What is Social Work

Contents Chapter 1 What is Social Work? Chapter 2 The Beginnings of Social Work Chapter 3 History of Welfare during Colonial Times Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Indoor Relief Chapter 6 Social Welfare in the late 1800s Chapter 7 The Early 20th Century and Welfare Chapter 8 Classical Sociologists and Their Impact on Ideology in the United States Chapter 9 Society and How It Changes and Affects Social Welfare Policy Chapter 10 Application of Welfare Policy



Chapter One

What is Social Work

Questions that most people have regarding social work are the following: Just what is social work? What does it mean to be a social worker? What are social workers trying to accomplish?

Social workers have many different types of jobs that help people and communities. The following is a typical list of things social workers do. Leon Ginsberg (1998) wrote a great book on Careers in Social Work. In Ginsberg book the author lists some of the jobs for social workers. They are as follows:

1. Working in Government Agencies such as Jobs and Family Services.

2. Working in Mental Health areas such counseling.

3. Working in the Health field such as hospitals and nursing homes.

4. Working in Children Services such as foster care, adoptions, and children homes.

5. Working in Adult and Juvenile Detention centers and in probation departments.

6. Advocating for social policy at the government level, local, state and federal.

Social work is a practice profession meaning that it is typically a hands-on profession. It is not sociology, psychology or Psychiatry. But social work does use the scientific information gathered by Sociologists, Psychologists and Psychiatrists to help individuals whatever the problem may be. A social worker is professionally educated and trained to help people who live in a state of stress, who are disadvantaged, disabled, abused, or have mental conditions (Ginsberg, 1998). The goal is to hopefully help someone to become more emotional and psychologically stable after seeing a social worker or just helping a person solve a problem. There is a specific methodology that social workers are trained to use based on scientific knowledge. It is called the generalist practice of social work.

The authors Cox, Tice and Long (2019) state in their book titled: Introduction to Social Work that social work is a profession because it requires specialized, formal training and certification. To be considered a social worker one needs at least a bachelors degree and, in some states, a masters degree (MSW). Individuals can work assisting social workers with an associate degree.

Social work degree programs are regulated by state licensing boards. Many Colleges and Universities for Bachelor and Masters degree programs should adhere to the standards for social work illustrated by CSWE the Counsel on Social Work Education. This accreditation body makes sure that a college or university meets universal standards across the board regarding Generalist Social Work Practice.

There are nine major Social Work Competencies put forwarded by CSWE for all bachelors degree programs. Cox, Tice and Long (2019) summarizes these Competencies and they are as follows:

1. Demonstrate ethical and professional behavior

2. Engage in diversity and difference in practice

3. Advance human rights and social, economic and environmental justices

4. Engage in practice-informed research and research-informed practice

5. Engage in policy practice

6. Engage with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities

7. Assess with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities

8. Intervene with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities

9. Evaluate practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

All these expectations are met within a degree program. Students usually take courses in Social Welfare, Research methodology, Human Behavior and the social environment, Sociology, Psychology, Race and Ethnicity, Ethics and many other related fields of study.


Social work is a helping profession. There are high standards and expectations of training put forward by the Council on Social Work Education. Social Workers work in variety of settings. To be a social worker one needs at least a bachelors degree. One can work as an assistant to a social worker with an associate degree.













Chapter Two

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, Workmans 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.








Chapter Three

History of Welfare during Colonial Times

England passed the English Poor Law in 1601. People were moving into cities and they were poor, so poverty became more visible. There was not a large middle class as there is today. Middle class today is around 40 to 45 % of the population in the United States. In 1601 the middle class was only a small percentage of the population. You basically had the rich which was no more than 8 percent of the population and just about everyone else was poor. Political leaders became genuinely concerned with the migration of poor people coming into the cities. Therefore, the political leaders felt they had to do something. It was okay when poverty was not that visible but now that was all changing with city life emerging. So, England passed the English Poor Law of 1601 which made each city or village responsible for the poor and the elderly in their city or village. There was no role played by the federal government. The federal government did not collect taxes for this law. The English Poor Law of 1601 created the following regulations:

1. Justices in each parish at the local level were to appoint guardians over poor people. These justices would monitor the poor including where the poor could locate.

2. Every person who was able to work would be required to work.

3. Every person who owned a house would be locally taxed in order to pay for the provisions of the law.

4. If local funds could not meet the demands of the law, the justices had the power to get funds from other parishes if they had the money.

