Social Work with Children

social work

social work, organized effort to help individuals and families to adjust themselves to the community, as well as to adapt the community to the needs of such persons and families.

Modern Social Work

Modern social work employs three methods of assistance: case work, group work, and community organization. Case work is the method by which individual persons and families are assisted. The person in need of case work may be physically, mentally, or socially handicapped. Among those regarded as socially handicapped are: the unemployed, the homeless, members of broken families, alcoholics, drug addicts, and neglected or problem children. To determine the cause of maladjustment, the social worker must understand individual psychology as well as the sociology of the community. Physicians, psychiatrists, and other specialists may be required to help diagnose the difficulty.

Social group work is exemplified by the social settlement, the supervised playground and gymnasium, and the classroom, where handicrafts may be learned. The community may be called upon to provide the buildings and grounds for such activities; often the services of volunteers and of public groups are utilized; in recent years people living in poverty areas have been employed to work in and direct poverty projects in their own communities.

Through community organization the welfare work of single agencies as well as of whole communities is directed, cooperation between public and private agencies is secured, and funds are raised and administered. The funds required by private agencies are often pooled in a community chest, from which each agency receives a share. Community welfare councils are organized to map programs of rehabilitation, to eliminate duplication of services, and to discover and meet overlooked needs.

The Development of Social Work

Social work emerged as a profession out of the early efforts of churches and philanthropic groups to relieve the effects of poverty, to bring the comforts of religion to the poor, to promote temperance and encourage thrift, to care for children, the sick, and the aged, and to correct the delinquent. Orphanages and homes for the elderly were typical results of these activities. The word charity best describes the early activities, which were aimed at the piecemeal alleviation of particular maladjustments. In such charitable work the principal criterion in determining aid to families was worthiness, while the emphasis in later social work was on restoring individuals to normal life both for their own sake and for the sake of the community.

The first attempts to solve the problem of poverty in a modern scientific way was made by P. G. F. Le Play, who in the 1850s made a detailed study of the budgets of hundreds of French workers' families. Forty years later Charles Booth investigated wages and prices, working conditions, housing and health, standards of living, and leisure activities among the poor of London and revealed the extreme poverty of a third of the population. Booth's social survey became a method for determining the extent of social maladjustment, and through surveys in other cities in Europe and the United States a vast number of facts were accumulated, and methods were developed that provided the basis for modern social work.

In 1874 the National Conference of Charities and Correction (now called the National Conference on Social Welfare) was organized in the United States. Public relief and private philanthropic effort remained largely matters of local and state concern until after 1930, when the federal government entered the field of social work on a large scale to cope with the effects of the Great Depression. Resources were made available, the number of social workers was greatly increased, and it became necessary to coordinate public and private activities. Social work has been steadily professionalized, and special graduate schools as well as departments in universities have been established to train social workers. By 1999 there were 377 accredited undergraduate schools of social work in the United States.


See I. A. Spergel, Community Problem Solving (1969); R. E. Smith and D. Zietz, American Social Welfare Institutions (1970); W. C. Richan and A. R. Mendelsohn, Social Work (1973).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Social Work with Children and Their Families: Pragmatic Foundations
Christopher G. Petr.
Oxford University Press, 2003 (2nd edition)
Remaking Social Work with Children and Families: A Critical Discussion on the "Modernisation" of Social Care
Paul Michael Garrett.
Routledge, 2003
Children, Social Science, and the Law
Bette L. Bottoms; Margaret Bull Kovera; Bradley D. McAuliff.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Helping in Child Protective Services: A Competency-Based Casework Handbook
Charmaine Brittain; Deborah Esquibel Hunt.
Oxford University Press, 2004 (2nd edition)
Burnout in Social Workers Treating Children as Related to Demographic Characteristics, Work Environment, and Social Support
Hamama, Liat.
Social Work Research, Vol. 36, No. 2, June 2012
Children in Groups: A Social Work Perspective
Marian F. Fatout.
Auburn House, 1996
Social Work Early Intervention for Young Children with Developmental Disabilities
Malone, D. Michael; McKinsey, Patrick D.; Thyer, Bruce A.; Straka, Elizabeth.
Health and Social Work, Vol. 25, No. 3, August 2000
Research on Foster Children: A Role for Social Work
Gustavsson, Nora S.; MacEachron, Ann E.
Social Work, Vol. 52, No. 1, January 2007
Social Work Practice with Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans: Guidelines for Practice with Children and Youths
Yardley, Meg.
Social Work, Vol. 53, No. 4, October 2008
Child Welfare Workers: An Innovative Approach for Interacting with Secondary Trauma
Dane, Barbara.
Journal of Social Work Education, Vol. 36, No. 1, Winter 2000
The Child -Centered Social Worker and the Sexually Abused Child: Pathway to Healing
Anderson, Lorie Elizabeth; Weston, Elisabeth A.; Doueck, Howard J.; Krause, Denise J.
Social Work, Vol. 47, No. 4, October 2002
Maltreated Children's Thoughts and Emotions as Behavioral Predictors: Evidence for Social Work Action
Maschi, Tina; Morgen, Keith; Hatcher, Schnavia Smith; Rosato, Nancy Scotto; Violette, Nancy M.
Social Work, Vol. 54, No. 2, April 2009
Social Work Practice with Families and Children
Anthony N. Maluccio; Barbara A. Pine; Elizabeth M. Tracy.
Columbia University Press, 2002
Social Work Intervention and Failure to Thrive in Infants and Children
Marino, Rachel; Weinman, Maxine L.; Soudelier, Kristen.
Health and Social Work, Vol. 26, No. 2, May 2001
Handbook of Social Work Practice with Vulnerable and Resilient Populations
Alex Gitterman.
Columbia University Press, 2001 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 13 "Child Abuse and Neglect" and Chap. 14 "Children in Foster Care"
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