It is hard to trace the actual beginnings of the field of social work but most historians point to the late 19th century and the Charity Organization Society (COS) movement and the Settlement House movement as providing the foundation for what we call social work today. Each of these movements had a commitment to serving the poor but were distinctly different in how they worked with the poor and the reasons (values-personal and religious) for their different approaches. So….
What did each movement think about the poor? What did they believe caused poverty? How did they propose to “treat” poverty? Answer these questions first, but I am actually more interested in what you think? Which approach had it right? Did either? What position are you most attracted to and are there other ways to think about poverty?
About three paragraphs should be good.
When the Charity Organization Societies first started, the main view was that poverty was a result of moral failure. The overwhelming view of applicants after visitation from friendly visitors was that the poor were not working hard enough and that individual morality played a large role in why they were poor. They treated the poor by providing a system where people applied and were granted aid, and by organizing charities in areas to prevent overlap. Eventually, due to science this view shifted and a new broader view of what caused poverty emerged. While I appreciate that the COS eventually changed their views, and that it has some good elements (such as organizing other charities to prevent overlap), I think that the Settlement House Movement put in place more successful strategies to “treat” poverty.
The settlement house movement viewed the poor as the oppressed, and not as burdens. They recognized that individual morality was not the problem, and called for social reform and research into poverty. The residents of these settlement houses “treated” poverty by actually integrating themselves into the community. Also, since these reformers were mostly well educated, they raised awareness for poverty via writing. Also, they were able to successfully identify specific problems and I believe that a large part of why they were so successful is because they lived with the poor people as well and had an inside perspective. They also proposed lots of great ideas that the COS did not, such as providing the settlement house residents with community spaces (ex. library, mens clubs, religious meeting spaces), education (ex. kindergarten, citizenship classes), and healthcare services (ex. visiting nurses, discounted medicine). In my opinion, this approach to treating poverty was more well received than the COS’s approach because instead of blaming the individual person, the Settlement House movement recognized common reasons for poverty and provided their residents with support and a sense of community. Because of these reasons, I am more attracted to the Settlement House Movement.
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Charity Organization Societies (COS) developed in America with the idea that charity work needed to be organized.Visitors would come to applicant’s homes to gather information about their situation and uplift their moral and spiritual character.Through systematic and comprehensive data collection, people began to link sickness, disability, unemployment, etc. with poverty. People were taking a broader, more scientific perspective on the causes of poverty.Although these contributions of the COS movement are beneficial, there was a darker side to friendly visitors’ beliefs.The rich felt they were the superior class and mere contact with them would show people proper values.
The Settlement House Movement shifted the view of poverty from an individual focus to a societal focus.Settlements were created in poor communities with the goal of bridging the gap between the classes. These settlement houses established kindergarten’s, nurseries, men’s clubs, libraries, and meeting spaces for ethnic and religious groups.The poor were seen as oppressed individuals rather than a social burden which also led to support for social reform.
I think the approach that I was drawn to the most was the Settlement House Movement.People began to view those in poverty as oppressed (although there was still a superior attitude).This movement shed light on the need for social reform and government involvement for relief.They also worked to meet the needs of a community and the diverse individuals that it was comprised of. With that said, both approaches had benefits and areas that needed improvement.Foremost, I believe you cannot effectively help those in poverty if you feel above them. People must come from a place of understanding and compassion rather than superiority.As mentioned in the “beginnings of social work” lecture, a combination of both concepts is referred to as a generalist model.I think a generalist model would be the best way to “treat” poverty because it combines individual intervention with intervention on a bigger societal scale.