The English Poor Law legislation and related developments provided the background for the development of American systems of relief. The colonists hm England, who came in the early and mid-seventeenth century, brought with them English laws, customs, institutions, and ideas and implanted them in America.

Three Social Movements

During the last half of the 19 century, the US experienced an increase in social problems as a result of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, together with the massive growth of the population. In response to these problems, three social movements began that formed the basis for the development of the social work profession:

  1. The Charity Organization Societies (COS) movement, which began in 1877 in Buffalo, New York;
  2. The Settlement House movement, which began in 1886 in New York City; and
  3. The Child Welfare movement, which was a result of several loosely related developments, notably the Children’s Aid Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which began in New York City in 1853 and 1875, respectively.

1.      COS Movement

The settlement house movement and the child welfare movement eventually made important contributions to the development of the social work profession, but it is in the COS movement that the origin of the profession is to be found.

  1. Humphreys Gurteen, an English cleric who had been impressed with a charity organization in London, founded the first COS in the United States in Buffalo, New York, in 1877. The Buffalo COS served as a model for the rapid development of similar organizations. Within 15 years, there were COS agencies in 92 American cities.

The beginning of a professional approach to the problems of human needs can be seen in the philosophy of the COS movement. The “scientific charity” attitude adopted by the COS enabled them to understand and cure poverty and family disorganization rather than merely assisting the poor. The charity organizations wanted to apply science to social welfare in the same way that it had been applied to medicine and engineering.

The COS leaders sought to replace chaotic charity with a rational system that would stress investigation, coordination, and personal service. Each case was to be considered individually, thoroughly investigated, and assigned to a “Friendly visitor.” The techniques used by the friendly visitors consisted of personal attributes such as – sympathy, tact, patience, and wise advice. The friendly visitors, most of them women, are the true forerunners of today’s social workers.

Besides, the COS movement fostered the development of the family service agencies of today, the practice of family casework, family counseling, schools of social work, employment services, legal aid, and many other programs which are a part and parcel of social work today.

In addition to these contributions may be listed the establishment of the first social work publication, Charities Review, which was merged into The Survey in 1907 and continued publication until 1952.

2.      Settlement House Movement

Another significant development of social services in America has been that of the social settlement house. Settlement houses in the United States began in the late 1800s and were modeled after Toynbee Hall, founded in England in 1884 by Samuel Barnett. Many settlement houses were established in cities across the country, including Chicago’s Hull House, started by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889.

The settlement house movement, which combined social advocacy and social services, was a response to the social disorganization that resulted from widespread industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. Through group work and neighborhood organizing strategies, the settlement house workers established neighborhood centers and offered services such as citizenship training, adult education, counseling, recreation, and daycare.

The settlement house workers were young, idealistic college graduates from wealthy families who lived among the poor as “settlers” and thereby experienced the harsh realities. For the most part, they were volunteers and community leaders and not employed social work professionals.

The settlement house leaders believed that by changing neighborhoods they can improve communities and by changing communities they can develop a better society. The seeds of social work methods, namely, Group Work, Social Action, and Community Organization, were thus sown in the settlement house movement.

3.      Child Welfare Movement

The Children’s Aid Society (1853) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (1875) which began in New York City formed the basic elements of a child welfare movement. However, the beginnings of the Child Welfare movement can be traced back to 1729 when the Ursuline sisters established an institution in New Orleans for children of parents massacred by Indians.

The child welfare agencies had limited aims. They were basically concerned with “rescuing” children from inadequate homes or from the streets and finding them wholesome living situations. Once their goals were accomplished, the agencies considered their job to be over.

(Source: Emergence of Social Work Abroad)

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