Evolution of social work in developed countries

The idea of charity as practiced in social work dates back to ancient times.

The practice of providing for the poor is found in most major world religions. However, the practice and profession of social work in the scientific sense has a recent origin.

In Europe, charity was considered to be a responsibility and a sign of one’s godliness. It was originally in the form of direct relief to the less fortunate e.g. giving food, clothes or money.

In England, a law was even developed specifically for the poor. This law provided for remedies for the less fortunate.

The 19th century brought with a leap in science and technology which led to migration of people from rural to urban areas. This resulted into many social problems that culminated into an increase in social activism.

During this time, some missionaries got assistance especially from protestant denominations to work in urban areas to try and solve problems. They worked especially through direct relief to alleviate these problems.

Around the same time, Rescue Society came up with attempts to find means for self help.

Mental counselors also came up to care for mentally ill in many urban areas.

Another movement called the settlement Movement also came up and focused on the causes of poverty through the 3Rs of Research, Reforms and Residence. They provided the poor with educational, legal and health services.

In the 20th C, volunteers including university students undertook social work especially in cities.

The Community Association Movement began operating in the period between the 1st and 2nd world wars.

It helped to bring about National Voluntary Organizations, churches, political parties, groups and the general public together.

In the USA, social work began with relief which mainly involved giving of alms to the poor. This was followed by the Charity Organization Society which began work around 1973. It coordinated and worked with organizations which provided for the needs of the poor and desperate.

The majority of these organizations worked with orphans and street families.

Latter, there was a change from reliance on the efforts of volunteers to provide services to reliance on professionals paid by agencies.

Community Welfare Councils were also started by charity organizations to raise funds, plan and coordinate welfare work.

In the USA, the government later took the responsibility of social welfare and became the main planner, promoter and coordination of welfare programs.


The Evolution of Social work in Developing countries – Kenya

During the early years of colonization, Britain entrusted the provision of most social services to missionaries.

During this period, the colonial government was basically concerned with the provision and enforcement of law and order.

Missions received grants for the support of social welfare. This approach tended to benefit individuals instead of wider communities.

This necessitated the development of a new approach termed as mass education.

This may be traced back to Phelps Stokes report 1922.

The government was compelled by this report to initiate community improvement schemed through the Department of Social Welfare.

From there on, social work developed in Kenya as indicated by the following milestones:

  1. Establishment of social welfare halls, mainly funded by local authorities, where literacy classes and recreation activities were carried out.
  2. The training institutions e.g. Jeans schools Maseno and Kabete were established from training social workers
  3. Pilot welfare schemes were started where social work was done on an intensive scale

Up to this time, women were still the most commonly involved in social work activities. From 1954, the social welfare organization became part of the Ministry of Social Development.

Social halls were established to provide literacy lessons, sports, film shows and meeting rooms for groups etc. They were managed by Community Development Assistants.

Functional theory (Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim)

This theories viewed society as a set of interrelated parts that work together to produce a stable social system.

According to them, society is held together through consensus (agreement). That people agree on what is best for society and work together to ensure that the system runs smoothly to achieve the best for society.

The society has elements that work for the maintenance of the society. These are viewed in terms of their functions called positive consequences.

Functionalist recognized that not everything happening in the society is functional.

Dysfunctional elements have negative consequences for stability e.g. wars, conflicts, prostitution etc. they destabilize the society rather than stabilize it.

Functionalists also see the universe as a system of interconnected parts. They sometime use an organist analogue of organisms like human beings to explain this. To them the human body (social system) has various parts (organs). It follows then that for a system to survive, its various parts must have some degree of order or compatibility.

Functionalist theory is also called consensus theory. This implies that a certain degree of order and stability are essential to a system. It implies also that there must be norms and values to guide members of any social system.


Conflict theory (Max Weber and Karl Max)

The theory sees social life as being full of tension and conflict among members of the society. It focuses on forces in the society that promote competition and change and is interested in how those who have power exercises the power and control the people with less power.

