The Evolution of Social Work

Social Work: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


Social work as a charitable function has been in existence for centuries as churches and communities created formal and informal safety nets for those in need. It wasn’t until the late 1880’s, however, that social work emerged as a profession in the United States.

It was in 1889, when a woman named Jane Addams founded the first “settlement house” in Chicago with the aspiration of helping the poor and hungry. She called upon other young women to pursue social work, while also taking on greater civic and social causes of her own.

Her work set the standard for other American cities that were struggling with the challenges of poverty, disease, crime and mental illness. Soon, over 200 cities had established social work offices to support the needs of their citizens. For this, Addams became known at the “Mother of Social Work” and was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Social work remains an important part of the fabric of America. Children, the elderly, the disabled and others in unfortunate circumstances depend on licensed social workers for their well-being. The work can involve making welfare visits to check on living conditions, monitoring troubled persons with behavioral disorders, or helping people who are homeless, addicted and/or abused. Social workers are also key players in times of natural disaster, providing comfort and support to families whose entire lives have been disrupted.

Many of today’s social workers are employed in hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where they play an integral role on multi-disciplinary care teams. In this capacity, the licensed social worker helps patients and their families deal with the psycho-social aspects of critical illness or aging. These professionals are also an important conduit to community resources that can further support their patients’ needs.

Looking ahead to tomorrow, we can anticipate that ongoing societal changes will continue to create challenges and opportunities for social workers with an MSW degree. America’s aging population is one major factor for growth in this field, as senior citizens look for assistance in navigating social services and managing their independent living concerns. Economic uncertainty and the widening “income inequality” gap are also placing citizens into situations requiring social support.

Choosing to dedicate your life to others is as admirable as it was in the early days of social work. Pursuing advanced education, like an Online Masters of Social Work from UNE, will be an additional help – to your career growth and the well-being of those you serve.

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