5. Those in charge of the poor would be appointed by the justices. Those in charge could commit poor children to be apprentices to learn a trade. A female child could be legally bound to the age of 21 and a man could be bound until the age of 24. A question that arose then and today is: Should the government, local or federal, have the power to remove poor children from a parents home and force them to work? Should the government have the power to force people to work or relocate if necessary?

6. If land were considered not valuable by the local government then the local government could erect houses on that land for poor workers.

7. Families were required by law to take care of parents and grandparents. This is before nursing homes.

These laws set in motion a philosophy of helping people less fortunate either by local government or the federal government that has been debated for 400 years. The question becomes: Who is responsible for being poor and who is responsible for helping the poor? Is it the individuals fault or societies fault for being poor or a combination of both?

During colonial times in the United States the colonies brought with them the English Poor Law philosophy. The ideology of rugged individualism is at play here. Local government got involved in dealing with poor people only because poor people were getting in the way. From colonial times to the 1930s the federal government was pretty much out of the process of helping poor people.

The following discussion on welfare in Colonial America will be taken from the book titled: From Poor Law to Welfare State by Walter I. Trattner (1999). Once people arrived here from Europe, they found out that life was extremely hard. Many were living in poverty. Each colony had deal with the widespread poverty. Again, there was no middle class, just rich and poor for the most part. People had to deal with the sick, the mentally ill, the blind, the elderly and poor people. The problem was massive. To deal with the problem the colonists brought the English Poor Law with them.

In fact, the colonies followed the English Poor law. Many levied local taxes to have funds to deal with the poor people. Families were required to take care of their own. When one could not be taken care of by the family then these individuals would be put in a private home in which those individuals would be paid. Sometimes the poor person would be auctioned off to somebody. Many times, local doctors would be paid by the town or parish to treat poor people.

Poor people if they did not have residency, could be expelled from that area or city. In many cases one had to be in an area for five years to be considered a resident. If you were poor and you chose not to work in the colonies you could be beaten or thrown in jail (Trattner, 1999).

For the Native Americans there really was no help. The Native Americans were forced to live on terrible land. If they were on a reservation, then the ruler of the reservation was usually corrupt. Blacks were viewed as children of Satan not entitled to the same rights as white people so even the poor laws did not apply to them (Trattner 1999). For those who were mentally ill there were no institutions to help during colonial times. Children could be forced to work as an apprentice and were not paid.



In summary, being poor in colonial times was difficult not that it is not difficult now. But the English Poor Law of 1601 was an attempt to do something about the poor people perhaps not so much out of concern for the poor but for the reason to keep them from just begging and hanging out on the street. The poor had to do something. And they could not just move around from community to community due to the residency requirement.




Chapter Four

Colonial Life Continued

The following material is taken from the book titled: From Poor Law to Welfare State by Walter I. Trattner 1999. During the time period of the American Revolution there were many poor immigrants. There were many poor widows and orphans. Life expectancy was only in the 40s. There was an increasing number of children being born out of wedlock. One-third to one-half of all recorded births were out of wedlock. The economy was terrible during the time of the American Revolution as well. There was illness and diseases such typhoid, malaria, scarlet fever, diphtheria, smallpox, measles and others. There was no cure for these. Funding to help these poor people came from local government only. It took up anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of their budgets (Trattner 1999, p. 31). Welfare was done only at the local level and by private charity. But the problem was massive, and the help could not cover the problem. Even George Washington who was imperfect stated the following in a letter: Let the hospitality of the house, with respect to the poor, be kept up. Let no one go away hungry. If any of this kind of people (poor people) shall be in wantsupply their necessities; and I have no objection to your giving my money in charity to the amount of forty or fifty pounds a yearWhat I mean by having no objection is that is my desire that it should be done (Trattner 1999, P. 33). There were people trying to help. Poverty played a role in the logic of having an American Revolution.

Various religious denominations tried to help as well. The Quakers spent a lot of money helping poor people. Social Welfare was a joint effort of local governments and private groups during the colonial period. Religion played a major role in people feeling they had a moral obligation to help people in need. The Great Awakening movement in the 1700s, which was a religious revival movement, promoted individual responsibility but also promoted those who had the wealth to help those in need. One of the leading figures was George Whitefield who advocated giving to the poor. Benjamin Franklin even spoke about George Whitefield and gave money after listening to Whitefield speak.

Then came the Enlightenment movement during these colonial times. The Enlightenment movement emphasized the use of reason to comprehend anything. Religion to the strict followers of the Enlightenment was not necessary. The Enlightenment movement emphasized science to deal with poverty.