According to them, since resources are in limited supply, people will compete for them. Once a particular group gains control over the scarce resources, they tend to establish rules and regulations to protect their interests at the expense of other groups.

This inequality between groups leads to social conflict as those with less power attempt to gain access to the desired resources while those with power resist.

Conflict theorists do not limit their attention to acts of violent competition but are also interested in non-violent competition within various groups in the society e.g. men and women, people within different ages, races, ethnic groups, religions etc.

Conflicts generally lead to social change as inevitable features of societies.


Humanistic existential theory

The theory focuses on the self which translates into “you” and “Your” perception of “your experience”. The main issues here are those to do with self – esteem self – fulfillment and self – needs.

It postulates that human beings are free to choose their behaviour rather than reacting to environmental stimulus.

The humanistic approach began in response to the concerns of psychotherapists. They were against the perceived nature of society especially the psycho-dynamic in society.

The main theorists associated with this theory are Carl Rodgers and Abraham Maslow. They felt that the existing theories failed to address the meaning of behaviour and the result of their concerns was a fundamentally new approach.

Carl Rodgers

He felt that each person operates from a unique point of reference known as self concept. Self concept is one’s belief about him / herself.

He believed in experience and doubted the existence of any universal truth. He was even more skeptical if one could know at all if it even exists. The only reality we can know for sure according to him is our own personal experience.

He claimed that a healthy development depends on how individuals perceive their being.  A healthy individual may see their being in terms of congruence or harmony between who they are and who they feel they should be. That while we may tend to experience perfect congruence, the relative degree of congruence is an indicator of mental health

He claimed that congruence (similarity) and conditioned positive regard for interpersonal relationships. Without them, relationships may stall but when present closeness may develop.


Abraham Maslow

He is highly regarded as the founder of the humanistic approach.

He is best known for his interest in applying psychological principles in attempts to understand human behaviour. He emphasized motivation as the key to understanding human behaviour, that individuals have needs that must be met in hierarchical order from the lowest to the highest; basic needs and ultimately self actualization. Human beings generally behave according to the need they are trying to meet at any point in time.

Human’s needs may be broadly categorized into two:

  1. Primary needs (physiological needs) e.g. sleep, sex, shelter, food, water. They are all primary needs because they arise as basic needs.
  2. Secondary needs (social and physiological needs) e.g. safety, sense of belonging, love, self-actualization etc. which develops as one matures.

Maslow in studying human behaviour concluded that man’s needs depend on what he already has. For this reason, satisfied needs do not motivate behaviour.

The psycho-analytic social theory

Sigmund Freud

He provided a new approach to the analysis and treatment of abnormal human behaviour.

Earlier views tended to ignore behaviour and looked elsewhere for the explanation of abnormality. Freud’s approach recognizes the neurotic behaviour is not random or meaningless. By looking for the purpose of abnormal behaviour pattern, one can understand the behaviour and its meaning.

He claimed that all human beings are born with a natural tendency to satisfy their biologically determined needs e.g. shelter, clothing and food.

The satisfaction of these needs is practical, psychological and social. Thus when the child is suckling at the mother’s breast and he / she discovers the pleasure of this activity and the first signs of sexuality are awakened.

The infant discovers an erotogenetic zone (month) which may be reactivated latter in life through thumb suckling or kissing.

This theory is based on the assumption that social and cultural conditioned especially in childhood are responsible for shaping personality. For example, people who do not get love and affection in childhood develop basic hostility towards their parents later in life.

People generally combat basic anxiety by adopting one of the following basic styles (also called neurotic trends) of relating to others.

  1. Moving towards people (friendly)
  2. Moving against people (violent)
  3. Moving away from people (solitary)

Most normal people use a combination of these trends in relating to others but neurotics are compelled to rely on only one.

Karen Horney

Karen dwelt majorly on cultural beliefs instead of anatomy for understanding the difference between men and women and that culture has a great influence in shaping human personality.

Culture over-emphasizes competition among individuals and the Basic Hostility that emerges results in isolation. These feelings of being alone in a potentially hostile world intensify the need for affection causing people to over value love.

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