Historical evolution and History of social casework 

Last Updated on July 17, 2024 by Muzammil Ijaz

History of social casework

Historical evolution of social casework Social casework is a method of helping people individually through a one-to-one relationship. It is used by professionally-trained social workers in social work agencies or organizations to help people with their problems of social functioning. Problems of social functioning refer to situations concerned with social roles and their performance. Though social work as a profession is a product of the twentieth century, social work as a helping activity is as old as mankind. Historically, charity and philanthropy have always been concerned with religious, educational, and personality building activities, as well as with the relief of destitution. There have been always in every society, though in small numbers, people who were interested in helping others. There were individuals who were known to be receptive and responsive to the needs and difficulties of their fellow human beings. These helpers who existed in every period of human history were the precursors of the modern social worker, who uses casework to help people in trouble. The practice of casework is humanistic attempt for helping the people who have difficulty in coping with the problem of daily living. It has been in practice since ancient time on different basis of charity, philanthropy, individual help etc.

Beginning of social casework in west and east

Individuals in every society right from ancient times were helped by others to solve their problems. All religions encouraged the helping of the poor and helpless people. However it took professional shape in the late 19th and early 20th century. The social work of St. Vincent de Paul in the 16th and 17th centuries and of Ozanam in the 19th century was considered remarkable in the history of social case work. They help the people through the art of friendly visiting to individualize people at home. German systems of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, directed perhaps more to the control of mendicancy than to the study of individuals, nevertheless yielded data on social conditions and on behavior. Edward Denison, Sir Charles Loch, Octavia Hill, and few of the English leaders, developed to a high point the theory and practice of personal service, personal responsibility, and careful study of each case. Later on, Mary Richmond set out the first rational and systematic approach to the analysis of individual social situations.

Early Beginnings

The Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (A.I.C.P.) formed in America in 1843 approached the problem of poverty more individually than had been previously it was. The aims of A.I.C.P. were to visit the poor at homes, to give counsel, to assist them practically in obtaining employment, to instill in them self-respect and self-reliance, to inculcate the habits of economy and whenever absolutely necessary to provide such relief as should be suited to their wants. The first professional School of Social Work was the New York School established in 1898. The establishment of this institution indicates that social work had sufficiently large body of knowledge and skills by that time. Further the need was felt for better trained professionals as complicated modern problems could not be handled in traditional ways.

Charity Organization Society

In 1877 USA established American Charity Organization Society. One of the aims of the society was to find out the ways and means of helping the poor and needy and thus to organize individualized service. The society used volunteers called “FRIENDLY VISITORS”. They were kindhearted volunteers who visited poor families to assess their needs and to provide help, guidance and advice. They made their visits in act of charity and not expecting  any monetary rewards. They collected data about the needy individuals and families and helped them after assessing their needs.

Friendly Visitors replaced by Paid Agents

The term Friendly Visitor was replaced by “Paid Agents”. The term Friendly Visitors was subsequently supplemented by the term “Paid Agents”. These Paid Agents developed systematic procedures in performing their task. They collected data about the needy individuals and families and helped them after assessing their needs. Paid Agents also maintained records including personal data and the type of help given to clients. The collective experience of Friendly Visitors and Paid Agents facilitated the understanding of human behavior. With the development of Schools of Social Work, Friendly Visitors received training and instructions about the method of investigation, diagnosis and treatment from experienced social worker.

The first training program for the casework

The first training program for the casework started during 1914-1917. Casework at this time was based more on medical model. For some time casework was only confined to sick persons, i.e. a sick person to be treated was the priority. The term “work with case” was used for the first time in national conference in USA. The first professional training program especially for the casework was started in the form of summer training. The impact of this training program resulted in the need for more substantial training and schools of social work attached to the agencies came into existence. When these schools started regular training program they were recognized as professionals in social casework

Mary Richmond and Francis McLean offered specialized service to thousands of clients. Social casework journal of family service association grew out of efforts of this great pioneer movement. The first book in case work “Social Diagnosis” was published in 1917 by Miss Richmond. They introduced the principle of individualization and clients rights to self-determination. Richmond found that diagnosis is a process consisting sequence of steps in order to facilitate the worker to arrive finally at his/her definition of social situation and personality of client.

During 1920s

At this time caseworker adopted the new psychoanalytical approach to understand the client and their problems. These caseworkers found the psychoanalytical theory and the concepts in psychology very useful in casework movement. This psychoanalytical theory was given by Freud and known as Freudian psychology made strong impact on casework. Thus it was the era of psychiatric development of social work. Focus of caseworker was on psychic forces within the individuals. Professionals also began to move into other fields like prisons, school, etc. Gradually several schools of thought developed with many points in common and number of differences. These schools were based on the theory of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank.

During 1930s

It was the era of sudden changes in life-style that lead to economic depression. Casework had to consider the economic factors, which were causing distress to the clients. It was realized that economic distress could lead to emotional disaster and breakdown. The social and economic need of great differentiation refocused sociological and reality consideration for social work and compiled action on the part of federal government. At this time many work programs such as federal emergency relief act, the work progress administration, the public work administration and the civilian conservation corporation emerged. Thus major outcome of the depression was establishment of governmental public assistant program. It relieved the voluntary agencies from the task of providing economic help. Caseworker was able to devote more time in dealing with clients inter personal problems

During 1940s

Case workers were exposed for formulation of ego; psychology based on observation of human characteristics. During the war there was increase in personal problems on the part of clients due to financial crises. Emotional problems also increased. To meet these needs and to solve these problems family agencies were started. Later on, some casework theoretician began to examine sociological concept like social roles, social systems, social class etc. This shifts the focus from self to social setting. Caseworkers are now more aware of their own contribution to human welfare. As a profession it has now gained more popularity. One of the current trends is increased stress on the importance of research. Also there is growing awareness that personality and environment are interdependent.

American influence in India

American casework influences the use of casework in India as the first professional social work. i.e. casework started in India. This was done by American School of Social Work. The content of casework was taught as the course. In 1936 Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate school of Social Work, now known as Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), was started to impart training to those who had a University degree in the field of social service. Thus, the training for the social work was changed into a full time career oriented educational program. Casework as a theoretical course and as a method of practice in the academic program started from the year 1946.

Development of casework in Nepal

The literature of every religion contains the names and activities of teachers and sages who gave of themselves and their resources to help others. The ancient Hindu Shastras and the Buddhist philosophy of Nepal emphasize the activity of dhana or giving. There are different stories of Gautama Buddha who was born in Nepal tells of his kindness and understanding of the individual which led to the transformation of a prostitute and a murderer. Buddhism help should be given to relatives and friends. Thus, one can see that casework, in its limited meaning of a helping activity existed from time immemorial. But casework as a professionalized activity is an event or happening of the 20th century, and in this development, the focus of concern has been people in some kind of distress and who cannot help themselves. As a profession the development of casework was influenced by India. The training for the social work was changed into a full time career oriented educational program. Casework as a theoretical course and as a method of practice in the academic program started from the year 1996. Initially social casework was practiced in relatively few agencies and institutions but nowadays social casework is practiced in many agencies, institutions and organization such as hospitals, clinics, courts, industry, military organization, family welfare agency, child welfare agency, institution for the aged, destitute, orphans etc.