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Part 1: Chapter one of the course textbook discusses what makes the human service field distinct from other fields, such as social work and counseling psychology. For the first part of your thread, discuss why the human service field is a much-needed profession and share one or two possible careers that you might be interested in pursuing. Remember that the Human Service degree is designed to prepare individuals with the necessary skills to participate in agency-related activities (community care, court, agency, etc.) and does not fulfill licensure requirements. Students planning to apply for state licensure should contact their academic advisor for information on degree programs designed to fulfill state licensure requirements.

Part 2: Based on your study of the Learn materials for this Module: Week, what do you consider the most important historical event in the history of the human services profession? Why? While you are sharing your opinion here, you must demonstrate informed opinion by supporting your points with references to the course textbook.

Part I: Human Services as a Profession
1 Introduction to the Human Services Profession
Purpose, Preparation, Practice, and Theoretical Orientations
Learning Objectives
Develop a working definition of the human service professional that identifies key reasons why people
may need to use a human service professional
Describe the role of the Council on Standards for Human Service Education (CSHSE) and the National
Organization for Human Services (NOHS)
Describe the rationale for the scope and parameters of human service professional functions and
Apply key theoretical frameworks used in the human services discipline to real scenarios
Chapter Outline
What Is Human Services? 3
Why Is Human Services Needed? 4
Educational Requirements and Professional Standards for the Helping Professions 6
Human Service Educational Standards 8
Human Service Professional Certification 8
Duties and Functions of a Human Service Professional 9
Theoretical Frameworks and Approaches Used in Human Services 10
Frameworks Based on General Systems Theory 12
Self-Actualization and Strengths-Based Frameworks 14
Conclusion 15
Summary 16
Sara works for a hospice agency and spends one hour twice a week with Steven, who has been
diagnosed with terminal cancer of the liver. He has been told that he has approximately six months to
live. He has been estranged from his adult daughter for four years, and Sara is helping him develop a
plan for reunification. Sara helps Steve deal with his terminal diagnosis by encouraging him to talk
through his feelings about being sick and dying. Steve talks a lot about his fear of being in pain and his
overwhelming feelings of regret about many of the choices he has made in his life. Sara listens and also
helps Steve develop a plan for saying all the things he needs to say before he dies. During their last
meeting, Sara helped Steve write a list of things he would like to say to his daughter, his ex-wife, and
other family members. Sara is also helping Steve make important end-of-life decisions, including
planning his own funeral. Sara and Steve will continue to meet weekly until his death, and if possible,
she will be with him and his family when he passes away.
Gary works for a public middle school and meets with six seventh graders every Monday to talk about
their feelings. Gary helps them learn better ways to explore feelings of anger and frustration. During
their meetings, they sometimes do fun things like play basketball. They also play board games where
they each take turns picking a “self-disclosure” card and answering a personal question. Gary uses the
game to enter into discussions about healthy ways of coping with feelings, particularly frustration and
anger. He also uses the game to get to know the students in a more personal manner, making it easier
for them to open up to him. Gary spends one session per month discussing the students’ progress in
their classes. The goal for the group is to help the students learn how to better control their anger and
to develop more prosocial behavior, such as empathy and respect for others.
Cynthia works for her county’s district attorney’s office and has spent every day this past week in
criminal court with Kelly, a victim of felony home invasion, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated
battery. Cynthia provides Kelly with advocacy as well as counseling to help Kelly deal with the trauma of
having a man barge through her back door searching for money, and threatening Kelly and her baby.
Cynthia keeps Kelly apprised of all court proceedings and accompanies her to court, if Kelly chooses to
assert her right to attend the proceedings. She also accompanies Kelly during all police interviews and
helps her prepare for testifying. During these hearings, as well as during numerous telephone
conversations, Cynthia helps Kelly understand and deal with her feelings, including her recent
experience of repeatedly imagining the violent incident, her intense fear of being alone, and her guilt
that she had not locked her back door. Lately, Kelly admitted that she has been crying a lot more and
has had feelings of unrelenting sadness, so Cynthia has referred Kelly to a licensed professional
counselor as well as to a support group for survivors of violent crime for Kelly and her husband.
