Social work  

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Social work is a professional and academic discipline that seeks to improve the quality of life and subjective well-being of individuals, groups, and communities through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice, crisis intervention, and teaching for the benefit of those affected by social disadvantages such as poverty, mental and physical illness or disability, and social injustice, including violations of their civil liberties and human rights. Research is often focused on human development, psychotherapy and counselling, social policy, public administration, social program evaluation, and community development. Social workers typically undergo a systematic set of training and qualifications that are distinct from those of care workers, care assistants or social care workers, who may undertake social work roles but not necessarily have the qualifications of a professional social worker. Social workers are organized into local, national, continental, and international professional bodies. It is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates theoretical bases from economics, education, sociology, law, medicine, philosophy, politics, anthropology, and psychology.


The concept of charity goes back to ancient times, and the practice of providing for the poor has roots in many ancient civilizations and world religions. Even before the rise of modern European states, the church was providing social services. The earliest organized social welfare activity of the Christian church was the formation of burial societies, followed closely by provision of alms to the poor, shelter for the homeless, and care and comfort for the sick. Monasteries often served as comprehensive social service agencies, acting as hospitals, homes for the aged, orphanages, and travelers' aid stations. It was not until the emergence of industrialization and urbanization that the informal helping systems of the church and family began to break down and organized social welfare services emerged to supplant it.

The profession of social work is generally considered to have developed from three movements: the charity organization society (COS) movement, the settlement house movement, and a third, less clearly defined movement, the development of institutions to deal with the entire range of social problems. All had their most rapid growth during the nineteenth century, and all grew out of the church.

Social work has its roots in the social and economic upheaval wrought by the Industrial Revolution, in particular the societal struggle to deal with poverty and its resultant problems. Because poverty was the main focus of early social work, it was intricately linked with the idea of charity work. For instance, it is common for modern social workers to find themselves dealing with consequences arising from other "social problems" such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination based on age or on physical or mental disability.

Whereas social casework started on a more scientific footing aimed at directing and reforming individuals (at one stage supporting the notion that poverty was a disease), other models of social work arising out of the Settlement House movement, led by activists such as Jane Addams, emphasized political activism and community solutions. Currently, social work is known for its critical and holistic approach to understanding and intervening in social problems. This has led, for example, to the recognition of poverty as having a social and economic basis rooted in social policies rather than representing a personal moral defect. This trend also points to another historical development in the evolution of social work: once a profession engages in social control, it is directed at social and personal empowerment. This is not to say that modern social workers do not engage in social control (consider, for example, child protection workers), and many, if not most, social workers likely would agree that there is an ongoing tension between these forces within the profession. For example, see the debate between structural social work and humanistic social work.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Social work" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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