Those who were calling for an American Revolution tapped into the resentment poor people had toward England. The use of reason was emphasized that a new society could solve the problems of poverty. But the revolution did not solve the poverty problem. The use of the Poor laws was abandoned for the most part. States began assuming more responsibility for the poor but nothing at the national level yet. The National Government did not really get involved until the 1930s and has been involved ever since.

The United States after the revolution did not have a national policy on how to deal with poor people. Europe did have national policies, but the United States has always emphasized that poverty is a local problem and you have the American ideology of rugged individualism that is still a dominant ideology today. The United States broke away from a strong central government. Therefore, state rights were emphasized. Also, the philosophy that poverty was a moral problem, not a government problem was dominant. The position was that if you could change a persons moral character you could lift the person out of poverty.


In summary poor relief during the colonial times and during the times of the American Revolution was still conducted at the local level with a gradual shift to the states. Lack of moral attitudes was viewed as the main reason for poverty. However, there were religious movements that tried to sway peoples hearts to give to those who are in need. So, in colonial times there was a combination of private groups (religious) and local government who did the most in helping those in need.


Chapter 5

Indoor Relief

The material for this chapter comes from the book titled: From Poor Law to Welfare State by William I Trattner (1999). After the American Revolution in the early 1800s American saw a rise in industrialization. Poverty was increasing. American promoted the capitalist idea that having money was a right, that government should not intervene into the workings of the economy. Let the system work and whoever is rich is rich and whoever is poor is poor. This is known as laissez-faire economics. Rugged individualism was the standard and was considered the best for the economy. This is fine if the start for everyone is equal. It is not. There are people born into various social classes. To move from one social class to another is difficult but not impossible. The question is this: Does the system (government) have a role to play in trying to help deal with the unequal start in life that people have? It is an answer that government leaders have argued over since colonial times.

Many people like the sociologist Herbert Spencer believed that we should just let the poor die offsurvival of the fittest. Adam Smith the economist who influenced the American economic system advocated that people who wanted to work could do so. There was a developing attitude of contempt for poor people, that all poor people are lazy and if they wanted to work, they could. That is still a dominate view today. This is not to say that there are no people who chose not to work. Poverty was still viewed as an individual moral problem. Only the person could get themselves out of poverty.

The growth of poverty in the 1800s only got worse especially with the influx of poor immigrants from Europe particularly the Irish and German poor Catholics. In fact, according to Trattner (1999, p. 55) in 1820, the annual report of New Yorks Society for the Prevention of Pauperism listed emigrants to this city from foreign countries as the largest source of pauperism. Immigrants who were not of the White Anglo Saxo protestant group known as (WASP) were generally viewed as inferior and something to be concerned about.

The view was by helping poor people you were only making the situation worse. That is still a dominant ideology today. Of course, there are always some who take advantage of the system but taking advantage of the system does not just occur with the lower class. People across all social classes take advantage of the system whether it is on their taxes or by some other means. The hope is that the majority do not take advantage of the system. There is research to indicate that the majority do not. By the way poorest people are white in the United States numerically speaking but not proportionally speaking.

As a result of the attitude of not helping the poor, at least on a government level, the accepted system of help at the state and local level was becoming more of an indoor relief type, that is institutional care, helping the disabled and people who could not care for themselves (Trattner, 1999). One of the first and biggest survey in looking at help for poor people that impacted early social welfare was the Yates Report in 1824. Yates was New Yorks Secretary of State. Yates looked at the types of poor relief that existed. He mentions four main types of public relief used throughout the state of New York. They are as follows:


1. Institutional relief

2. Home relief

3. The contract system

4. Auction system

Institutional relief were institutions built to house poor people of all types including women, men, children, disabled, and the mentally ill all housed together. Home relief offered financial relief to those living in their own homes although it was not very much. The contract system occurred when those in positions of power would literally have poor people sign a labor contract with someone who could pay a wage. However, this system was abused, and the worker was taken advantage of. The Auction system occurred when poor people were literally auctioned off to well off individuals to work for them.

By analyzing these systems Yates offered his views on these types of relief. He then made recommendations on improving this early welfare system. (Trattner 1991, P. 58) in his book lists the recommendations.

1. No person able to work aged 18 to 50 shall be given public assistance.

2. Elderly, young people without parents, and the disabled shall have institutional relief.

3. Counties shall oversee these operations.

Therefore, in 1824 New York State Legislature passed the County Poorhouse Act (Trattner 1991, p. 58). This act created County Superintendents of the Poor. Two major shifts in welfare occurred with this act.