Frank works for county social services, child welfare division, and is working with Lisa, who recently had
her three young children removed from her home for physical and emotional neglect. Frank has
arranged for Lisa to take parenting classes and receive individual counseling so that she can learn how to
better manage her frustrations with her children. He has also arranged for her to enter a drug
rehabilitation program to treat her addiction to alcohol and cocaine. Frank and Lisa meet once a week to
talk about her progress toward her case goals. He also monitors her weekly visitation with her children.
Frank is required to attend status updates in court once per month so that the judge assigned to the
case can remain apprised of Lisa’s progress in her parenting plan. Successful completion of this plan will
enable Lisa to regain custody of her children. Frank will continue to monitor her progress, as well as the
progress of the children, who are in foster care placement until a decision can be made about the
custody of her children.
Allison is currently lobbying several state legislators in support of a bill that would increase funding for
child abuse prevention and treatment. As a social policy advocate for a local grassroots organization,
Allison is responsible for writing position statements and contacting local lawmakers to educate them on
the importance of legislation aimed at reducing child abuse through prevention measures and other
outreach efforts. Allison also writes grants for federal and private funding of the organization’s various
child advocacy programs, and is consistently called upon to provide opinions about a range of child
abuse prevention measures.
What do all these professionals have in common? They are all working within the interdisciplinary field
of human services, each possessing a broad range of generalist skills and having a wide range of
responsibilities related to their respective roles in helping people overcome a variety of social problems.
The National Organization for Human Services (NOHS), a national professional association of human
services practitioners and educators, describes the human services profession as an interdisciplinary
field that exists to meet the needs of clients through prevention efforts and direct practice, with the goal
of significantly improving their lives. Human service professionals are also committed to improving the
ways in which services are provided (service delivery systems), as well as improving the quality of those
services (NOHS, n.d.).
What Is Human Services?
Human services is a broad term covering a number of careers, all having one thing in common—helping
people meet their basic needs that for whatever reason cannot be met without outside assistance,
allowing people and communities to function at an optimum level. The human services field can include
a variety of job titles, including caseworker, program coordinator, outreach counselor, crisis counselor,
and victim advocate. However, increasingly those working in the human services fields with a degree in
human services are identified as human service professionals, human service practitioners, or human
service generalists.
The human services profession is relatively young, and thus is still developing a professional identity,
which includes distinguishing human services from its close “cousin,” social work. Many human service
educational programs were developed in the 1970s by social workers, and thus there was considerable
overlap with Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs (Topuzova, 2006). But in recent years, human
service educational programs have become far more distinctive from social work programs, despite
some overlap remaining.
With regard to similarities, both human services and social work disciplines are interdisciplinary in
nature, and both focus on meeting the needs of marginalized and historically oppressed populations.
Both are committed to social justice and advocacy on micro and macro levels. Additionally, both
disciplines require a field component, which is perceived as a foundational component of the program’s
Differences include the role of the professionals in psychology, counseling, and other mental health
fields in further developing the human services profession from a practice perspective. Additionally,
many human service programs tend to be more interdisciplinary in hiring practices, including hiring
instructors from a variety of helping fields, whereas social work programs place an emphasis on hiring
faculty with social work degrees from Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited programs
(Topuzova, 2006). Social workers also have state licensing requirements, whereas currently there are no
state licensing requirements for human service graduates.
An important question then is, are the differences between human services and other helping
professions solely educational ones or are there actual differences in the field? And if the former is true,
why did the field of human services evolve at all as a specific discipline? The answers to these questions
are complex, and while there remains no prevailing consensus, many believe that with regard to social
work specifically, human services evolved to fill gaps left by social work’s increasing professionalization.
In other words, as the requirements to become a social worker continued to increase, professional
social workers tended to move out of paraprofessional and/or grassroots roles and into more highly
trained direct service and administration roles.
