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History of Social Work in the United States & Modern-Day Influences

by Tom
History of Social Work in the United States & Modern-Day Influences

Whether you are currently at high school, about to graduate from college, or even finished your further education some time ago, it can never do any harm to keep your proverbial eye out for new opportunities and ways to expand and improve your life, both in a personal and in a professional context. 

Social work is one of the most incredibly rewarding, yet conversely as intensely challenging career choices possible, both in equal measure and is much more of a vocational life choice than merely another job opportunity.

So, if you already have a vested interest in social work or else are simply looking for a new challenge and are interested in finding out more about the world of social work, then you have certainly come to the right place. Here, for your information and, of course, reading pleasure, is a history of the origins of social work and the main modern-day influences on the discipline. 

What Exactly is Social Work?

Essentially, the field referred to as social work encompasses both a practice-based and academic discipline that centers around individuals, families, and local communities to solve social problems, promote a heightened sense of social responsibility, and enhance the general social functioning of society.

Social work compromises a multitude of different duties, roles, and responsibilities, including, but in no way limited to, the following:

  • The considered provision of crisis intervention to both individuals and groups of people.
  • Participating in supervision, training, and meetings both within the smaller organization your work for and represent and on a larger scale.
  • Making referrals for clients and contacting services and agencies on their behalf.
  • Supporting clients and offering professional information, help, and guidance .
  • Gathering relevant information about and surrounding the individual client as well as conducting thorough professional assessments.
  • Offering counseling sessions and social work appointments both by telephone and during in-person treatment sessions.
  • Keeping on proverbial high alert for any and all signs and symptoms of child abuse.

As with every other professional vocation, there are certain skill sets and personality attributes that, while are not wholly mandatory to the pursuit of a career in social work, they would certainly be more than beneficial. 

Such qualities include the following:

  • The ability to communicate with a range of people from all walks of life.
  • A natural ability to listen and respond while portraying a sense of support and professional authority.
  • A high level and aptitude for patience, even in highly stressful and even sometimes distressing situations.
  • A strong working ethic and high levels of professional commitment.
  • An awareness of the importance of self-care and protecting your own levels of emotional health and wellbeing.
  • Good organizational skills and a natural aptitude for time management. 

The Beginnings of Social Work

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the origins of social work began not as a profession whereby individuals were paid for their services and expertise but rather on a volunteer basis instead.

Basically, individuals on this volunteer basis focused on addressing the fundamental social question: how to increase the quality of life in an ever-growing and prosperous country. Such individuals began these efforts way back in the mid to late nineteenth century in North America and several European countries.

Working for a better quality of life for all citizens and, more specifically, actively campaigning for social betterment became a paid profession in and around the turn of the century, and in 1930, social work was deemed to be a profession and officially recognized as one across the world.

Fascinating Facts about Social Work

  • Social workers can earn far more money than a lot of people think, and often, they are entirely in control of how much money they make, mainly as they can set their own working hours to fit around other professional and personal commitments.
  • The field of social work does involve working with a variety of different people from all walks of life and different situations, but crucially, this by no means results in a constant feeling of being emotionally drained. Quite the opposite, in fact, as social work can also be incredibly rewarding, especially when you have worked with and advocated for a particular client for so long and you begin to see positive results and changes.
  • It would be entirely inaccurate to say that social workers only work with disadvantaged and financially challenged people, and in actual fact, the modern-day social worker is involved in improving the lives of a myriad of different clients, both wealthy and poorer.
  • Social workers can now work in a wide range of different workplaces and environments, including policy divisions, children’s services, nonprofit agencies, family services, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, mental health clinics, private practices, and emergency rooms. 
  • Across the United States, one hundred and seventy-three social workers have been appointed to the position of public office holders as of 2021.
  • Social workers are the number one provider of mental health services and deliver approximately seventy percent of all mental health treatment and counseling, according to a 2021 report from the National Association of Social Workers.

How to Become a Social Worker in the United States

To become a professional and qualified social worker in the United States, it is mandatory to successfully acquire a bachelor’s undergraduate degree in social work, and in addition, strongly advised to continue your education in the field by pursuing a postgraduate master’s degree in social work as well. Additionally, you will also need to display proven experience in the field, either while studying or through a volunteer program. 

There is a myriad of reasons to train to become a social worker, including but not limited to the following:

  • To gain a strong and worldly perspective and improve your own attitude toward your life.
  • To experience a diverse range of challenges in your professional work.
  • To work with a myriad of different types of people from all walks of life.
  • To strengthen your levels of stress resistance.
  • To utilize your excellent communication skills.
  • To be able to work in a wide range of different working environments and situations.
  • To improve your skills at compromising.
  • To make yourself be considerably more adept at making policies.
  • To make a huge and genuine positive change in individual people’s lives.

Modern Day Influences on Social Work Today

As with every profession, regardless of the industry within which it operates, as time moves on, substantial and also less significant changes occur both to the job itself as well as to the people who work there.

Social work is absolutely no exception, and there has been a myriad of far-reaching and multi-faceted changes to the profession, including but in no way limited to the following:

  • Students who are training in the field of social work must now receive a far more realistic workload when conducting their work placements, both during their bachelor’s undergraduate degree and their postgraduate program. Additionally, they must also now receive detailed and appropriate supervision, support, a thorough induction, and proper access to the right resources.
  • All social work teachers, educators, and mentors, both on work placements as well as those who are tasked with helping newly qualified social workers, must ensure each and every student has both effective pastoral support as well as copious educational support.
  • The admission requirements for social work educational programs have also been significantly elevated, with the proverbial bar having been raised somewhat. Now, students must show huge potential for both a passion and dedication to social work as well as the skillsets to meet the required professional standards.

The Ongoing Influence of Covid-19 on Social Work

One of, if not the, most significant influence on the modern-day world of social work was, perhaps quite obviously, the outbreak of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic in 2022, which heavily changed the way social workers approached their professional role in the following ways to name just a few:

The overall mental health and wellbeing levels of professional social workers, both in the United States and intentionally, just as in other medical professions and frontline workers, have been proven to have significantly fallen over the last two years. 

A 2021 survey concluded that just under twenty percent of social workers had taken either a couple of days or else several months off work due to feelings of anxiety and stress during the pandemic. Additionally, sixty-nine percent had seriously worried about their own emotional health and wellbeing, and twenty-four percent have actively sought professional therapy or counseling due to their falling levels of positive mental health. 

Across the entirety of the United States, local and state councils and public officials employed 55,655 social workers in 2021, which was over two percent less than in 2019, meaning that people who had trained to become a social workers during this time found that there were no available jobs when they qualified.

Moreover, the overall vacancy rate for social workers working with adults increased for the first time in over seven years, moving from seven and a half percent to nine and a half percent. 

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