1. The responsibility of the poor moved to the county level.

2. The move toward institutional relief.

Examples of the move toward institutional relief are as follows:

1. Massachusetts in 1824 developed 83 almshouses which were institutions for poor people, then by 1839 Massachusetts had 180 of them, by 1860 they had 219 (Trattner 1999).

These almshouses were run many times by corrupt officials. And the care within these institutions was not that good. People within the institutions were not separated by age, illnesses, mental health, those with a criminal record, alcoholics and even the blind were all thrown together. The places were not very sanitary. As Trattner points out these places were viewed as social cemeteries (Trattner 1999, p. 60). The state of New York put together a committee in 1850 to study the conditions of these institutions. The committee found filthy conditions. People were poorly fed, poorly clothed, men and women beaten and elderly laying in their stench. Common domestic animals are usually more humanely provide for than the paupers in some of these institutions, the committee concluded (Trattner 1999, P 60). Even orphans, the sick, pregnant women were all thrown together.

Before long moral crusaders started to write about these conditions. People like Charles Dickens in England and Dorothea Lynde Dix in the United States. In the mid 1800s the moral crusaders lobbied states to remove children from these institutions and to remove the mentally ill and the physically handicapped and build institutions just for these individuals. One of the hardest working individuals to promote social welfare change was Dorothea Dix. She was one of the first advocates of social welfare change, a role that many social workers today assume.

Trattner, in his book from Poor Law to Welfare State (1999) offers one of the best analysis of Dorothea Dix and the role she played. The following if material taken from that text. Dorothea Dix received a good education and was a teacher. She developed a private school for young women and a free school for poor people. She wrote many books but in 1836 but broke down from exhaustion. She stayed that way until 1841. At that time, she was employed as a Sunday School teacher, teaching women inmates. This changed her life. She could not believe the mistreatment these women were receiving. So, she took on a mission and she never looked back. She took her case to the state level. She got the state to make larger facilities for poor mental health patients. She took her advocating approach to multiple states like Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. These were dangerous trips for a woman to be taking but it did not stop her. She traveled by train, stagecoach, wagon and in some cases by foot (Trattner 1999). Nothing could stop her except politicians. She thought if she presented the research the politicians would listen. She studied state coding regulations. She knew statistics. She did case studies. She was armed to take her message to the states. She alone was responsible for getting state legislators between 1843 and 1853 to develop state hospitals for mental patients in nine states (Trattner 1999, P. 66) and some throughout the world. She had traveled over 60,000 miles with no modern transportation system. She was able to get a bill introduced to Congress at the national level, but Congress would not act in 1848. This bill would provide land for mental institutions. The bill finally passed Congress in 1854. But President Pierce vetoed it saying: taking care of people is not the role of the Federal Government. The Federal Governments role pretty much stayed that way until 1935.

While all of this was going on there was also a movement by Christians to help the poor but not through just giving the poor money but through moral example. That is to teach the poor moral virtue, that this would solve the poverty problem. These people believed in developing moral character. There was and still is the belief that poverty was the result of moral flaws. But there were some who believed and advocated that the environment also played a role for those in poverty. These two ideologies are still with today arguing that it is the individuals fault or is it the environment one is in or is it both as previously stated.


Indoor relief came about due to the massive amount of people living in poverty. It was convenient to round up those on the streets and put them together in an institution with no separation of different ages or mental capacity or other factors. But individuals came along to help change this cruel system with people like Dorothea Dix and many others. Institutional relief is still with us in various capacities from this time period of the 1800s. We will now look the late 1800s regarding social welfare.






Chapter 6

Social Welfare in the late 1800s

The following information is taken from the book from William I Trattner. The book is titled: From Poor Law to Welfare State (1999). The civil war caused many types of financial problems for families. The problems were so massive now that one could not just blame the problem on being a sinful person.

