Skip to Content
Skip to Navigation

SocW 300: Historical Approaches to Social Welfare


Social Work 300 is a foundation course within the BASW program. As the purpose of this Social Welfare major is preparation for generalist social work practice, it is recognized that the generalist approach emphasizes an ecological systems perspective. This is the theoretical foundation for all the courses studied in the BASW program. The focus of ecological systems theory is on the interface between persons and the environment. As a foundation theory this perspective acknowledges systems in the environment and their impact upon people. In Soc. WF. 300., this theoretical approach will enable students to develop a holistic view for understanding the historical antecedents and philosophical base of social welfare in the United States.

As a required and fundamental course in this major, SW 300 calls upon students to integrate knowledge from liberal arts courses. Underlying this is the quality of ideas and views engendered by Poor Law traditions. As the English antecedents of American social welfare are sketched out, students will recall the impact English happenings had upon the developing colony in America and its view of social need. Thus, impressions expressed by Mather, Franklin, and Roosevelt in America will be as significant as those expressed by Elizabeth I, the Webbs, and Beveridge in England. Consequently students will keep in mind the impact American values and goals have had upon the differential responses to poverty in the United States.

Course Description

This course begins by discussing some concepts of social welfare as well as some of the tensions between social work and social welfare. Thus, the legacy of the Elizabethan Poor Law will be stressed, some attention will be directed towards its impact upon Britain's welfare state and then the emphasis will be upon the response to human need in the United States. This will include exploring the Colonial Era, the Progressive Era, The Social Security Act of 1935 and the War on Poverty undertaken during the 1960's. Attitudes toward poverty, as well as the development of publicly funded income-maintenance programs are central in the course. The conclusion will incorporate the nature of professionalism.

Students will be introduced to the English precedents underlying the American social welfare system and to the evolution of American social welfare services as well as to the linkage of social work in that evolution. Thus, students who complete the course will have a more finely informed understanding of social welfare matters in the United States and a beginning ability to critique social welfare programs and issues within an historical framework that is sustained by a liberal arts tradition. Hence intelligence, guided by truth and rationality, will teach students to teach themselves and remain informed about social welfare in the United States.

General Objectives

  1. To provide the BASW student with a general introduction to ecological systems theory.:
  2. To provide the BASW student with a beginning understanding about the historical evolution of the American social welfare system.:
  3. To foster critical comprehension of American social welfare history.:
  4. To recognize that, historically, American social welfare responded narrowly to disadvantaged and oppressed populations, especially people of color and women.:
  5. To impart an historical perspective of the social work profession within the field of social welfare and to begin comprehending the historical, philosophical and ethical underpinnings of the social work profession in the United States.:
  6. To reflect upon the role of information technology within social work.:
  7. To provide a knowledge base that will stimulate continued learning about social welfare programs, their financial and human costs and to prompt continued evaluation of the social welfare system in the United States. Such an informed frame of reference will be valuable whether or not one becomes a generalist practitioner of social work.

Methods to Attain These Objectives

The teaching method in this course will be lecture accompanied by some discussion as well as the written assignments.