Social work refers to the profession which helps the individuals, different groups of people, families and the communities in improving and enhancing their collective and individual well-being (Greene 2017). The social workers help these individuals in developing their own skills and ability for using the resources of their own and their communities to resolve their problems. Social work is all about social issues such as family violence, poverty and unemployment. In earlier days, the social works were associated with the charities along with the voluntary assistance to the needy ones. However, at present, it is generally associated with the citizenship rights and the public service provision of the welfare state. This paper is going to shed light on the history of Social work, in special context to America. It shall elaborate on discussing the historical development as well as the origins of the social work in American society.
Before 1867, social work in America society used to be considered as the same it used to be in Canada and England- the relief of the poor- the ones, whose situations were believed to be the result of weakness of the character. It is to note that the social work has its root in the attempts of society for dealing with the issue of inequality and poverty (Greene, 2017). It is intricately related to the notion of charity work, but is to be understood in broader ways. This idea of charity dates back to the earlier times and the practise of helping poor, giving them resources, has its roots in all the key religions of the world. However, one of the very critical concept in the history of social work is that of ‘social welfare’. Social welfare requires a very common understanding as well as a formal arrangement in between the government and its people (Diaz et al., 2015). From such a relationship, people get a sense of what they should be receiving for and contributing to their betterment and well-being. Notwithstanding these facts, the social and the environmental problems that were confronting different population groups in America such as poverty, discrimination, war, unemployment etc. have helped in shaping the social programs and human services along with the nature of social work as one of the professions.
Prior to the American revolution, the formal system of the child welfare, mental health services and poor relief has been established and developed in the Northern parts of America. Those systems had played a significant dual role of protection and compassion. In the early nineteenth century, the states stated to take the responsibility for distributing the relief from the counties and towns. As because of the fact that the then government responses proved to be highly ineffective and incapable of addressing the growing social issues, it was the private benevolent societies as well as the then self-help institutions that played significant role in this regard. As per Lavy, Sand and Shayo (2017), the roots and history of the social work in America dates back to this period as well as to the efforts of the high class men and women in the secular and church based charitable organisations for addressing the results of the immigration, urbanisation and poverty. It was these untrained proto social staffs and workers who sought to assist the poor individuals by means of moral persuasion. The organisations like ‘Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor and the Children's Aid Society’ began to investigate the social conditions in the areas like child welfare and tenement housing.
It is also to mention that the Civil War stimulated the rise of the large-scale private social welfare initiatives like the Red Cross and the US Sanitary Commission (Lowe, 2017). In the aftermath of the war, the Freedman’s Bureau provided help for newly emancipated workers and slaves. Also, the State boards of charity raised up to enhance the management of the institutions that were constructed at the time of earlier generation. Moreover, in the half century after the War, the fast industrialisation in United States had produced a significant increase in the community and individual needs. Among them, the most notable ones was the social changes such as a series of economic depressions and their outcomes and a dramatic increase in the rate of immigration to Eastern Europe from the Southern part.
Moreover, the settlement houses have showcased a unique type of organisational response for the effect of immigration and industrialisation and have also introduced a unique model of one of the social service agency on urban mission. The initial settlement in United States, which is, the Neighbourhood Guild in the city of New York was established in the year 1886. After three years, Ellen Gates Starr and Jane Addams collaboratively founded the Hull House in Chicago. This gradually became one of the most famous settlements in America. Also, in the year 1877, the first COS (Charity Organisation Society) of America was founded in Buffalo (Byers et al., 2016). The COS clients such as the African Americans, poor Jews and the Catholics have preferred more personal systems of mutual aid as well as self-help which was established by their own very communities. It is to note that, unlike the COS that were individually oriented, the settlement laid emphasis on the environmental related reasons of the issue of poverty and also on the expansion of the working opportunities for the poor people. They later conduct a research that assisted in establishing child labour in the country and also introduced the public health reforms along with the notion of social insurance.
By the year 1919, there were about 17 schools of social work that were affiliated as – “Association of Training Schools of Professional Schools of Social Work”. At the time of First World War, the expansion of the government led agencies increased the issue of professionalism in the private sector departments and this devoted to the social welfare. By means of the Army and the Red Cross, the World War I also provided several opportunities for the social workers of America to apply casework skills for the treatment of the soldiers with the “shell shock’ (Marble, 2018). It is to mention that it was in this period when the social workers were seen as the specialists who assist in social adjustments of the poor and non-impoverished groups or populations. By the year 1927, there were more than 100 child guidance clinics that appeared and in this, the social workers played a significant role in providing services to the middle class people. With the same, at the time of Second World War, there were many social workers who accepted the assignments in relation to war and were stimulated by the creation of one of the special classification for the military social work as well as the growth of the works and services for the people who were influenced and affected by the war. While poverty started to get declined within the elderly by the year 1975, a virtual freeze on AFDC (Aid for Families with Dependent Children) and the decrease in the power of purchasing of the wages had produced a rapid increase in the level of poverty within the children, especially the children of colour.
The changes in the policy which were inspired by the “Reagan Revolution” in the year 1980 had made the social workers to depend on the solutions provided by the private sector for the problems of social welfare. The whole programs were decreased, eliminated or were frozen. With the same, more block grants were established in the areas like the community development and children welfare. With the same, the significant reduction in the government funding of the social welfare programs had established some of the new challenges for the then social workers as well as for the social service agencies because they faced social problems that were very complex like that of the spread of HIVs, crack cocaine epidemic, increase in homelessness and domestic violence. The developments in the policy in 1990 had very severe consequences for the profession of social worker (Marek, Schaufeli & Maslach, 2017). The welfare reform had resulted in the restructuring of the departments of the public welfare as well as to pressure on the US’s non-profit organisations for filling up the gaps and maintaining a balance in the service provision.
Hence, from the above analysis it is to be concluded that, for more than a century, the social work profession has developed and have reinvented itself as a significant response of the rapid social and economic changes. It always focused on maintaining the base on advocating for the requirements of the most unsafe quadrant of society as well as on improving their well-being. In this contemporary world, social workers are considered to be comprising the largest proportion of the total professionals who work in the field of family services or mental health care providing services. In the near future, the main motto of this service might be inspiring growth of the new social welfare fusion in which the state itself capitalises the service provisions and at the same time, delegates the delivery to the other sectors.
Byers, T., Wender, R. C., Jemal, A., Baskies, A. M., Ward, E. E., & Brawley, O. W. (2016). The American Cancer Society challenge goal to reduce US cancer mortality by 50% between 1990 and 2015: results and reflections. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians, 66(5), 359-369. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21348
Díaz, S., Demissew, S., Carabias, J., Joly, C., Lonsdale, M., Ash, N., ... & Bartuska, A. (2015). The IPBES Conceptual Framework—connecting nature and people. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 14, 1-16.
Greene, R. R. (2017). Ecological perspective: An eclectic theoretical framework for social work practice. In Human behavior theory and social work practice (pp. 205-242).
Lavy, V., Sand, E., & Shayo, M. (2018). Charity Begins at Home (and at School): Effects of Religion-Based Discrimination in Education (No. w24922). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Lowe, K. A. (2017). The League of Red Cross Societies and International Committee of the Red Cross: a Re-Evaluation of American Influence in Interwar Internationalism. Moving the Social, 57, 37-56.
Marble, S. (2018). African-American Medical Personnel in the US Army in the First World War. Journal of the National Medical Association, 110(1), 29-36.
Marek, T., Schaufeli, W. B., & Maslach, C. (2017). Professional burnout: Recent developments in theory and research.