History of Social Work

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The development of Social Work in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia has developed and evolved, influencing people and professionals across the world. Social Work has advanced through welfare policies and programs with significant historical changes occurring and a shift in religious and political views allowing these changes to benefit members of society and address social issues. Key events such as the Elizabethan Poor Law, the industrial revolution, the first charity organised society (COS) and the settlement movement were established mainly in the United Kingdom however similar models were then adapted in the United States and Australia. Pioneering members of society helped advocate for human rights, social reform movements and actuate formal academic training in becoming a qualified Social Worker. Social Work has evolved in to the profession it is today influenced by some of the events mentioned in the purpose to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of an individual or group through education, community organizing, direct practice and social policies with many concepts that started years ago, still relevant and practiced today.

The Elizabethan Poor Law was first established in England, 1601 and was designed to set a standard of rules to determine who in society was “worthy poor and undeserving poor” (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2012, p. 34). Able bodied poor were placed in institutions, or workhouses and people were taxed to pay for this system while the disabled, elderly or sick were placed under their parishes care (Huff, n.d.). The second amendment in 1834 of the Poor Law saw the new act focus more on deterring the able bodied poor of relief by making the conditions of the workhouses harsh so only truly destitute members of society would apply. Australia did not introduce a poor law, however the definition of deserving poor and undeserving poor along with the assumptions and principles still applied. (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2012, p. 34) It was argued that poverty was a necessity in society and without, communities could not exist in a state of civilisation as without poverty there would be no labour, without labour there could be no riches and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth (Pennington, 2011).

From early 1700 to 1850 the Industrial Revolution saw overwhelming changes economically and socially. The migration from rural areas to urban led to wages being cut in farming areas while urban areas suffered with long formidable working conditions, poor pay, poor sanitation, no running water and cramped living condition due to people seeking work in the mass produced factories or mills. (Pierson, 2011) While this improved standards of living for some, it created dangerous working and living conditions for the poor and working classes, children were no exception. (Industrial Revolution , 2013) United Kingdom was the first to industrialize and stood alone in these issues. Poverty was seen as a “natural condition of the labouring poor” (Pennington, 2011). Society started to look at ways to aid the poor from the issues the revolution had created and this was when Social Work started to emerge among society.

Social Workers were previously known Almoners or “Friendly visitors” (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2012). Friendly visitors were from a middle to upper class family and were mainly woman that held Christian beliefs and were who made the decision based on the individual’s circumstance in who were deserving or non-deserving of support (Huff, p. 4). As religion was highly influential in society, parish based Charities began forming and the first Charity Organised Society (COS) started in England in 1840 (Pierson, 2011). Upper-class American Protestants often looked to England for models to use in approaching poverty and other social issues in the United States. The Benevolent Society was the first established in Australia, founded by Edward Smith in 1813 and was based on...
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