Prior to the professionalization of the social work discipline, anyone who worked with those in need
could identify as a social worker. Yet, licensing requirements mean that only professionals who have a
BSW or Master of Social Work (MSW), and hold a state license (Licensed Social Worker [LSW] or
Licensed Clinical Social Worker [LCSW]), can refer to themselves as social workers. So what about
everyone else? What about those professionals working in homeless or domestic violence shelters,
those who are court advocates working with victims of violent crime, or those who manage the cases of
recently arrived refugees? Well, if they have completed an associate, baccalaureate, or a master’s
program in human services, we call them human service professionals, practitioners, or generalists.
Thus, human service professionals fill a very important role in society, and while there is some overlap
with social work with regard to the professions’ roots, educational philosophies, and professional
missions, they are unique professions in their scope and in some respects, their focus.
Because of the overlap between human services and social work, I use the title human service
professional, practitioner, or generalist to refer to all professionals working within the human services
field; however if I use the term social worker, then I am referring to the legal definition and professional
distinction of a licensed social worker, indicating either a BSW or MSW level of education. Also, I use the
terms human services and human service agency rather than social services and social service agency,
although these terms tend to be used interchangeably in the professional literature.
Why Is Human Services Needed?
All human beings have basic needs, such as the need for food, shelter, and safety. People also have
social needs, such as the need for interpersonal connection, love, and community. People have
psychological needs, such as the need to deal with trauma from past abuse, or the psychological
ramifications of enduring a disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane. People can get their needs met in a
variety of ways. For instance, family, friends, and places of worship can meet social and psychological
needs. Needs related to food, shelter, and other more complicated needs such as health care needs can
be met through employment, family assistance, and employer-sponsored health benefits. The path
toward meeting many needs is education, which increases access to good jobs and increased consumer
But sometimes people experience crises that are beyond their ability to manage with their available
resources. Examples include a natural disaster or a health care crisis. There are also many people in
society who are unable to meet even their most basic needs. Perhaps they do not have a supportive
family or have no family at all; they may have no friends or have friends who are either unsupportive or
unable to provide assistance. They may have no social support network of any kind—no faith
community, no family, no friends, no supportive neighbors. They may lack the skills or education to gain
sufficient employment, and thus they may not have health insurance and may live paycheck-topaycheck and not have a “rainy day” savings account. Perhaps they’ve spent the majority of their lives
dealing with an abusive and chaotic childhood and are now suffering from the manifestation of that
experience in the form of psychological problems and substance abuse, and as a consequence cannot
focus on meeting their basic needs until they are able to deal with their childhood psychological trauma.
Or perhaps they are older adults and their savings account and pension are exhausted.
People who have always had good support systems and have not experienced challenges requiring
extensive resources may mistakenly believe that those who cannot meet their most basic needs of
shelter, food, health care, and emotional and social needs must be doing something wrong. This belief is
often incorrect because numerous barriers exist that prevent some people from meeting their needs.
These barriers may or may not be apparent to others, but they often exist. Some of these barriers might
be related to individual behavior, but more often the reasons people cannot meet their basic needs are
quite complex and often lie in dynamics beyond an individual’s control. Thus while some people have
great families, wonderfully supportive friends, the benefit of a good education, and have not
experienced oppression or marginalization, nor have had significant history of abuse or loss and may be
self-sufficient in meeting their own needs, this does not mean that those who struggle to meet their
basic needs are doing something wrong.
Many people experience challenges that push them beyond their level of self-sufficiency.
Essentially, human service agencies come into the picture when people find themselves confronting
barriers to getting their basic needs met and their own resources for overcoming these obstacles are
insufficient. Some of these barriers include the following:
Lack of family (or supportive family)
Lack of a healthy support system of friends
Mental illness
Poverty (particularly chronic poverty)
Social exclusion (e.g., due to racial discrimination, gender bias)
Oppression (e.g., racial, gender, age, ability)
Natural disasters
Lack of education
Lack of employment skills
Economic recession
Physical and/or intellectual disability
A tremendous amount of controversy surrounds how best to help people meet their basic needs.
