Social work is a profession that began its life as a call to help the poor, the destitute and the disenfranchised of a rapidly changing social order. It continues today still pursuing that quest, perhaps with some occasional deviations of direction from the original spirit. Social work practice is the primary means of achieving the profession's ends. It is impossible to overstate the centrality or the importance of social work practice to the profession of social work. Much of what is important about the history of the profession is the history of social work practice. We must consider both social work practice per se (the knowledge base, practice theories and techniques) and the context for social work practice. The context of practice includes the agency setting, the policy framework and the large social system in which practice takes place. Social work practice is created within a political, social, cultural and economic matrix that shapes the assumptions of practice, the problems that practice must deal with and the preferred outcomes of practice. Over time, the base forces that create practice and create the context for practice, change. Midgley (1981) correctly notes that practice created in one social order is often inappropriate for work in another social order. Since the social order changes over time, practice created at one point in time may no longer be appropriate in the future.
John G. McNutt
Halaevalu F. O. Vakalahi, Michael M. Sinclair, and Bradford W. Sheafor
Professions are developed and maintained through various professional organizations and associations. As social work has evolved in terms of context and content, the professional membership and professional education organizations have periodically unified, separated, and later reunified in the attempt to maintain an identity as a single profession, yet responding to the needs and interests of different practice specialties, educational levels, special interest groups within social work, and diverse cultures and communities. Further discussion of the major organizations and associations in the profession of social work recognizes the continuous important contributions of emerging groups and entities that represent the diversity that exists in the profession.
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.