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Article

Diana M. DiNitto and David H. Johnson

Social welfare policy may be defined as government’s response to human needs such as food, housing, healthcare, employment, and other necessities. Many contemporary U.S. social welfare policies have roots in the New Deal programs of the 1930s, which were responses to the Great Depression. The civil unrest of the 1960s, the “Great Recession” of 2008, and the COVID-19 pandemic also brought about major policy responses. There are basic philosophical differences in approaches that Americans believe the United States should take to meeting human needs, often described in liberal and conservative perspectives. Social insurance and public assistance programs are major responses to poverty and other needs. Disparities based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other factors may also be addressed through social welfare policies, sometimes in the form of civil rights legislation. Racism and other forms of systemic discrimination, however, continue to prevent many Americans from reaping the benefits that others enjoy. The National Association of Social Workers’ code of ethics calls for social workers’ political involvement. Social workers participate in all aspects of policy processes to improve the biopsychosocial well-being of Americans and people across the globe.

Article

Heather A. Walter-McCabe

This article describes the complex healthcare policy and financing systems in the US within a historic and political context for how the US arrived at these systems. It also provides an overview of frameworks useful for articulating how social work may have an increased influence on policies impacting the healthcare system along with specific arenas ripe for social work interventions towards healthcare system improvements. Social workers have the obligation, through the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, and the requisite skills, to participate in the healthcare policy process ensuring that they not only have a place at policy making tables, but that members of communities impacted by these policies have an opportunity to assist in setting the healthcare policy agenda and programs to best serve them.

Article

Andrew Dobelstein

Privatizing social services has taken a new turn as America enters the 21st century. Although it was once possible to separate private and public social services, the growing trend toward public–private partnerships has made such earlier distinctions meaningless since more and more private social services are supported with public money. There are advantages and disadvantages inherent in the mixing of public and private social services, but perhaps the greatest problem may be the support of a growing trend for all levels of government to dissociate themselves from their longstanding public social service responsibilities.

Article

Richard Hoefer

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.

Article

Between 1950 and 1980, the United States developed a welfare state that in many ways was comparable to those of other advanced industrial nations. Building on its New Deal roots, the Social Security system came to provide a “social wage” to older Americans, people with disability, and the dependents of deceased workers. It created a health-care insurance system for the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. Using the tax system in innovative ways, the government encouraged the expansion of pension and health-care protection for a majority of workers and their families. By 1980, some Americans could argue that their identification as a “laggard” in the field of social provision was no longer justified.

Article

North America is one of the world's richest regions, and both the United States and Canada are ranked in the top 10 of the United Nations Human Development Index. However, poverty and inequality, and in particular, child poverty continues to be a significant problem. Social workers in both countries provide a wide array of human services to a range of populations. Social work has developed into a mature profession but is currently struggling to meet the increasing demand for its services.

Article

Iris Carlton-LaNey

This entry traces American social welfare development from the 1890s to 1950. It also includes social work's participation and response to need during two critical times in American history: the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Social reformers were instrumental in the development of social legislation, including the establishment of the Children's Bureau as well as the development of a public welfare system at the state level. America's response to human suffering left many groups, such American Indians, African Americans, and Asians, marginalized. In response, African Americans established a parallel system of private relief through organizations such as the National Urban League, unlike the other racial groups.

Article

David Stoesz and Catherine Born

American social and economic justice advocates, social workers included, have struggled to establish a national mindset that welfare is a right, a duty owed to the people by government, not a privilege that can be revoked at will. Industrialized nations with a universalistic, rights-based philosophy have strived to provide citizens with some measure of a basic, minimum income; the United States has not, yet. The United States has been hobbled by ideology; a two-tier system consisting of assistance and insurance; and cultural misgivings about direct, ongoing public payments (welfare) to the poor. Revitalization of a national welfare rights movement, early signals from the Biden administration, and awareness that major social policy changes most often happen at times of crisis offer reasons for a degree of optimism. The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath are a moment in time—an inflection point—when social workers, because of their training, ethical codes, skill sets, and appreciation of the lessons of social welfare history, could play a key role in charting a new course of action suited to 21st-century needs and realities.

Article

Asia contains more than 60% of the world’s population and is the fastest growing economic region. However, it faces challenges, including poverty, HIV and AIDS, and human rights concerns. In the midst of rapid changes in the social–political context, social workers and welfare organizations are making a significant contribution in addressing these challenges and improving social well-being in the region by broadening indigenous social networks to incorporate private, public, and community interventions.

Article

Elise Verdooner

Globalization is the key social, economic, political, and cultural process of our time with widespread impact and implications. From early migration and sharing of cultures over years of movement to the instantaneous sharing of information over the internet with the click of a button, globalization has influenced every aspect of our lives and our histories. This entry defines globalization, provides a brief history of its dynamic processes, summarizes its complex and contradictory correlates and consequences, and offers, from a social work point of view, a balanced assessment of this powerful multidimensional process that is sweeping the contemporary world. Concluding with a discussion of the implications for social workers.

