Academic journal article Social Work

Will the "Real' Social Work Please Stand Up? A Call to Stand for Professional Unity

Academic journal article Social Work

Will the "Real' Social Work Please Stand Up? A Call to Stand for Professional Unity

Article excerpt

The critical test of social justice must be measured from the point of view of the least among us." The social work profession is unique in permitting us the advantage of seeing that view and hearing those voices, which is both our challenge and our opportunity. Only as we revive within the profession a greater concern for and capability of working with the least among us can we make a distinctive contribution (White, 1994). As professional social work educators and practitioners, we can be among the voices of social leadership that will inspire the next generation of students to altruism to build a just society for the 21st century. Wakefield (1988, 1993) contended that the social justice mission of social work is a unique characteristic that separates it from other professions and that one of the responsibilities of social work is to serve as the "altruistic conscience" of society. It is the bringing together of altruism and social justice that distinguishes the social work profession.

Social work has its roots in the altruism of the charity workers of the Charity Organization Society (COS); social justice is grounded in the tradition of the Settlement House movement. These ideological concepts have been set artificially at odds from the beginning of the profession. We argue that a continued focus on one set of principles over the other will continue to divide the profession. The vision for our future social work contribution rests on reconciling our historic dualities. We issue a call for social work to stand for professional unity: to stand against professional fragmentation, to stand for service to the "least among us," to stand for diversifying our professional work force, and to stand for community engagement.

Duality of Principles

Professional social work is derived from the merger of the COS and the Settlement House movements. Each movement was distinct from the other in its principles and vision for a caring and just society.

Charity Organization Society Movement

The COS was based on the principle of personal responsibility. The ideal of charity was to help individuals to help themselves and to encourage personal responsibility for one another. This was to be accomplished primarily through the mechanism of "friendly visiting." Friendly visiting emphasized the importance of firsthand personal contact with individuals and families. This one-to-one attention was believed to be the key to "stimulate, develop, and organize social consciousness" (Kusmer, 1973, p. 662). Through friendship, the "needy" would "gradually feel that at least one person in the world cares" (National Conference of Charities and Correction, 1881, p. 156).

COS principles were based in the belief that the voluntary method was preferable to public or government intervention. Any social effort that interfered with the personal bonds of humanity was eschewed. COS leaders feared that public assistance would undermine "development of the charitable spirit," and would relieve people of their "just responsibility" (Richmond, 1930, p. 134).

The COS movement also emphasized the principles of administration and efficient organization. The movement was referred to as "scientific philanthropy" based on a rational approach of investigation, cooperation, education, and coordination. This incorporation of science into charity provided an enlightened hope that poverty could be prevented. No longer did the COS accept the deterministic religious philosophy of having "the poor with you always." Charity workers firmly believed that the application of specific, transmissible methods and techniques could solve problems previously considered insoluble (Lloyd, 1971).

This "new charity," impassioned with optimism, had the vision of reconciling class divisions within society. Charity workers looked to a "caring" society where a sense of community would prevail, where rich and poor people would be linked together through "personal service. …

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