A major problem for those in the civil war was disease. There were many sanitation issues. Therefore, a welfare agency was developed called the U.S. Sanitary Commission considered to be the nations first national public health institution (Trattner 1999, P. 78). The organization was mainly run by women in 1861. Even though it was a national public health institution it was financed by private groups. The group sought to educate the men in uniform on proper hygiene to hold down disease. The women would inspect the army camps and the hospitals and teach the men on sanitary conditions. It is estimated that thousands of lives were saved by these women who educated the men in the field (Trattner 1999). The women also distributed bandages, food, clothing and other needed items to the troops (Trattner 1999, P. 79). Nurses were brought into the organization to help. Communication networks were established between units and the relatives living back home. The women set up safe houses for the wounded. This group became the Red Cross. John Stuart Mill said the following of this group: History afforded no other examples of so great a work of usefulness extemporized by the spontaneous self-devotion and organizing genius of a people altogether independent of the government (Trattner 1999, P. 79). Many future public health reforms occurred because of this group of females. State Board of Health Commissions emerged as a result of this group. Finally, in 1879 the first federal National Board of Health was created. The Sanitary Commission demonstrated what could be done effectively if people were motivated to do so. In fact, organizations were set up and patterned themselves in the late 1800s after the Sanitary Commission such as the New York State Charities Aid Association which still is in operation (Trattner 1999). Abraham Lincoln stated that no words could do justice to the role these women played during the civil war. He said: God Bless the women of America (Trattner 1999, P. 80).

The civil war taught both the north and the south that organizations could be run at a government level which set the stage later for national welfare institutions. This is not to say that institutions were perfect then or now.

After the civil war (1865) the United States began a massive increase in production in coal and steel. This was known as an economic revolution. The effect meant many jobs but also terrible working conditions in the late 1800 and early 1900s. Working accidents were high. There was no 40-hour work week. People were working 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week and if one complained they would be fired and put on a list that stated to other companies do not hire. Upton Sinclair wrote his classical work titled: The Jungle in which he exposed terrible working conditions and unsanitary working conditions in 1905.

With the civil war ending this produced some major problems. Veterans were coming home but were unskilled and uneducated for work. Also, the slaves were free looking for work but were discriminated against. To deal with these problems the United States set up the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands organization which was the nations first federal welfare agency (Trattner 1999, P. 83). President Andrew Johnson vetoed this organization, but Congress overrode his veto and the organization lasted 6 years. This agency helped deal with all the free slaves. It was an employment agency and an educational agency to help people with any contracts they needed to sign. It was to help Blacks move from slavery to freedom. Of course, it did not take away discrimination practices. The agency employed doctors to help with the sick and helped to sanitize hospitals. It funded schools for Black people. The agency was dissolved in 1872 but it demonstrated that the federal government could do something to help those in need but the philosophy of keeping the federal government out of the economy was still extraordinarily strong. But this organization set the stage for the role that the federal government could play in helping those who are less fortunate.

While the Freedmens Bureau was operating also occurring were State Board of Charities which started to oversee all the states charitable and correctional institutions. The state boards would study the institutions and make recommendations for improvement. By 1886 there were 12 states that had state board of Charities. These boards greatly helped to improve the functioning of state charity institutions which influenced the welfare system at the time. These boards also started to keep written records and reports that they could give back to the legislators for improvements that could be made. Even with all these things happening, private charity was viewed as the main way to give help. The Social Darwinists were strong, that is, survival of the fittest was still the dominate ideology. They did not want the federal government involved in anything. They believed and still do that private competition is the best way to help people. The common theme was work or starve (Trattner 1999, P. 89).


The late 1800s due to the civil war brought about some changes to welfare particular demonstrating that things could be done at the state and federal level. The Red Cross emerged as a federal private response to helping people. The federal government saw fit to help the freed slaves for a while. State Board of Charities improved the conditions of many state charity organizations.




Chapter 7

The Early 20th Century and Welfare

The following information is taken from the book titled: Americas Struggle Against Poverty: 1900-1985 by James T. Patterson 1986. In the early 1900s the United States economy was booming. There was great hope that poverty would be greatly reduced. That the plight of poor people would get better (Patterson, 1986). The dominant view was still that poverty was the result of ones own choice or that the person was morally corrupt. Francis Walker an economics professor in 1897 stated that poverty was a choice (Paterson 1986, P. 21). Other social scientists were arguing that the environment played a major role. That is, people are born into an advantaged situation and people are born into a disadvantaged situation. Where one lives determines which schools you go to, who your friends are and what type of help your parents can give you in terms of tutoring or any going to private schools that have a cost.

Sociologists and Social Workers in the early 1900s were presenting evidence that there are economic or social class reasons for the continuation of poverty, that poverty is not just the result of individual choosing. Social Scientist were showing empirical evidence that in 1913 and 1914 that over 10 million people did not have enough money to have a place to eat and live (Patterson 1986, P. 23). The scientists presented evidence that poverty was not something genetically caused. Social Scientist were now advocating for programs that could be implemented at the federal government level that could help the lot of many poor people. Poverty could disappear using the right social programs. This reflected a great deal of optimism. Social work was now an academic degree. In 1919 there were 17 schools of social work (Patterson 1986). But this view was now in contrast to the rugged individualism philosophy. The two views that are still with us today. The people doing this advocating in the early 1900s were viewed then and today as progressives. These progressives advocated for a revision of the juvenile court system, that juveniles should be treated differently than adults. The philosophy was that the sooner one gets to a young person the better the odds of getting out of poverty. The progressives also advocated for minimum wages, racial justice, and making child labor illegal (Patterson 1986).

