The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United Kingdom and do not represent social work dissertations worldwide view of the subject.
Social work has its roots in the attempts of society at large to deal with the problem of poverty and inequality. Even before the rise of modern European states, the church was providing social services. By 580 AD the church had a system for circulating consumables to the poor: associated with each parish was a diaconium or office of the deacon. Monasteries also often served as comprehensive social service agencies, acting as hospitals, homes for the aged, orphanages, travelers’ aid stations.
During the Middle Ages, the Christian church had vast influence on European society and charity was considered to be a responsibility and a sign of one’s piety. It was not until the emergence of industrialization and urbanization that the informal helping systems of the church and family began to be replaced by social welfare services. The practice and profession of social work has a relatively modern and scientific origin, and is generally considered to have developed out of three strands. The first was individual casework, a strategy pioneered by the Charity Organisation Society in the mid-19th century. All had their most rapid growth during the nineteenth century, and laid the foundational basis for modern social work, both in theory and in practice. Professional social work originated in 19th century England, and had its roots in the social and economic upheaval wrought by the Industrial Revolution, in particular the societal struggle to deal with the resultant mass urban-based poverty and its related problems.
Because poverty was the main focus of early social work, it was intricately linked with the idea of charity work. With the decline of feudalism in 16th century England, the indigent poor came to be seen as a more direct threat to the social order. As they were often not associated to a particular feudal manor, the government moved towards the formation of an organized poverty relief system to care for them. The origins of the English Poor Law system can be traced as far back as late medieval statutes dealing with beggars and vagrancy but it social work dissertations only during the Tudor period that the Poor Law system became codified. The first complete code of poor relief was made in the Act for the Relief of the Poor 1597 and some provision for the «deserving poor» was eventually made in the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601.
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As populations grew in Colonial America, almhouses were built to house vulnerable people with no other support, including people with a long term illness or older people without families. The Poor Law Amendment Act completely overhauled the existing system in Britain and established a Poor Law Commission to oversee the national operation of the system. Although the Poor Law Amendment Act did not ban all forms of outdoor relief, it stated that no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities except in a workhouse. Social work involves ameliorating social problems such as poverty and homelessness.
The 19th century saw a great leap forward in technological and scientific achievement. There was also a great migration to urban areas throughout the Western world, which led to many social problems. This galvanised the socially active, prosperous middle and upper classes to search for ways to ameliorate the physical and spiritual conditions of the poor underclasses. During this time, rescue societies were initiated to find more appropriate means of self-support for women involved in prostitution. State-built Mental asylums were built from the 1840s to assist in taking care of the mentally ill.
Octavia Hill pioneered many aspects of social work. Alsager Hay Hill was prominent from its foundation, acting as honorary secretary of the council until July 1870, and as an active member of the council until 1880. Hill also worked as an almoner to the Society for the Relief of Distress in the East of London. Octavia Hill is regarded by many as the founder of modern social work. She was a moving force behind the development of social housing, and her early friendship with John Ruskin enabled her to put her theories into practice with the aid of his initial investment. A Marylebone slum in the nineteenth century.
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