The beginnings of Social Work
Social work came about because human needs could not always be met by the individual. Human needs generally include the following:
1. Must have food to survive
2. Clothing to keep warm in the winter
3. Shelter from the environmental elements
4. A safe environment to live
5. Healthy emotional relationships. Research indicates that children who do not receive love from their parents have lower levels of self-esteem and have a hard time demonstrating emotion to someone else later in life.
6. Having the opportunity to develop whatever innate characteristics exist. To make use of whatever one is born with. Without effective socialization more problems exist for the individual in terms of mental health, health in general and lower levels of self-esteem.
As a result of these needs there has been an ongoing debate as to what is the best way to address these needs that people have. The two extremes are 1. Having the government do everything and 2. Having individuals fend for themselves. Most societies have a combination of these two ideologies in place. But the argument as to what degree goes back centuries.
In the United States the philosophy of rugged individualism has been a powerful philosophy since colonial times. Emile Durkheim a famous classical sociologist of the 19th century in France used this term to describe certain societies. The philosophy is that everyone is on their own. It is a survival of the fittest position. The United States had historically advocated that the individual is responsible for their life situation. The other side of the argument is that not everyone has the same opportunity regarding their start in life. Some people are born with an advantage and some with a disadvantage. So, the question becomes who will help those who need help. There have been numerous methodologies utilized by societies to help people. They are as follows:
1. Mutual Aid: This probably is the oldest form of help. This is simply people helping people. Children taking care of their parents for example. Neighbors helping each other. Self-help groups also fit this category. This is okay until the problem becomes too massive. In modern times people do not have the time or the skills necessary to do all of this. But it is a method used and advocated by certain groups in society.
2. Charity-Philanthropy: This is when rich people and/or organizations who have money donate this money to help those in need. Many schools, orphanages, hospitals, and nursing homes were built with private donations. This will be discussed later but two organizations that emerge from the Charity-Philanthropy movement after the breakup of feudalism were the Charity Organization Societies and the settlement housing movement. The Charity Organization Societies had individuals who worked for them known as the friendly visitors. These visitors were mostly women who had money who would visit poor people and advise them on living. These women tried to get the poor people to have the same values as them. The friendly visitors were really some of the first social workers. Many people believed that the problem with poor people was their immorality and all the friendly visitors had to do was change the morality of the poor person.
The settlement housing movement rested on the belief that if the rich people or at least some of them would just move into poor areas that poor people would see how the rich lived and this would change the neighborhood. These people believed the environment played a big role in how people turned out. They wanted scientific research to support whatever decisions they made in reshaping the environment to help people. Thus, the beginnings of using the findings of sociology to implement change. Relying on science is a good thing but the difficulty with this movement is that the problem is so big that there is not a big enough pot of money or willing contributors to help out although social workers will take whatever is available to help people.
3. Public Welfare: This system goes all the way back to the English Poor Law of 1601 which we will discuss later. But public welfare started out with indoor relief that is providing care within institutions. This was extremely popular in the 17 and 18th century. This was done primarily at the local and state level until 1935 when major changes in the role of the federal government occurred.
4. Social Insurance: This is a category where taxes are collected from individuals (employees) and employers to finance government sponsored programs. Medicare, Workman’s Compensation, unemployment benefits, and Social Security fit this category. Many European countries had programs like this way sooner than the United States.
5. Social Services: This is a type of social work in which the social worker offers advice maybe in the terms of counseling if one has the license or providing information that the public needs such as public service announcements, family planning information, and even educational advice.
6. Universal Provision: The United States due to rugged individualism does not do this for many types of services. This is a provision in which services go to everyone such as the Center for disease information. People who advocate for a basic check of money to go to every individual would fit this category. Family allowances is what some countries provide. But again, with the rugged individualism this has never been popular in the United States.
The beginnings of social work were discussed including a discussion on the charity-philanthropy movement and the settlement housing movement. The six types of help were discussed in trying to address individual needs.