Various philosophies exist regarding what types of services effectively help those in need. For instance,
some philosophies advocate that liberal social welfare programs foster dependence, and thus should be
stigmatized to discourage overreliance. Other philosophies suggest that a solid safety net fosters selfsufficiency, and that what may appear to be dependence and entitlement on the part of recipients is
really discouragement and resignation.
Regardless of what philosophy one adopts with regard to social welfare assistance, the primary goal of
human services is to assist people in achieving self-sufficiency and reaching their optimal level of
functioning. This means that human service professionals are committed to helping people develop the
necessary skills to become self-sufficient and fully functioning (to the best of their ability), personally
and within society. Thus, although an agency may subsidize a family’s rent for a few months when they
are in a crisis, human service professionals will then work with the family members to remove any
barriers that may be keeping them from meeting their housing needs in the future. Examples of such
barriers are substance abuse disorders, a lack of education or vocational skills, health problems, mental
illness, or gaining self-advocacy skills necessary for combating prejudice and discrimination in the
workplace, to the greatest extend possible.
Human service professionals are committed to working on a micro level and a mezzo level with a broad
range of populations, including high-needs and disenfranchised populations, as well as members of
historically oppressed and marginalized groups, and providing them with the necessary resources to get
their basic needs met. Human service professionals are also committed to working on a macro level to
remove barriers to optimal functioning that affect large groups of people. They do this by giving
oppressed and marginalized populations a voice and extending them political and social power within
society. For instance, by advocating for changes in laws and various policies, human service
professionals have contributed to making great strides in confronting prejudice and discrimination
based on race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status (SES), or any of a number of
characterizations that may lead to marginalization within society.
Educational Requirements and Professional Standards for the Helping Professions
Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the human service discipline, as well as the overlap with other
helping professions, determining the required levels of education, specific degrees, and when and
where a license is required for specific employment positions within the human services is often quite
confusing. Understanding what degrees are needed to enter a particular career within the human
services is made even more confusing because while there are educational programs specific to the
human services discipline, professionals with other degrees (e.g., social work, psychology, public policy)
may also be considered human service professionals if they work in practice settings focusing on social
problems impacting marginalized and oppressed populations.
Thus, while many careers in the human services fields may require a BSW or MSW, many others do not.
In fact, often careers engaging in grassroots work require a degree in human services (or a related field)
at an associate’s level (Associate of Arts [AA] or Associate of Science [AS]), bachelor’s level (Bachelor of
Arts [BA] or Bachelor of Science [BS]), or master’s level (Master of Arts [MA] or Master of Science [MS]).
Educational and licensing requirements depend in large part on specific state and federal legislation
(particularly for highly regulated fields, such as in the educational and health care fields), industryspecific standards, agency preference, and community need (Gumpert & Saltman, 1998). For instance, a
child protection services caseworker may need a Master of Social Work (MSW) in one state, but another
state, with a high need for bilingual workers and a small workforce, may require caseworkers to have
only a BSW or similar degree in a related field, such as human services.
So what does all of this mean? Essentially, it means that the human services field is generalist, which
means it’s broad, encompassing many different careers and professionals with a range of educational
backgrounds. But it’s also important to note that the human services field is a growing one and as such
is experiencing increased professionalization and uniqueness. In response to this growth, human service
degree programs have evolved considerably in the last two to three decades, as have practice
requirements. Keeping in mind such variability within the human services fields, as well as differences
among state licensing bodies, Table 1.1 reflects a very general breakdown of degrees in the helping
fields, their corresponding certifications and licenses, as well as commonly associated careers.
