The charity organization of society

The charity organization of Society (COS) was a movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to improve the organization of social services and to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor. The COS aimed to apply scientific principles and methods to the problems of poverty and dependency and to foster cooperation and coordination among various charitable agencies and institutions. The COS also influenced the development of social welfare policy and practice until the 1930s and laid the foundations of the social work profession.

The origins of the COS can be traced back to the urbanization and industrialization that occurred in Western countries after the Civil War. These processes created new social and economic challenges, such as overcrowding, disease, unemployment, family breakdown, and crime. The existing systems of public relief and private charity were inadequate and inefficient to cope with these challenges. Moreover, there was a widespread belief that indiscriminate giving of relief or charity would only encourage pauperism and dependency among the poor, and undermine their moral character and work ethic.

The COS sought to reform the charitable sector by introducing a more scientific and rational approach to dealing with poverty and dependency. The COS advocated for a thorough investigation of each applicant for assistance, to determine the causes and circumstances of their situation, and to verify their aid eligibility. The COS also established a centralized registration bureau or clearinghouse, where information about each applicant and each agency or institution that provided assistance was recorded and shared. This was done to prevent duplication or overlapping of services and to ensure that each applicant received the most appropriate and effective form of assistance.

The COS also emphasized the importance of supervision and guidance for the recipients of aid, rather than simply providing material relief. The COS employed friendly visitors, usually middle-class women volunteers, who visited the homes of the poor regularly and offered them advice, moral support, education, and referrals to other resources. The friendly visitors acted as mentors and role models for the poor and tried to help them improve their living conditions, habits, skills, and attitudes. The COS believed that by offering friendly visiting, they could help the poor become more self-reliant and independent.

The COS also promoted the idea of cooperation and collaboration among various charitable agencies and institutions in a community. The COS organized conferences, committees, councils, and federations, where representatives from different organizations could exchange information, ideas, experiences, and best practices. The COS also encouraged the development of specialized agencies that could address specific needs or problems of the poor, such as health care, education, employment, housing, recreation, etc. The COS aimed to create a comprehensive and integrated system of social services that could meet the diverse and complex needs of the poor.

The COS had a significant impact on the evolution of social welfare policy and practice in Western countries. The COS influenced the formation of professional social work education and training programs, such as those established by Helen Bosanquet at Bedford College in London, or Mary Richmond at Columbia University in New York. The COS also contributed to the development of social casework as a method of social work practice, which involved assessing, planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating interventions for individual clients or families. The COS also inspired the creation of community chests or councils that raised funds for various charitable causes in a community.

However, the COS also faced some criticisms and limitations. Some critics argued that the COS was too rigid and bureaucratic in its approach to dealing with poverty and dependency. Some critics also claimed that the COS was too moralistic and paternalistic in its attitude toward the poor. Some critics also challenged the validity and reliability of the scientific methods used by the COS. Moreover, some critics pointed out that the COS failed to address the structural causes of poverty and inequality in society. Some critics also suggested that the COS was too conservative and individualistic in its perspective on social welfare.

The COS declined in influence after the 1930s when new social welfare policies and programs were introduced by governments in response to the Great Depression. These policies and programs provided more universal and comprehensive forms of public assistance for the poor. However, some aspects of the COS legacy remain in contemporary social welfare systems. For example, some social workers still use casework as a method of practice. Some communities still have community chests or councils that support various charitable causes. Some social workers still value cooperation and coordination among different service providers. And some social workers still aim to help the poor become more self-reliant and independent.

The charity organization of society was a movement that tried to improve the organization of social services and to help the poor scientifically and rationally. The COS had a lasting impact on the development of social welfare policy and practice, but it also faced some challenges and criticisms. The COS was a pioneer in the field of social work, and its achievements and lessons can still inform and inspire social workers today.

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