There were organizations now calling for social security for people, such as the American Association for Labor Legislation in 1906. Social security however would not come about until 1935. The organization also called for minimum wages and better working conditions. Most of these reforms did not take place however until the 1930s. One will learn about the 1930s to modern times in the second welfare course.

By 1930 there was not one state that had unemployment benefits. Most of the welfare spending prior to 1930 was still being done by private groups and at the local and state level. The range of help by the state government in the early 1930s was $4.33 a month in Arkansas and $69.31 a month in Massachusetts (Patterson, 1986, P. 29). Most of the help if it came at all was spent on indoor relief or almshouses. And extraordinarily little relief, if any, from the federal government. The corporate world did not want unemployment insurance. The poor had to fend for themselves until the great depression of 1929.

Social Welfare II will pick up from 1929 to the present in dealing with social welfare. For now, attention will be given to certain theories and terminology associated with the welfare system.


In conclusion the early 1900s was an economic boom period. There was hope that with a great economy poverty would be eliminated. Social Scientists were using empirical scientific evidence to demonstrate that the environment was playing a role in helping to keep people in poverty. But the dominant philosophy was still enormously powerful which is the belief that poverty is an individual choice and that the individual not the system is to blame. This is still with us today, but the environmental view has equal power today.


Chapter 8

Classical Sociologists and their impact on Ideology in the United States

There are five early classical sociologists whose writings influenced ideologies in the United States from the 18th century to the present time. These writers lived and wrote during the 18th and 19th centuries yet their influence on social welfare policy as it relates to the role of government is still with us today.

The founder of sociology is Auguste Comte. Comte was a French person who lived from 1798 to 1857. He is considered the father of sociology because he is the one who coined the word. Sociology did not exist prior to Comte. Comte drew his ideas from philosophy and the biological sciences. His goal was to make sociology a science. Today most people believe it is a social science, there are those who are in a minority who might question this.

Comte took from the Latin and Greek word Logy which means study of and Socio which means society. When you put them together you have the word sociologythe study of society. Today sociology is the scientific study of human behavior involving two or more individuals.

Comte was interested in studying society because of all the social problems that existed in France, particularly what to do about all the poor people. Comte was brilliant. He entered college at the age of 16. France was experiencing a lot of social unrest and possible revolution so Comte wanted a discipline that could analyze scientifically society and hopefully someone in power would use this information to intervene.

Comte was a positivist meaning that he would not accept any path to truth except the scientific path. He felt everything else was subjective and not that important. Of course, there are those who would disagree. But there are those who today are positivist as well.

Comte created two words in analyzing society that sociologists still use today. The first is social dynamics and the second is social statics. Social dynamics is the study of change within society and social statics is the study of stability in society. The question becomes how a society has both going on at the same time. There are times when society appears to be changing rapidly even to the point of revolution and there are times when society appears to be very stable. How both function effects the governments position on welfare and what to do with people who need help.

Comte wanted the government to use this scientific knowledge to intervene into society to create stability and help people. He wanted the government to do just about everything. Of course, there are those today who follow this type of philosophytotal intervention by the government regarding social programs based on science or philosophy.

Opposite of Comte was Herbert Spencer who lived in England from 1820-1903. Like France England was trying to deal with all the social problems as was the United States that is, what to do with all the poor people. This is at a time when there was a very small middle class, so you had the upper class, a small middle class and everyone else who were poor.

Herbert Spencer had a big influence on United States ideology concerning rugged individualism. Spencer was a proponent of social Darwinismsurvival of the fittest. Spencer felt the government should never be involved in the economic system, that the government should never help poor people or any people. If they are poor, it is their own fault. Spencer advocated to just let them die off. By helping you are only prolonging a group of people who are really unfit for society. This notion of rugged individualism and survival of the fittest became extremely popular in the United States. In fact, Andrew Carnegie called Spencer his master teacher. The corporate world loved him because if the government followed the views of Spencer then the corporate would not have to pay taxes to help people.