Table 1.1 Multiple Discipline Degree Requirements
Degree Academic Area/Major License/Credential
Possible Careers
BA/BS Human Services BS-BCP Caseworker, youth worker, residential counselor, behavioral
management aide, case management aide, alcohol counselor, adult day care worker, drug abuse
counselor, life skills instructor, social service aide, probation officer, child advocate, gerontology aide,
juvenile court liaison, group home worker, child abuse worker, crisis intervention counselor, community
organizer, social work assistant, psychological aide
BA/BS Psychology, Sociology N/A
Same as above, depends on state requirements
BSW Social Work (program accredited by CSWE)
Licensing (LSW, LCSW) depends on state
requirements Same as above, depends on state requirements
MA/MS 30–60 credit hours
Counseling Psychology LCP (Licensed Clinical Professional—on
graduation); LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor—~3,000 postgrad supervised hours) Private
practice, some governmental and social service agencies
MSW 60 credit hours Social Work (program accredited by CSWE)
LSW (on graduation, depending
on state); LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker—~3,200 postgrad supervised hours)
practice, not-for-profit social service agencies, for-profit agencies, governmental agencies (some
requiring licensure)
PsyD 120 credit hours Doctor of Psychology PSY# (Licensed Clinical Psychologist—~3,500 postgrad
supervised hours)
Private practice, many governmental and social service agencies, teaching in
some higher education institutions
PhD (Psychology) 120 credit hours
Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
PSY# (Licensed Clinical
Psychologist—~3,500 postgrad supervised hours)
Private practice, many governmental and social
service agencies, teaching in higher education institutions
Human Service Educational Standards
The Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE) was established in 1979 for the purposes
of ensuring excellence in human service education at the associate, baccalaureate, and master’s levels,
through the guidance and direction of educational programs offering degrees specifically in human
services. The CSHSE developed a set of research-based national standards for curriculum and subject
area competencies for human service education degree programs at colleges and universities, and
provides guidance and oversight to educational programs during the accreditation process.
The CSHSE requires that curriculum in a human services program cover the following standard content
areas: knowledge of the human services field through the understanding of relevant theory, skills, and
values of the profession, within the context of the history of the profession; the interaction of human
systems; the range and scope of human service delivery systems; information management; common
planning and evaluation methods; appropriate interventions and direct service delivery systems; the
development of students’ skills in interpersonal communication; client-related values and attitudes; and
students’ self-development. The curriculum must also meet the minimum requirements for field
experience in a human service agency, as well as illustrate that students are receiving appropriate
supervision within their field placement sites (CSHSE, 2013). The CSHSE is the only organization that
accredits human service educational programs and also offers continuing education opportunities for
human service professionals and educators, networking opportunities, an informational website, and
various professional publications.
Human Service Professional Certification
In 2010, the CSHSE and the NOHS in collaboration with the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE)
took a significant step toward the continuing professionalization of the human services profession by
developing a voluntary professional certification called the Human Services Board Certified Practitioner
(HS-BCP). In order to sit for the national certification exam, applicants must have earned at least a
“technical certificate” in the human services discipline from a regionally accredited college or university
and completed the required amount of post-graduate supervised hours in the human services field
(1,500 hours with a master’s degree, 3,000 hours with a bachelor’s degree, 4,500 hours with an
associate’s degree, and 7,500 hours with a technical certificate).
Applicants who have earned degrees in non-CSHSE-approved programs, such as in counseling, social
work, psychology, marriage and family therapy, or criminal justice, must complete coursework in several
different content areas related to human services, such as “ethics in the helping professions,”
“interviewing and intervention skills,” “social problems,” “social welfare/public policy,” and “case
management.” The implementation of the HS-BCP certification has moved both the discipline and the
profession of human services toward increased professional identity and recognition within the larger
area of helping professions by verifying human service practitioners’ attainment of a high standard of
education and practice knowledge. Credentials are maintained through a recertification process that
requires 60 hours of continuing education every five years (CCE, n.d.).
Duties and Functions of a Human Service Professional
As the primary professional organization for human service students, educators, and practitioners, the
NOHS provides a range of benefits to members, including opportunities for professional development as
well as networking, advocacy of a human services agenda, and the promotion of professional and
organizational identity (NOHS, n.d.). The NOHS has also been significantly influential in developing the
scope and parameters of human service professional functions and competencies, some of which
Understanding the nature of human systems, including individuals, groups, organizations, communities,
and society, and how each system interacts with others.
Understanding conditions that promote or limit optimal functioning of human systems.
