The Politics of Child Support in America

By Jocelyn Elise Crowley | Go to book overview

4
Social Workers as Challenger Entrepreneurs

At the turn of the century, a newly evolving profession–the social workers–began advocating on behalf of a completely revolutionary approach to child support enforcement. In doing so, they entirely overturned the conventional wisdom of the private charity workers and law enforcement personnel who had come before them. According to the social workers, families did not necessarily need to be reunited; in fact, in cases of physical, emotional, or substance abuse, family unification would be a harmful outcome. Of course, by making this argument, they placed themselves at the center of the policy solution. According to their new perspective, instead of focusing on rehabilitating fathers, social workers would champion the cause of single mothers. Women needed as much help as possible in raising their children, including education, day care, and job training. And since these were such enormous tasks, private charities could not do the job alone. The federal government needed to step in with a massive infusion of aid to get these women back on their feet. The only question was when these social workers could make their move and pitch their agenda effectively to the American public, and they found their opportunity during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations.

This chapter proceeds as follows. The first section presents the major rent-seeking position of the social work profession–that is, the profession's emphasis on providing goods and services to single mothers as “child support” rather than on trying to locate absentee fathers. The second section then discusses the risk-reduction strategies used by the social workers to gain an edge on their entrepreneurial competitors. It focuses on the ways in which their cooperative strategies–such as building a uniform professional organization, creating educational standards, and

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