Article

Alexis P. Tsoukalas

America’s individualistic national identity and regressive tax systems that favor corporations and the wealthy over everyday people have increasingly exacerbated inequality. Meanwhile, social welfare needs continue to outpace the resources governments employ to address them. While fiscal issues can be complex and opaque, holding governments accountable is imperative to counter long-standing oppression of those identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), women, immigrants, and others. How state governments, in particular, raise and expend revenue has a dramatic effect on the public, especially as the federal government continues to decentralize social welfare to the states. Social workers are uniquely equipped to influence this arena, given their person-in-environment view and having borne witness to the numerous ways misguided priorities have severely harmed those they are called to serve.

Article

Hilary N. Weaver

First Nations Peoples, the original inhabitants of what is now the United States, are a diverse and growing population. There are approximately 5.2 million First Nations Peoples within the boundaries of the United States. First Nations Peoples tend to be younger, poorer, and less educated than others in the United States. The contemporary issues faced by these Peoples are intimately intertwined with the history of colonization and federal policies that perpetuate dependency and undermine self-determination. Social workers must overcome the negative history of their profession with First Nations Peoples, in particular social work involvement in extensive child removals and coercive sterilization of Indigenous women. Social workers have the power and ability to make important differences in enhancing the social, economic, and health status of First Nations Peoples, but this must begin with an awareness of their own attitudes and beliefs, as well as an awareness of how social workers have contributed to, rather than worked to alleviate, the problems of First Nations Peoples.

Article

Africa is one of the world's poorest regions and it faces numerous and complex challenges as it strives to achieve its development objectives. The main challenges relate to poverty and its alleviation, economic growth, democratization leading to political stability, improving social welfare, and generally creating a just and equitable society. The resolution of these issues is critical to social work if the profession is to make an impact.

Article

The social, political, and economic features of Central America are summarized and the impact of economic and political processes on the region is highlighted. Predominant global, historical, cultural, and political events are weaved together, in an attempt to understand the realities of the region. The challenges for social work profession and practice are presented, as well as their implications for new approaches to intervention and education.

Article

North African and Middle Eastern nations have an 80-year history with social work, based on colonial, imported models of practice. There is some success in localizing social work to immediate communities. Social welfare tends to be instrumental, selective, and not comprehensive. Colonialism has hurt political institutions; and geopolitical conflicts, socioeconomic inequality, poverty, and political repression also influence parameters of social work and social change.

Article

Europe includes not only some of the most economically and socially developed countries in the world but also some of the poorest. Social work as a profession has been well established for over 100 years within a variety of social welfare models; the countries in Central and Eastern Europe have re-established social work since the 1990s. The financial crisis of 2007/2008 and its aftermath, followed by the challenges of migration from war zones and Africa, have had a significant impact on the politics and social policy of the region and the resources available for social services and social work in most countries. These events are provoking a re-evaluation of the European Social Model. Some argue that they have also fueled the rise in electoral support for far right, nationalist, anti-immigration, and populist parties, seen also in other continents. The decision of the United Kingdom to break away from the EU, following a referendum in 2016, and the increase in support for anti-EU parties in other countries are having a profound social and political impact across the region.

Article

Robert Fisher, Michael Fabricant, and Lukas Champagne

Settlement houses are one prism through which the contested history of macro social work can be viewed. The early settlements spearheaded social reform while building community solidarity. Historic shifts in the political economy changed the work of settlements, particularly the development of neighborhood houses. The dynamic interplay in the past decades between the corporatization of not-for-profit culture, shrinking government funding, and a redefinition of settlement services have particularly affected settlement work. The traditional view of settlements and neighborhood centers, that located people of color, especially Black people who addressed structural barriers and offered transformative solutions, outside its gaze has missed a good deal of history. Needless to say, this is not meant to be an all-inclusive listing of resources and readings nor the last word on settlement macro practice and macro challenges.

Article

The Caribbean is a multiethnic, multilingual archipelago of islands and mainland territories, with similar experiences of European colonialism and modern-day globalization. The countries generally enjoy stable political systems but grapple with many of the problems experienced by countries elsewhere. These include vulnerability to natural disasters, migration, violence, and drug abuse. Lifestyle diseases such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease are on the increase, and the region is second only to sub-Saharan Africa in the prevalence of HIV and AIDS. In the English-speaking Caribbean, social work is well established, and social service provisioning is modeled on the traditional welfare state approach. A few countries have achieved universal levels of social service delivery.

Article

Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand are among the world's most liveable countries, despite the increase in relative poverty and the negative effect of past policies on indigenous populations. Social work is well established and is social-justice oriented. Social work is an emerging profession in the Pacific Islands, where economic and social potential is often hampered by political instability and a lack of sustainable economic management, rapid urbanization, and unemployment.

Article

John Paul Horn, Emily Bruce, and Toni Naccarato

In the United States, the child welfare system is composed of multiple services to keep children safe, either by strengthening family units, preventing maltreatment, or providing alternative care arrangements for children who are unable to safely remain at home. These services include child protection, family support and maintenance programs, reunification, and out-of-home care. Some children return safely to their families, but other children might never return home. Services for these youth might include adoption, guardianship, and/or transitional planning for youth exiting foster care to adulthood. Case-carrying social workers hold responsibility for assessing the case, making recommendations to the court, and preparing reports for parents, court officers, and sometimes for dependent children (based on their age). These individuals are professional social workers with graduate degrees in social work. Case aids or case assistants often provide support services for the case-carrying social worker.