Selecting, implementing, and evaluating intervention strategies that promote growth and optimal
functioning, and that are consistent with the values of the practitioner, client, agency, and human
services profession.
The development of process skills that enable human service professionals to plan and implement
services, including the development of verbal and oral communication skills, interpersonal relationship
skills, self-discipline, and time management skills.
The reason why these competencies are so important is because in the human services profession we,
the human service practitioners, are the tools. Thus, we need to develop a comprehensive and
generalist skill set that enables us to work with a wide range of clients, with diverse backgrounds,
dealing with a wide range of challenges, within varying contexts. For instance, you may have one client
who is a 40-year-old mother of two young girls who has recently left a violent relationship and is
currently residing in a transitional housing shelter. You may have another client who is a retired veteran
with an alcohol addiction who is grieving the recent death of his wife. And finally, you may have a client
who is a young teen who recently ran away from home due to sexual and physical abuse, who is living
on the streets and hasn’t attended school in weeks, and is refusing to return home.
Each of these cases will require you to understand and assess the systems within which each client is
operating, as well as how each system interacts with the others (e.g., individual, family, legal, school,
government). These cases also will require you to understand and assess conditions that support or limit
functioning, such as histories of trauma and abuse, mental and physical health status, educational and
employment backgrounds, prior losses, coping styles, and available resources. They will require you to
have an awareness of a range of intervention strategies, including the ability to evaluate which
interventions would be appropriate for client situations. They will require that you have the ability to
use the interventions and engage in an ongoing evaluation of the selected interventions’ effectiveness.
Finally, you would need additional skills to pull all this off, such as good interpersonal skills that enable
you to connect with clients who are likely very different from you, who may be resistant to change, or
who are emotionally guarded. You will also need to have excellent writing skills so that you can
succinctly write process notes and enter them on your agency’s electronic records system using your
excellent technical skills. Whew! If you can accomplish all of this, you’ll be a true generalist human
service professional!
Of course, you won’t be flying by the seat of your pants and making things up as you go along. Rather,
you will have a set of guiding principles, also called theoretical orientations, to guide your decisionmaking and interactions with client and client systems. The human services discipline is built upon a
theoretical foundation that reflects the values of the profession. Understanding the underlying
assumptions of any theoretical framework is important because such assumptions guide practice
decisions about the people we work with and society as a whole. For instance, theoretical orientations
and frameworks (also called theoretical models) make assumptions about human nature and what
motivates people to behave in certain ways under certain conditions. We rely on theories every day
when coming to conclusions about people and events, and we espouse views on why people behave as
they do. So if you have ever expressed an opinion about why people don’t work (they are lazy, or they
don’t have sufficient opportunities), or why some people commit crime (they are evil, or they are
socialized during bad childhoods), you are espousing a theory and may not even realize it!
Theoretical Frameworks and Approaches Used in Human Services
Theoretical frameworks can serve as the foundational underpinnings of a profession, reflecting its
overarching values and guiding principles (such as human services’ commitment to social justice and a
belief in a person’s natural capacity for growth). They can also extend into the clinical realm by outlining
the most effective ways to help people become emotionally healthy based on some presumptions about
what caused them to become emotionally unhealthy in the first place. For instance, if a practitioner
embraces a psychoanalytic perspective that holds to the assumption that early childhood experiences
influence adult motivation to behave in certain ways, then the counseling will likely focus on the client’s
childhood. But if the practitioner embraces a cognitive-behavioral approach, which focuses on
behavioral reinforcements and thinking patterns, then the focus of counseling will likely be on how the
client frames and interprets the various occurrences in his or her life.
All of this information about theoretical frameworks and approaches raises the question of which
theories tend to be used the most in the human services discipline—both as theoretical foundations (or
underpinnings) for the profession, as well as those that guide direct practice. When considering the
various theories of human behavior and social dynamics, it is important to note that theories can be
either descriptive (e.g., describing a range of child behaviors), or prescriptive (e.g., determining which
behaviors in children are normative and healthy, and which ones are not). A theory may begin by merely
describing certain phenomena related to how people think, feel, and behave, but in time, as the theory
develops, it may become more prescriptive in the sense that certain determinations are made by the
theorists with regard to what is normative and healthy versus what is maladaptive.