The third classical sociologist is Karl Marx the founder of communism who lived from 1818-1883. Marx was a German and is buried in London, England. Marx lived at a time when there was no 40-hour work week, people working 10-12 hours a day, no sick time, no workmans compensation, no vacation, children working in mines, and very low wages and if one complained the person would be fired and put on a do not hire list so that other companies would not hire them. Marx wanted to expose the exploitation. So, the corporate world hated Marx. He was a threat to their system. He was banned from teaching at Universities and had to write undercover in England so to speak. But his writings had a big impact on some economies throughout the world and the United States.

Marx believed that society is always in a state of conflict between the haves and the have nots. The haves are those who own the means of production that is, they can pay a wage and still make money themselves. The have nots are trying to always get a bigger piece of the pie from the owners of the means of production. So, society is always in this state of conflict according to Marx. Marx believed the corporate world and the government perpetuates a false consciousness which is telling people that have it made, just be happy you have a job regardless of the wage and benefits, look what we are doing for you. Marx in his writings tried to expose this false consciousness. When people become aware that they are being taken advantage of this is called class consciousness. When this awareness occurs people then stand up to the system and point out the exploitation. This is a dangerous time when that happens because the system will fight back and use force. Marx said you must overthrow the system and put in communism and share the wealth. No system has done what Marx called for because once people got into power, they did not do what Marx called for. They loved the power. Human greed takes over. And it may not work anyway.

The point is for Marx however, he did point out exploitation and to do something about it. Those who advocate today and point out exploitation are doing to some extent what Marx wanted done. But Marx went to the point of revolution and sometimes revolution is necessary like when the United States went against England but no matter what system is in place there are poor people and what does the system need to do about it if anything.

The fourth classical sociologist is Emile Durkheim. Durkheim followed Comte and lived from 1858-1917. Durkheim lived in France. Durkheim was concerned with social order in society because there were so many social problems. So, Durkheim wanted to know what holds society together. He studied primitive and modern societies and what he found out was that in primitive societies they had an extraordinarily strong collective conscience which is a unity of beliefs and morals. People were united on what is right and wrong. Modern societies have this but not to the same degree. You have more subcultures and different groups and it is hard to make the mixture work. Durkheim believed that if societies do not have a strong collective conscience, they are more likely to collapse from within and you will have more riots and violence. The problem becomes who decides what the collective conscience is going to be? Who has the right to decide? Religion plays a role in promoting a collective conscience but in a free society that separates religion from government what will hold it together. It is a challenge of modern societies. Which religion does society adhere to? By not having a united collective conscience then people are all over the place regarding welfare policy. Therefore, Congress has a hard time agreeing on anything.

The last classical sociologist is Max Weber who called for participant observational research. Weber was a German in the late 19th century who advocated for a nonscientific approach for studying society. He too was concerned about all the social problems societies were facing but he felt if you really wanted to understand a culture then you needed to live in that culture for at least 6 months to a year and write about that culture and determine what that society needs. So, he advocated for participant observational research which many sociologist and social workers use today.


The perspectives of the early classical sociologist affect the ideologies of societies today which in turn affect welfare policy. How much of a role should the government play or intervene into society to help people? Comte and Marx wanted total intervention. Spencer wanted no intervention. Durkheim knew no matter what system you had you needed a collective conscience. Weber thought you had to live in a culture to fully understand that culture.










Chapter 9

Society and How it Changes and affects Social Welfare Policy

As one can tell from the previous chapter welfare policy is affected by ideology and whatever the collective conscience is within a society. There are several ways at looking at society and how it changes which in turn affect welfare policy.

One way to look at the system if from a functional or system approach. From a functional point of view society consists of many parts like family, religion, economy, media and government. These parts consist of people who interact within their system and across systems. If there is a strong collective conscience that permeates through each system, then the parts function smoothly. A system can function smoothly but that is different than being a moral system which is determined by whatever morality exists for any system. Each system has boundaries that separate that system from another system. Some systems have very tight boundaries while other systems have open boundaries between their parts. How all these systems function together or not together can affect what welfare policies get enacted. Are the systems united? How are people being affected by each system? Is the economy functioning well? What is the role of government? What do people want the role of government to be?

As one system changes there can be a cultural lag which means one system has not adapted to the change in the other system. Maybe government is putting in a policy that the religious system does not like or the family. Or the family has a family practice that the government states is illegal like polygamy. Why is polygamy illegal? Because it violates the collective conscience of those who have the power to decide. This does not mean the author is advocating for such a policy. That is not the purpose of this writing.

