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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.)


Each social problem has some deep ‘psychological’ origin. ………. (This is taken to great lengths which relieves the poor of responsibility.)


Only through a close relationship with the social worker can the poor be motivated to improve. ………….. (This creates patronizing, unreal relationships which often backfire.)

Values are relative

This becomes ‘Who are you to impose your middle class values on people in the ghetto? ……………….. (Sounds reasonable, but middle class values are traditional and universal.)

Society is wrong

It is seen as hypocritical, oppressive, exploitive, and racist. …… (This outlook, tolerated in college, is impractical in the real world.)

The poor are victims(if misguided).

They must be helped to come up with values without being prejudiced… …. (This extremely indulgent, blank slate, approach postpones tradi­tional values and doesn’t hold the poor accountable.)

No negatives

(False – if there are posi­tives, there are negatives; if there is reward, there is punish­ment, joy/pain, pride/shame, love/hate, success/failure.)

No Authority  nor discipline, and certainly no punishment. It’s all carrot and no stick … (result is turmoil, complete disorder)

No ‘humiliation’ Even minor teasing is considered ‘humiliation’.

Lure the poor

Programs have to be so appealing the poor will want to join, where society’s values might eventually rub off. This is far too indulgent.


Everyone has to be included and everyone has to progress together. ….. (Naïve and it allows the bad apple to ruin the bunch.)

An example of these myths is a picnic for poor youths from the inner city. Most don’t have the interest nor skills for preparing the food and making the arrangements and are not asked to. Some show up, some don’t. Some expect everyth­ing to be done for them. Some com­plain. Some of the table manners are awful. If there is a baseball game, there is often profani­ty, cheat­ing, screaming, and bullying to win. There can be property damage, injury, verbal abuse, a fight, annoying others nearby which can increase ethnic or class prejudice, the chance of getting kicked out of the park, and embarrassment for the staff (if they would admit it). The next day, however, the staff laughs off everything and talks about all the ‘fun’, ‘growth’, ‘relationships’, and ‘colorful’ stories.

In my many jobs, social workers spoke psycho­babble and spent months developing ‘relationships’ with the youths in hopes some values would rub off. There was a lack of basic literature, and what there was, was unreadable or worthless. The poor were portrayed as miserable, when many were happy (some happier than their social workers). Programs lacked definition and management, and the poor stagnated. The window dressing kept changing, but the work stayed the same (babysitting), and social workers became disillusioned.There were only a few good programs. They swam upstream against the nonsense above, doing thankless work, and producing results, but were constantly criticized by bleeding hearts in academia, the media, and the ACLU.

The views of one of our best known economists [of the 50s] Henry Hazlitt, support my experience. He complained that social workers: never defined ‘poverty’. pitied the pauper, but not the worker nor the taxpayer, talked as if anti-poverty is a recent effort, never faced the dis­astrous results of social progra­ms, wanted no loss of dignity for a person when he got on welfare, but a gain when he got off, coddled the poor despite their agency’s policies to the contrary, worked to make everyone equal by leveling down, never summoning up, preened themselves on compas­sion, systematically ignored the reasons for poverty, insisted on seeing the poor as ‘exploited victims of maldistribu­tions of wealth and heartless laissez faire’, didn’t learn from the past, and didn’t distinguish between poverty caused by misfortune and poverty caused by folly. 

If social work wants to take its place, it should: Drop emotion, guilt, and love and be realistic. Use plain language. Rate programs and literature. Find out how poor immigrants with limited English pass our poor who are fluent in English. Find out why nonprofessionals are effective in helping the poor. Instill traditional values. Require the poor to work before being eligible for job training, and counseling, etc.

4 Responses to “Social work myths”


  • Jack March 16th, 2009 4:31 pm

None can doubt the veracity of this article.

  • Anonymous August 12th, 2011 9:02 pm

You couldn’t pay me to igrnoe these posts!

  • Anonymous August 12th, 2011 10:30 pm

terrific well written articles.

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