Yet, it is also important to remember that culture and history often affect what is considered normative
thinking and behavior. For instance, 100 years ago if a woman chose to remain single and not have
children so she could focus on her career goals, she may very well have been considered mentally ill. A
common criticism of the major theories of human behavior is that they are based on Western cultural
mores, and thus what behaviors are deemed normative and healthy are culturally prescribed and not
necessarily representative or reflective of non-Western cultures. For instance, is it appropriate to apply
Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of human behavior, which was developed from his work with high-society
women in the Victorian era, to individuals of a Masai tribe in Kenya? What about using a Western-based
theory of parenting with parents from an indigenous culture in South America?
Theories of human behavior used in the human services must not only reflect the values and guiding
principles of the profession but also the range of human experiences, and must permit the evaluation
and assessment of clients in context. Important areas of context include personal characteristics, such as
age, race and ethnicity, national origin, and sexual orientation and gender. Context involving social
characteristics is important as well, such as the economy, political culture, various laws, the educational
system, the health care system, racial oppression, privilege, gender bias, and any other broader social
dynamic that may have an impact (even a distant one) on an individual’s life.
macrosystem includes elements such as one’s broader culture. The primary principle of
Bronfenbrenner’s theory is that individuals can best be understood when evaluated in the context of
their relationships with the various systems in their lives, and understanding the nature of these
reciprocal relationships will aid in understanding the individual holistically.
Similar to Bronfenbrenner’s theory is the ecosystems theory, which conceptualizes an individual’s
various environmental systems as overlapping concentric circles, indicating the reciprocal exchange
between a person and various environmental systems. Although there is no official recognition of
varying levels of systems in ecosystems theory (from micro to macro), the basic concept is very similar to
Bronfenbrenner’s theory. Most who rely on the latter theory understand that there are varying levels of
systems involved, each interacting in some manner, and thus impacting the individual in a variety of
ways. It is up to the human service professional to strive to understand the transactional and reciprocal
nature of these various systems (Meyer, 1988).
The person-in-environment (PIE) approach is often used as a basic orientation in practice because it
encourages practitioners to evaluate individuals within the context of their environment (see Figure
1.1). Clients are evaluated on a micro level (i.e., intra- and interpersonal relationships and family
dynamics) and on a macro (or societal) level (i.e., the client is an African American male youth who lives
in an urban community with significant cultural oppression). It is important to note that these theories
do not presume that individuals are necessarily aware of the various systems they operate within, even
if they are actively interacting with them. In fact, effective human service professionals will help their
clients increase their personal awareness of the existence of these systems and how they are currently
operating within them (i.e., the nature of reciprocity). It is through this awareness that clients increase
their level of empowerment within their environment and consequently in all aspects of their life.
Figure 1.1
The person-in-environment approach encourages practitioners to evaluate individuals within the
context of their environment
Self-Actualization and Strengths-Based Frameworks
Other theories that can help human service professionals better understand why people behave as they
do come from the positive psychology movement, which focuses on people’s strengths rather than
viewing people from a pathological perspective. Abraham Maslow (1954) developed a theoretical model
focusing on needs motivation, theorizing that people self-actualize naturally, but are motivated to get
their most basic physiological needs met first (e.g., food and oxygen) before they are motivated to meet
their higher-level needs. According to Maslow, most people would find it difficult to focus on higherlevel needs related to self-esteem if they were starving or had no place to sleep at night.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
1.4-3 Full Alternative Text
Maslow’s theory suggests that thoughts of self-esteem and self-actualization quickly take a back seat to
worries about mere survival. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory can assist human service professionals
in recognizing a client’s need to prioritize more pressing needs over others, and can also explain why
clients in crisis may appear to resist attempts to help them gain insight into their situations, choosing
instead to focus on more basic needs.
