What is Social Work?

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What is Social Work?

Social Work is a helping profession. Professional social work practice may intervene to:

  • enhance developmental, problem solving and coping capacities of people and systems;
  • promote effective and humane operation of systems that provide resources and service to people;
  • link people to systems that provide them with resources, services and opportunities; and
  • contribute to development and improvement of social policy.

What is the history of Social Work?

Social work began in the mid-nineteenth century with the efforts of charity workers. These workers tried to help the victims of poverty created by the industrial revolution to meet their basic needs.

By the turn of the century, the scientific method was applied to the social problems of the post-industrial society. As a result, social case work emerged as a new way of understanding and assisting victims of poverty. This method outlined the importance of viewing each individual in terms of their relationships and environment.

Along with the development of preliminary social work theory, the first school of social work in Canada was established at the University of Toronto in 1914.

As a consequence of widespread poverty experienced during the Great Depression, governments recognized that poverty was not an individual's private trouble, but rather, a public issue. Such recognition lead to the development of universal and specialized social programs which are the foundation of our modern welfare state.

Since that time, the social work profession has expanded considerably in terms of size and diversity of practice to meet the needs of a rapidly changing society.

View the PDF "What in the world is Social Work".


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