Another variable that affects welfare policy is changes in the economy and population. When the depression hit in 1929 people now looked to the federal government to help solve the mass problem. When it was basically poor people who routinely are poor very few were looking toward the federal government to help them. But when the middle class and upper class (those in power) were affected by the depression then these groups now wanted the government to intervene. The problem was massive. The government had to something. In welfare II the course will discuss all the interventions of welfare policy by the United States Government up to present time from 1935.

The last variable to look at although there are many others and how it affects welfare policy is what type of economy does a society have. When societies were subsistent meaning, they lived off the land, they farmed then welfare help tended to be more of mutual aid. But as societies moved to become monetary economies, that is, people had to have money to survive, then people needed money. They had to work to make money. But historically wages have been exceedingly small for most people and not everybody is working in the system due to the type of system or do to ones own choice. But whatever the case, society must decide how to help these people or do you do what Spencer said to do and just let them die off. And the debate today continues.



Chapter 10

Application of Welfare Policy

Much of the material in this chapter is adapted from the text titled: The Social Work Practicum by Cynthia L. Garthwait 2017. Usually when one engages in social work there is what is called a planned change process. One does not just work in the field without having a plan, a scientific plan. Mary Richmond is considered one of the founders of the profession of social work in the United States. She wrote a book titled: Social Diagnosis in 1917. The process that Mary Richmond put together for social workers in 1917 is still very much alive. The following lists the procedures Mary Richmond advocated.

1. Gather the facts

2. Make a diagnosis

3. Develop a plan for change

4. Implement the change process or treatment.

These stages were the beginnings of using a scientific approach to help people. Today social workers use scientifically proven intervention strategies to help people. The planned change is agreed upon between the social worker and the client. As Garthwait (2017, p. 160) states: Social workers assist clients, families, and communities to make changes that will improve their lives or change the conditions and social policies that impact their lives. It should be mentioned that change does not always occur. There are too many uncontrolled variables that interfere with the process. But if one has a plan the odds increase that implementation of that plan has a better chance of success. Once a plan is in process one is always re-evaluating the plan and adjusting throughout the process. There will be goals and objectives that the social worker and the client develop together. One learns how to do this process in other social work courses usually in the practice courses. Regarding social welfare policy, the social worker is usually advocating for the client or clients at the local, state or federal level. But even when advocating there should be a plan. Social workers who deal with policy generally use an ecosystems perspective in which the social worker considers the impact of the environment on individuals. As Garthwait points out, one also must analyze any diversity issues (2017). What works for one individual or culture might not be appropriate for another.

There are three levels of intervention a social worker might be involved in. Garthwait (2017, p.164) lists each type. They are as follows:

1. Micro- Level Practice: Involves intervention with an individual or with a family.

2. Mezzo-Level Practice: Involves intervention with a group or organization.

3. Macro-Level Practice: Involves intervention with a community, state or federal level dealing with social policy.

For those dealing with social welfare Macro-level practice is usually what one is involved in. The point is that practicing social work does not exist in an isolated situation. What happens to policy at the local, state and federal levels of government affect what a social worker can do. What type of funding exist locally, state and at the federal level? What the government does in terms of polity affects what one as a social worker can do. Therefore, if one chose to be a social worker then one needs to know what policies the government and politicians are backing. As Gilbert and Terrell state in their book titled: Dimensions of Social Welfare Policy (2013, p. 21); Direct service professionals who will ultimately perform policy-related roles would be wise to link some part of their formal education to planning, organization, and analysis. From a career point of view, it is essential that the direct practitioner have at least an appreciation of the dimensions of the field of social welfare policy, if not an intimate knowledge of its specializations.



No matter what type of social work one goes into social governmental policy affects what social workers can do. A social worker needs to know policy and when to advocate for certain policies that can help people. But social work practice and social work policy go together. One without the other makes no sense. Policy and practice are always changing. Social Welfare and Policy II will pick up from the 1930s to the present time.













Works Cited

Cox, Lisa; Tice, Carolyn J.; and Long D, Dennis: 2019: Introduction to Social Work: Sage.

Garthwait, Cynthia L. 2917: The Social Work Practicum: 7th edition. Pearson.

Gilbert, Neil and Terrell, Paul: 2013: Dimensions of Social Welfare Policy: 8th edition. Pearson.

Ginsberg, Leon H., 1998: Careers in Social Work: Allyn and Bacon.

Patterson, James T. 1986: Americas Struggle Against Poverty: 1900-1985: Harvard University Press.

Trattner, Walter I. 1999: From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America: 6th edition. The Free Press.


















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