The History of Social Work in the Caribbean

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Social work and Social Welfare has been with us from as far back as the 1600's and it has always been, and has continued to be a response to human needs. In order to understand its historical development, it is necessary to examine the significant factors, which has influenced its evolution. It can be said however that factors such as the establishment of the Elizabethan poor laws, the emancipation of slavery and the social unrest which resulted in the 1937 riots, played a momentous role in the development of social work and social welfare. This was evident throughout the Caribbean since they share a common colonial history for a number of years, according to John Maxwell. For the purpose of this essay, specific focus will be on two of its English speaking countries namely Barbados and Guyana.

Compton and Gallaway (1990) defined Social welfare as "an organized set of norms and institutions through which we carry out our collective responsibilities to meet needs." In unison, Zastrow (2000) noted that the goals of social welfare were to "fulfil the financial, health, and recreational requirements of all individuals in a society." This also included the enhancement of social functioning of all age and class groups.

Social work can be considered as an applied science of helping people achieve an effective level of psychosocial functioning. The National Association Of Social Workers (NASW) makes the definition even more precise when they refer to it as a way "to enhance human well being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty."

It can therefore be said that social welfare encompassed social work and that they are primarily similar at the level of practice. Skidmore et al (1991, .p. 4) reinforced this key point by noting, "social services came first, and the methods of social work developed out of social welfare."

The earliest forms of social services were provided by the church and the family. However, according to Zastrow (2000), "the middle ages, famines, wars, crop failures, pestilence and the break down of the feudal system all contributed to the substantial increases in the number of people in need." This assistance provided by the church and family members was inadequate in that it could not meet the needs of all these individuals. As a result, many were forced to resort to begging. In order to alleviate this social problem, England had passed a number of Poor Laws between the mid 1300s and the mid 1800s which were adopted by English colonies such as Barbados and Guyana. It should be noted however that these laws were not established due to the declining social conditions but as a result of the ruling class annoyance with the begging. The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 proved to be the most significant of these Acts. The law provided that local parishes were responsible for they poor (those who had legal residence in the parish), who would be subsidized by the taxes collected from within the parishes.

Under this law only three categories of persons were eligible for relief. These were according to Zastrow the able-bodied poor, the impotent poor and dependant children.

In 1628 in Barbados, the Chief Governor, Sir William Tuften built churches and established vestries that strived to improve the attitudes of the masters towards the slaves. Willoughby ( ) noted, "they were no public provisions to meet the social welfare needs of the slaves prior to their emancipation." Slaves were not included in the provisions because it was their master's responsibility to provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care for them. The slaves were considered as property and not human beings with needs.

By 1770 sick houses and workshops were establish for the workers and nurseries were provided for children. On recognizing the need, a free clinic for the sick was established in 1788 and in 1825...
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