INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL WORK; The inception of the social work profession in the United States can be traced back to the late 1800’s beginning with charity work performed by local churches and communities seeing to meet the needs of the poor. Some of the earliest social work interventions were designed to meet basic human needs of populations and placed great value in providing support, assistance, and resources to families and communities in an attempt to alleviate suffering (Nsonwu, Casey, Cook & Armendariz, 2013). The profession now known as social work ultimately began as a result of a practice originally known as “helping” others to improve the well being of individuals, families, and communities. Throughout the years the social work profession played vital roles in the facilitation of social changes aimed at diminishing inequalities among various populations. Through the practice of “helping,” social workers were able to address many social problems that plagued vulnerable populations through facilitating, advocating, and influencing individuals, communities, politicians, and law makers (Langer & Leitz, 2014).

Throughout the progressive movement era, many social workers emerged and were identified as key players known to have advanced the profession. These individuals came to be known as pioneers of the social work profession as their careers were devoted to improving the well being of individuals, families, and communities. In an effort to help conceptualize the social work profession, we will look closer at the origin of the social practice, as well as discuss a few pioneers and their contributions to the social work profession (Hansan, 2013).

In the early 20th century, Robert Hunter’s book Poverty was published. Hunter’s book placed a spotlight on America’s poor and challenged society’s long held belief that poverty signified moral failure (Hansan, 2013). Hunter’s book demonstrated a critical need to implement specific social measures in order to prevent the destruction of the working class population on the verge of poverty. Hunter additionally identified conditions known to breed poverty calling into question the need but also the tolerance for these unjust conditions particularly by a professed Christian population (Hunter, 1904).


Another known pioneer of the social work profession is Mary Richmond. Throughout her career, Richmond searched for answers surrounding the reasons and causes of poverty while also examining the interactions between individuals and their environments. Richmond believed that interventions and treatment approaches needed to be focused on the person within their environment. As a result of this belief, Richmond developed the circle diagram as a way to help her clients identify sources of power available to them within their own environment. One of Richmond’s biggest contributions to the social work profession was her book Social Diagnosis which was published in 1917. Richmond’s book focused on the practice of casework with individuals and was the first book to identify a systematic and methodological way to document and diagnose clients (Social Welfare History Project, 2011). INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL WORK

Jane Addams is another well-known pioneer to the social work profession. Addams, along with Ellen Gates Starr, founded Hull-House in 1889. Hull-House was a successful settlement house located in an area of Chicago that was largely populated by immigrants. Residents of Hull-House were provided with multiple services which included daycare and kindergarten facilities for the children of the residents. Throughout her career Addams’ continued to contribute to the social work profession by advocating for the rights and well-being of women and children on several important issues, one of those issues being the implementation of child labor laws (Hansan, 2010).

Jane Hoey’s career as a social worker began in 1916 when she was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the Board of Child Welfare in New York City. Throughout the course of her career she would work in multiple social welfare agencies: serving as the Director of Field Service for the Atlanta Division of the American Red Cross, the Secretary of the Bronx Committee of the New York TB and Health Association, the Director of the Welfare Council of New York City, and ultimately as the Director of the Bureau of Public Assistance. Hoey is best known for her role in the enactment of the Social Security Public Assistance Act which became law in 1935. Following the law’s enactment, Hoey became the Director of the Bureau of Public Assistance within the Social Security Administration and was responsible for organizing and implementing the distribution of the public welfare provisions (Social Welfare History Project, 2011). INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL WORK

Additional Reading Material

Mary Richmond’s Social Diagnosis

Robert Hunter’s Poverty


For over a century the answer to this question has been not only varied but also debated among members of the general public as well as in the professional social work community. The definition of “social work” may not be as clear as one may think when attempting to understand the meaning of social work. Embedded within these definitions of “social work” are common themes which can help to conceptualize social work. Although there are many varying definitions used to describe social work, what matters the most is the purpose of social work and what guides and directs social work practice. According to the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the purpose of the social work profession is to “promote human and community well-being”; which can be achieved through promoting social and economic justice and preventing conditions that limit human rights for all people.

