Janet L. Finn and Maxine Jacobson
This entry examines the concept of social justice and its significance as a core value of social work. Diverse conceptualizations of social justice and their historical and philosophical underpinnings are examined. The influence of John Rawls' perspectives on social justice is addressed as are alternative conceptualizations, such as the capabilities perspective. The roots of social justice are traced through social work history, from the Settlement House Movement to the Rank and Film Movement, Civil Rights Movement, and contemporary struggles in the context of globalization. Challenges for social justice-oriented practice in the 21st century are address. The discussion concludes with concrete example of ways in which social workers are translating principles of social justice into concrete practices.
Since the 19th century, social movements have provided U.S. social work with its intellectual and theoretical foundations and and furnished many of its leaders. Social workers were among the founders of the Progressive movement and have played important roles in the labor, feminist, civil rights, welfare rights, and peace movements for over a century. More recently, social workers have been active in New Social Movements (NSMs), that have focused on issues of identity, self-esteem, critical consciousness, and human rights, and in transnational movements, such as the Occupy movement, which have emerged in response to the consequences of economic globalization, environmental degradation, and major population shifts, including mass immigration.
This entry traces American social welfare development from the 1890s to 1950. It also includes social work's participation and response to need during two critical times in American history: the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Social reformers were instrumental in the development of social legislation, including the establishment of the Children's Bureau as well as the development of a public welfare system at the state level. America's response to human suffering left many groups, such American Indians, African Americans, and Asians, marginalized. In response, African Americans established a parallel system of private relief through organizations such as the National Urban League, unlike the other racial groups.
Mark J. Stern
Between 1950 and 1980, the United States developed a welfare state that in many ways was comparable to those of other advanced industrial nations. Building on its New Deal roots, the Social Security system came to provide a “social wage” to older Americans, people with disability, and the dependents of deceased workers. It created a health-care insurance system for the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. Using the tax system in innovative ways, the government encouraged the expansion of pension and health-care protection for a majority of workers and their families. By 1980, some Americans could argue that their identification as a “laggard” in the field of social provision was no longer justified.
Phyllis J. Day
American social welfare began in the colonial period with the adoption of the Elizabethan Poor Laws as the basis for treatment of society's poor and deviant. By the beginning of the Progressive Era (1900), immigration, the Women's Movement, scientific investigation of social problems, and societal growth produced significant innovations in both public and private perceptions, programs, and treatment in such areas as poor relief, mental and physical health, and corrections, and led to the beginnings of professionalization of social work.
John M. Herrick
Social policy is how a society responds to social problems. Any government enactment that affects the well-being of people, including laws, regulations, executive orders, and court decisions, is a social policy. In the United States, with its federal tradition of shared government, social policies are made by governments at many levels—local, state, and national. A broad view of social policy recognizes that corporations and both nonprofit and for-profit social-service agencies also develop policies that affect customers and those they serve and therefore have social implications. Social policies affect society and human behavior, and their importance for social-work practice has long been understood by the social-work profession. Modern social welfare policies, which respond to basic human needs such as health care, housing food, and employment, have evolved since their introduction during the New Deal of the 1930s as responses to the Great Depression. In the aftermath of the recent “Great Recession” that began in 2006, the nation has once again experienced the kinds of social problems that led to the creation of innovative social welfare policies in the 1930s. How policy makers respond to human needs depends on who has the power to make policy and how they conceptualize human needs and the most effective ways to respond to them. In the early 21st century, the idea that the state should guarantee the welfare and well-being of its citizens through progressive welfare state policies and services has few adherents among policy makers. The complex social problems resulting from the recession—the highest unemployment since the Great Depression of the 1930s, escalating budget deficits at all levels of government, an unprecedented housing crisis exemplified by massive foreclosures, increasing social and economic inequality, a nation polarized by corrosive political conflict and incivility—create a context in which social policies are debated vociferously. Social workers, long committed to the ideal of social justice for all, are obligated to understand how policies affect their practice as well as the lives of those they serve and to advocate for policies that will improve social well-being as the United States recovers.
Robin S. Mama
The profession of social work has a long and rich history of participating in and influencing the work of the United Nations and its affiliate agencies, almost since the inception of the institution. This history includes not only the work of social work or social welfare organizations as accredited nongovernmental organizations, but also of individual social workers who were trailblazers in the field of international work. The founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945 played a key role in establishing what has come to be a formal relationship between civil society and the United Nations. Article 71 of the United Nations Charter cemented this relationship by allowing the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to make consultative arrangements with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (United Nations, 2003). The number of NGOs at the founding conference numbered 1,200; at present there are 3,900 NGOs that have consultative status with ECOSOC (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2014). Three of the leading social work organizations that have consultative status with the United Nations are: International Association of Schools of Social Work (received consultative status in 1947), International Federation of Social Workers—(received consultative status in 1959), and International Council on Social Welfare (received consultative status in 1972).
Johnny S. Kim
In social work practice, the strengths perspective has emerged as an alternative to the more common pathology-oriented approach to helping clients. Instead of focusing on clients' problems and deficits, the strengths perspective centers on clients' abilities, talents, and resources. The social worker practicing from this approach concentrates wholly on identifying and eliciting the client's strengths and assets in assisting them with their problems and goals (Saleebey, 2006). This entry discusses the historical development of the strengths perspective, practice techniques, current applications, and philosophical distinctiveness.
The strengths perspective is a paradigmatic shift away from problem-focused approaches to social work practice. The strengths perspective focuses not on the defectiveness of the client system in an attempt to undo these problems but on the inherent strengths, competencies, and resiliency that are the building blocks of a better future. It does not ignore pain and suffering but asks how people make it under such difficult times and builds on those amazing capacities. It assumes the expertise of the client and privileges client knowledge and capabilities. Diversity, self-determination, empowerment, and social justice are inherent in this practice.
Pranab Chatterjee, Heehyul Moon, and Derrick Kranke
The term technology transfer was first used widely during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations when the role of the United States in relation to developing countries was being formed. At that time, it meant knowledge transfer from the rich countries to the poor countries. In social work, the idea is important in efforts of community organization, community development, and social development. It is also an important idea in direct practice. Technology in these practice settings means the application of a basic social science toward facilitating one or more given ends that benefit human beings. Technology transfer means the passing on of such applied knowledge from one discipline or specialty to another. The application of technology transfer also requires understanding of the cultural setting where it originates as well as of the setting where it is imported for local use.