Social work in the past – rare wisdom

After frustrating years in social work, I came across an article I wished I’d seen when I was in school about social work in the l9th century.  In those days social workers saw some of the poor as improvident and irresponsible.  If a man came to a social agency hungry, he had to chop wood to get a meal.  If a woman came, she had to sew to get a meal.  This sorted out those who wouldn’t work, and made those who would, feel they had done something to earn their meal.

If a person needed further aid, his background was checked and he was categorized as:

One of the ‘disadvantaged’

 We have become used to thinking of the ‘disadvantaged’ as ‘victims’; however, some have done everything to get where they are.  I give you Betty:

This mother of 3, ages 7-12, has 4 years of college, claims to speak 5 languages, and has traveled the world.  Her father was a high government official and most of her brothers and sisters are professionals.  She has a number of good qualities, and there the fun stops.


Stories on TV about the poor are depressing enough without the bafflegab of professionals.  Take one about a housing project in Chicago:

  1. The poor there receive many benefits from the government. They say they want the best for their children, but one third of the girls got pregnant by 15.They vow not to have another child, but do.  Many don’t consider abortion because of an ‘appreciation for life’. One had seven kids and left them with her mother to ‘self-medicate’ on drugs.(‘medicate’?) She wouldn’t change because ‘chemically dependent people aren’t ready for help’.  (When will she be ‘ready’?) Many of the students don’t have ‘classroom skills’. ‘It never occurs to these people to look in the paper for work because the habits of work aren’t available to them’.  (‘available’?) They don’t look for work because of ‘psychological barriers’ – like racism.  (Racism didn’t stop others of the same group from working.)

Why not rate social programs?

During my years in social work and since, I’ve seen a crying need for some kind of ratings. No one has an idea of what are the best programs for addiction, crime, mental illness, or whatever. There is hardly even a direc­tory of them. Many programs sound good, but are disappoint­ing. No one seems to know what works nor why because:

(l) Social work floats on emotion.

We are asked to contribute to some charity because there is a ‘need’ for a ‘disad­vantaged’ person and the charity ‘cares’. Whether there are greater ‘needs’, just how ‘disadvantaged’ the person is, or whether ‘caring’ makes a difference, is never gone into.

Neighborhood care homes


Many people say they believe in homes for the disadvantaged, but ‘not in my backyard’ (NIMBY); and after working in several and starting and running one for mental [not retarded] patients, I agree.  Many of these homes are noisy, boring, dirty, with nonstop TV, no privacy, and mutual abuse among the disadvantaged residents of the home (the retarded, aged, mentally ill, alcoholic, etc).  There is a lot of this because of their ‘rights,’ and because it’s easier for staff to go along with it.  It’s glorified baby sitting.  The residents vegetate and staffs burn out.

How not to study a gangbanger

Some professionals don’t use common sense. One was a woman who wrote a book on gangs. To learn about them, she drove around a hardened l7 year old gang member named Faro, who had 60-year old ‘graveyard eyes’. (She didn’t think to set conditions about weapons or risks).

During the ride they pulled up next to two other youths, and Faro said, ‘I’m gonna look crazy at ‘em. You watch what they do’. He did. The other driver glanced over, his eyes widened for an instant with fear. Then he looked away. Faro giggled. When the signal changed, the other driver sped off and turned the corner.

How to kill a care home

After years of working for others in social work, I sought to be on my own. I thought I could by running a home for mental patients. It would be for mental (not retarded) patients – men in their 20s and 30s, and it would be monitored by a county mental health dept. (the kiss of death).

I rented a home, furnished it, and called county agencies to get it licensed. In the rush away from anything ‘institutional’, social workers stressed making everything ‘homelike’. Dishes had to match; dining room chairs had to match, etc. No mention was made of what patients would do.

Social work myths

The public would be surprised to learn how little is accomplished in social work. They’ll probably never know, however, as results are hard to measure and social workers don’t believe in measuring. One yardstick, though, is the failure of the War on Poverty of the 60s. We spent millions fighting poverty and poverty won.

Social work fails because it postpones traditional values with:


The poor are portrayed as downtrodden ‘victims’ of bad teache­rs, landlords, employers, merchants, police, clinics, whatever. They have ‘fallen through the cracks’, are ‘trapped’, ‘down on their luck’, etc. (Whether they’ve drunk and gambled their money away, committed felonies, or never worked isn’t brought up.)

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