social and economic pressures. Furthermore effectiveness of many psychotherapeutic
approaches was questioned. Other reasons for the renewed interest included the increase
in status of sociology and the mood of 1960s which raised questions about to present time
embraces both reform and therapy approaches.
17. Not until the World War 1 did social work begin to recognize as a distinct profession.
Since 1900 there has been a growing awareness by social agency boards and the public
that professionally trained social workers are needed to provide social services
competently.
18. In 1935 the National Association of Social Workers was formed to represent the social
work profession in the US. Its purpose is to improve social conditions and to promote
high quality and effective social work practice.
19. In the recent years, considerable energy has been expended to develop system of
registration or licensing of social workers. Such a system helps assure the public that
qualified personnel are providing social work services and also advances the recognition
of social work as a profession.
20. Social work is one of the most important professions in our society in terms of the
number of people affected, the human misery treated and the amount of money spent.
Reference: The Practice of Social Work: A comprehensive worktext by Charles Zastrow, 2007
Prepared by:
DrJKBucoy
July 17, 2009
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