How has social work practice changed since the early social workers of the settlement house movement? 

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One consequence of the Industrial Revolution was increased poverty alongside increased wealth. In the mid- to late-19th century, two different settlement house movements rose in England and eventually in America. One movement focused primarily on extended charity. The second movement believed that charity "did not alter the basic conditions and causes of poverty" and instead strove to improve society through education in order to equalize society (The Social Welfare History Project, "Origins of the Settlement House Movement"). Practices applied by today's social workers stem from this second settlement house philosophy and are widely the same though settlement houses today, while still widely in existence, are often quite different from the original houses.

Social workers strive to help individuals in society by identifying peoples' needs, strengths, and situations. Plans of action to address needs will be based on all three criteria. Needs addressed by social workers can be helping clients adapt to changes such as unemployment, sickness, and even divorce. Among many other activities, Social workers will also direct clients towards available government and "community resources, such as food stamps, child care, and health care," and Medicare (Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Social Workers").

Similarly to the above, the settlement houses of England were established with the intent of caring for the whole person by providing education through "classes in history, art, and literature" and by helping individuals overcome poverty through providing "a daycare center, homeless shelter, public kitchen, and public baths" (Harvard University, Library Open Collections Program, "Settlement House Movement"). With the influx of immigrants into the US during the Industrial Revolution, settlement houses, once established in the US, especially catered to the needs of immigrants by helping them matriculate into American society through educational programs and recreational programs aimed at integrating citizens.

Soon after settlement houses arose in England, they also began being established in the US, with less than half of all settlement houses being established in large cities where the effects of poverty were felt the most, such as in New York, Boston, and Chicago; the rest of all settlement houses were developed in small cities all over the US.

Though settlement houses still exist today, there are some differences, and those differences effect the social work profession. However, the social work philosophy that established settlement houses still remains the same; it is a "philosophy of upward mobility" especially aimed at improving "wretched living conditions" (The New Social Worker: The social work careers magazine, "Settlement Houses: Old Idea in New Form Builds Communities"). One change in social work with respect to settlement houses today is that they no longer focus on immigrants; they instead focus on the needs of the individual communities. There is also a belief strongly reflected in social work today that it is by focusing on the individual "in the context of the family--often throughout a lifetime--that the settlement fosters and supports the values of fellowship and mutual support" that help improve the community as a whole ("Settlement Houses"). Depending on the needs of the community, settlement houses today still offer widely the same programs as the early ones of the 19th century, and such programs can include "job training and employment programs, early childhood education, afterschool youth programs, arts education and performances, computer labs, English-as-a-Second-Language and literacy education, citizenship instruction and legal counseling, mental health and home care, housing," and much more (United Neighborhood Houses, "What is a Settlement House?").