This entry examines why our nation’s Social Security system was built, what it does, and what must be done to maintain and improve this foundational system for current and future generations. After a discussion of the social insurance approach to economic security and its underlying principles and values, the evolution of America’s Social Security system is reviewed—beginning with the enactment of the Social Security Act of 1935, through its incremental development, to the changed politics of Social Security since the mid-1990s. Next, program benefits and financing are described and contemporary challenges and related policy options are identified, in terms of both the program’s projected shortfall and the public’s need for expanded retirement, disability, and survivorship protections. The entry concludes by noting that social workers have an important role to play in shaping Social Security’s future.
Eric R. Kingson, Dana Bell, and Sarah Shive
DeBrenna LaFa Agbényiga
As a profession, social workers must understand and work well within the realms of capacity development. This understanding is important because it provides a foundation for working at the micro and macro levels to engage communities, organizations, systems, and individuals. However, the complexity of capacity development has made it difficult for social workers to fully engage from this stance. This entry discusses the historical development of capacity development and building while linking it to social justice. It also provides a theoretical perspective and methods for understanding and utilizing capacity development and building in social-work practice.
Joyce E. Everett
Social work has long been involved in child foster care. Though its initial involvement de-emphasized the importance of infant–caregiver attachment, Bowlby’s theory of attachment is particularly relevant for child-welfare practice. This entry chronicles the history of child foster care and describes the evolution of legislation most pertinent for the provision of foster care. The characteristics of children in foster care since 2000 and the dynamic flow of children entering and exiting care are described. A brief account of foster care services and future trends in the field are highlighted.
Kirsten A. Grønbjerg
Of the 1.6 million tax-exempt organizations registered with the IRS in August 2016, about one fourth are human service nonprofits, including about 290,000 charities with about $230 billion in total combined revenues. In 2016, human service public charities (excluding private foundations) received an estimated $47 billion in charitable contributions. This represents 12% of all charitable contributions, according to the Giving USA Foundation, and is about 21% of the combined revenues reported by the more than a quarter million registered human service public charities. While government funding is a major driving force for human service charities, philanthropic funding clearly is important as well. Securing such funding requires solid understanding of the fundraising process and dedicated time and effort, however. Moreover, competition for donations (and fundraising expertise) appear to be growing across the board, with donations from individuals, United Way, and corporate contributions most at risk for human service charities.
Food insecurity and hunger are serious problems around the world, with an estimated 870 million people chronically undernourished. The vast majority of these people—an estimated 14.9%—live in developing countries. Although federal food and nutrition assistance programs and the generally high standard of living in the United States have eliminated the more extreme forms of hunger found in developing countries, less severe but nonetheless serious forms of hunger and food insecurity affect millions of households. Food and nutrition programs require adequate funding, increased access, and further evaluation, but to achieve the goals of ending hunger and assuring food security for all, multisectoral strategies that address the macro-level determinants of food security are needed.
Cheryl L. Franks and Marion Riedel
Privilege is the invisible advantage and resultant unearned benefits afforded to dominant groups of people because of a variety of sociodemographic traits. Privilege provides economic and social boosts to dominant groups while supporting the structural barriers to other groups imposed by prejudice. Social work education and practice seldom challenges us to evaluate the effects of privilege on our professional relationships and the concomitant systems of oppression that marginalize many of the groups we work with. Privilege nurtures dependence, distances us from others, and creates a barrier to reflective social work practice. Acknowledging the effects of privilege increases our capacity to affirm our humanity and that of the communities we serve.
Philip R. Popple
Formal or institutional social services began in the United States in the late 19th century as a response to problems that were rapidly increasing as a result of modernization. These services were almost entirely private until the Great Depression in the 1930s when the government became involved via provisions of the Social Security Act. Services expanded greatly, beginning in the 1960s when the federal government developed a system wherein services were supported by public funds but provided through contracts with private agencies. This trend has continued and expanded, resulting in a uniquely American system wherein private agencies serve as vehicles for government social service policy.
Understanding both public and private welfare expenditures is necessary to appreciate the full scope of a social welfare system. This entry examines spending in four major areas of social welfare policy (health, medical, and nutrition; retirement and disability insurance; income maintenance and welfare; and education), comparing the public and private sectors. While expenditures for both sectors are increasing, private expenditures are not increasing as a percentage of total costs, despite efforts to privatize social welfare. This may change in the future if military costs continue to siphon governmental costs away from social welfare expenditures.