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Social Services History and Impact on Community

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Social Services History and Impact on Community

Lisa Quint


The field of social services has a long history of helping the poor and addressing issues of poverty. Social work has a rich history providing lessons and a foundation for the current efforts. From the programs to address the difficult consequences of the Depression in the 1930's through the 1960's, and continuing on to the 21st century. The profession was recognized as necessary to solve the seemingly intractable social and economic issues of the times and federal agencies historically made substantial commitments to educate and train social workers. Over the years, federal support for the profession has been limited, and now across many fields of practice there is a challenge to provide adequate services to the most vulnerable in society. The purpose of this paper is to review the foundation of social services and examine how challenges have been met and where it stands today.

Beginning of Social Services

Since it's beginning in the late 19th century social workers have sought to bring about social change by addressing the individuals in need. Social work flourished during three pinnacle periods; the turn of the century, the 1930s, and the 1960s (Abramovitz, 1998). As stated Social Work a Profession of Many Faces the 1850's was a time of immigration, rapid urbanization, and poverty for many residents of New York City. Due to the influx of immigrants, jobs were scarce and poverty was rampant. Industrialization played a major role in societal problems however, political, religious, and lack of labor laws contributed to the problems in society (Morales & Sheafor, 1992).

The challenge was to bring needed services such as food, medical care, and sufficient housing to the poor. In response to the needs of the poor charities organizations were formed by affluent women who lived near the poverty stricken communities (Abramovitz, 1998). The 1870's had a slow economy and many men were out of work this hardship caused riots and strikes. The riots and strikes affected train service and brought it to a standstill. Elected officials wanting to address the unrest, and establish social order expanded relief efforts. In1877 in Buffalo, New York the first charity organization society was established. The movement spread rapidly and by the turn of the century almost every major urban area in America had with monetary assistance, but planned intervention or treatment alone. To track those who received treatment and prevent them from receiving relief from more than one agency a central record keeping system was created. Those who kept records of treatment would be what we call to today the social worker (Abramovitz, 1998).

Charity Organizations

Mary Richmond, the director of the Baltimore Charity Organization, started training programs in the early 1890's. By 1898 the New York Charity Organization started the first school for social workers. The students mostly women volunteers or missionaries and usually from the upper class society took a six week course that included formal lectures and field work. They were called"friendly visitors" who would investigate relief applications, evaluate the recipients into deserving or undeserving classes and then set them up for treatment. Under the leadership of Mary Richmond and others training programs started around the country. In 1898 the New York Summer School for Applied Philanthropy was officially established and "the friendly visitors" became "professional" social workers (Abramovitz, 1998).

Settlement House Movement

The first settlement house, Toynbee Hall, located in the slums of London established in 1884 was a residence for college students to better understand poverty. This immersion in the poverty driven neighborhood was based on the premise that university students could learn from the poor and be better able to understand and provide services. During, the mid-1880's, a group of college students from American visited Toynbee Hall. Inspired by what they experienced at Toynbee Hall that they created similar establishments in American cities. Stanton Coit in 1886 established a settlement house in New York then in 1889, Vida Scudder established another New York settlement staffed with graduated college women (Abramovitz, 1998). Later that year, Hull House was opened in Chicago by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. Shorty thereafter, settlements were all over urban America and by the mid 1890s there were fifty, and by 1900 there were more than a hundred recognized settlements (Abramovitz, 1998). The settlement worker's were different from those of the Charity Organizations who worked mostly on the treatment of the chronically poor. The settlement worker's focused on the working poor and immigrants. Many of the immigrants were from countries such as Italy, Russia, Poland, Germany, Ireland, and Greece. The Hull House provided a day care center for children of working mothers, a community kitchen, visiting nurses, English and other subject classes. Hull House was also a meeting place for clubs and labor unions (Abramovitz, 1998). Ultimately, Hull House was the standard model of a settlement.

Conflicts in Practice Theories of Social Work

The initial struggles within social work were issues of the poor and how to help them. The struggle around the turn of the century (1896 to 1914) saw two perspectives on how to lift people from poverty and enact social change. The Settlement House Movement conflicted with the older Charity Organization Society perspective, which argued that the individual was responsible for their circumstances; the Settlement House argued that poverty stemmed from adverse social conditions, over which individuals had little or no control (Abramovitz, 1998). They sought to reform aspects of American society that they identified as major issues. Instead of focusing their efforts on changing the individual behaviors and values of the poor, settlement workers tried to change the neighborhoods and expand opportunities for working poor mostly immigrant people. The charity organizations initially operated under the beliefs that the poor, suffered from immoral character, and thus needed more guidance and prayer (Morales & Sheafor, 1992). The Charity



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