Even after defining social work and identifying the purpose of the social work profession, there continues to be some misalignment among the profession with the overall mission of social work. This is not surprising considering the increasingly diverse populations being served by the profession. What is becoming increasing clear as the diversity of client systems continues to expand, is the critical importance of professional competence in order to meet the unique needs of individuals as well as emerging social issues. In an effort to better prepare new social workers to respond to these new challenges and social issues, the CSWE adopted a competency-based education framework, Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, which gives students the opportunity to demonstrate and integrate social work knowledge and skills in various practice settings. More than ever social work requires a broad knowledge base in order to effectively meet the needs of others but also to help clients find hope in the process. Finding hope is essential to the social work practice as hope helps to empower diverse populations facing unique challenges (Clark & Hoffler, 2014). INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL WORK

The feelings associated with a sense of hope are considered to be fundamental to the social work practice. Hope is essential to social work as it allows those facing challenges to believe in a positive outcome and hope can play a major role in how the challenges/circumstances are viewed. A sense of hope is as essential to clients as it is for social workers who are helping clients. Social workers struggling to feel hope may communicate this verbally and non-verbally in their approach with their clients, ultimately impacting the effectiveness of the intervention. This is one of several reasons individuals wishing to pursue a career in social work should explore their personal values, overall worldview, beliefs, abilities, skills, and priorities as well as personal and career goals. This type of exploration is essential to determining whether or not a career in the social work field will be a good fit. In addition, individuals should also consider the demands, stressors, and challenges common to the social work practice giving serious consideration to whether helping the most vulnerable populations will negatively impact their own physical and/or mental health and overall quality of life (Sheafor, Horejsi, & Horejsi, 2000).

Additional Activities:

When in Doubt, Give Hope. (Speech starts at 2:20)

Allison Brunner a newly graduated MSW talks about her anxieties and doubts that recent graduates feel with their professional responsibility to hold hope for their clients. She describes her own doubts as a social worker, relates those to her personal moments of doubt and shares how she drew from those experiences to help her client. Using our experiences to benefit our clients rather than ourselves, is what we call “professional use of self.” And as Carl Rogers demonstrated many years ago, bringing our genuine self to the clinical relationship is one of the most important things we can do to help our clients.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum pre-requisite needed to gain employment in the social work profession is a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW). However, those with specific career goals may be required to obtain a higher level of education. Therefore, some may wish to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW).

Social workers may serve in all of these different roles in varying degrees at any time in their career.

There are some similarities between the two degrees which include the expectation that both BSW and MSW students complete supervised field placements within a social service type agency. The requirements related to the length of placement, expected tasks, and/or hours may vary based on degree. Common social service agency placements for both BSW and MSW students include places such as hospitals, schools, or mental health or substance abuse clinics. In addition to this requirement, both BSW and MSW graduates must be granted a license in the state they wish to practice. Licensure for an MSW requires a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience following graduation and a passing score on the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) licensing examination.

There are several key differences between BSW and MSW degrees. One of the first differences is the pre-requisite for entrance into the programs. Typically the only requirement needed to enter into an accredited BSW program at a college or university is that the candidate has declared social work as their major. This differs from an MSW program as MSW candidates apply for entrance into the program after already having obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in which the graduate has likely earned credits in coursework areas related to psychology and sociology. INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL WORK

Another difference is the coursework required based on the desired degree. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which accredits U.S. social work programs, designates BSW undergraduate programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. Additionally, students are required to complete a supervised field placement at a social service agency. Baccalaureate social workers have the ability to obtain specialty certification in certain areas through their state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which offers specialty certification available in child, youth and family social work, gerontology, casework, and hospice, and palliative care. Master’s degree programs focus on developing clinical assessment and management skills and prepare students for work in a more targeted areas depending on the student’s interest.

The other important differences between the two degrees involves the type of employment each degree holder is eligible for and the earning potential based on the degree. MSW graduates typically earn a significantly higher salaries than BSW graduates. Individuals with a BSW degree tend to be employed in entry level jobs as caseworkers and are expected to provide direct services to clients through assessing, coordinating, and referring to area resources. The Michigan Board of Social Workers outlines the scope of practice/expected duties for social workers based on education and designated practice area (see chart below).

MSW graduates are often employed in clinical settings such as a hospital or a private practice setting and also in various administrative positions. MSW graduates can obtain either a Macro or Clinical license. The scope of practice differs depending on the type of MSW license. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), a licensed Master Social Worker with macro designation can expect to be involved in administration, management, and supervision of human service organizations and perform functions that seek to improve the overall population’s quality of life through a policy/administrative perspective. These tasks range from collaboration, coordination, mediation, and consultation within organizations and/or communities, community organizing and development, research and evaluation, and advocacy/social justice work through involvement in the legislative process. A licensed Master Social Worker with a clinical designation (micro) typically work directly with individuals, families, and/or groups in an effort to improve the client’s overall quality of life. Social workers can expect to perform the following tasks/functions: advocating for care, protecting the vulnerable, providing psychotherapy as defined as “assessment, diagnosis, or treatment of mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders, conditions, addictions, or other biopsychosocial problems.”

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