The strengths perspective is another theoretical approach or model commonly used in the human
services field because it encourages the practitioner to recognize and promote a client’s strengths rather
than focusing on deficits. The strengths perspective also presumes clients’ ability to solve their own
problems through the development of self-sufficiency skill development and self-determination.
Although there are several contributors to the strengths perspective approach, Dennis Saleebey is often
considered the primary theorist who contributed to the strengths-based practice approach in social
work. Saleebey (1996) developed several guiding principles for practitioners that promote client
empowerment. Sullivan (1992) was one of the first theorists to apply the strengths perspective to the
area of chronic mental illness, where practitioners encourage clients to recognize and develop their own
personal strengths and abilities. This was a revolutionary approach since the prevailing approach to
working with the chronically mentally ill population was based on a medical model, involving a
pathological approach to treatment where clients were viewed as sick. Sullivan claimed that by
redefining the problem and focusing on a clients’ existing strengths and abilities rather than on their
deficits, treatment goals were more consistent with the goals of early mental health reformers who
sought to remove treatment barriers by promoting respectful, compassionate, and comprehensive care
of the mentally ill.
In the field of human services, using a strengths-based approach is empowering for both the human
services professional as well as the client and client system because we aren’t coming into their lives
presuming we are the experts. Rather, we spend as much time looking for strengths as we do looking for
problems. The strengths-based approach also enables us to partner with our clients in a way that
encourages them to take more ownership over their journey toward increased self-sufficiency and more
optimal functioning.
Human service professionals practice in numerous settings, such as schools, hospitals, advocacy
organizations, faith-based agencies, government agencies, hospices, prisons, and police departments, as
well as in private practice if they have advanced degrees and required licensing. The nature of human
service interventions is completely dependent on the specific practice setting delivering the services. In
other words, intervention strategies and approaches are contextually driven. For instance, let’s assume
you work with children in a school setting and your colleague works with children in a hospice setting.
Certainly there will be some overlap, particularly if the children are in a similar age range, but for the
most part your jobs will be quite different, utilizing different skill sets and intervention strategies to deal
with significantly different psychosocial issues.
It would be difficult to present an exhaustive list of categories of practice settings due to the broad and
often very general nature of the human services profession. Sometimes practice settings target specific
social issues (i.e., domestic violence, homelessness, child abuse), and sometimes a specific target
population is the focus (i.e., older adults, the chronically mentally ill), and sometimes practice settings
may target a specific area of specialty (i.e., grief and loss, marriage and family). Regardless of how we
choose to categorize the various fields within human services, it is imperative that the nature of this
career be examined and explored contextually in order to accurately explore the nature of the work
performed by human service professionals, the range of psychosocial issues experienced among various
client populations (including how these psychosocial issues most commonly manifest), and the career
opportunities available to human service professionals, within each practice setting.
Some human services practice settings that offer micro, mezzo, and macro services include (but are not
necessarily limited to) child and family services, including adoption agencies and child welfare and child
protective service agencies; adolescent services, including group homes and residential facilities;
geriatric services, including assisted- living facilities; mental health services, including outpatient mental
health community centers; services for the homeless and those experiencing housing insecurity,
including shelters and the government housing authority; faith-based services, including faith-based
agencies and spiritually-based services; medical facilities, including hospitals and hospices; schools;
victim advocacy agencies, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and victim–witness assistance
programs; and social advocacy organizations, such as human rights and policy advocacy organization.
Regardless of the manner in which practice settings are categorized, there is bound to be overlap
because one area of practice could conceivably be included within another field, and some practice
settings provide comprehensive services. For instance, Christian hospices might provide medical, social
work, and faith-based practice services, or human service professionals might work with both survivors
of domestic violence (victim advocacy) and batterers (forensic human services), or they might work with
homeless survivors of domestic violence and their children (homelessness and housing services,
domestic violence, and child welfare).
For the purposes of this book, the roles, skills, and functions of human service professionals are explored
in the context of particular practice settings, as well as areas of specialization within the generalist
human services field—general enough to cover as many functions and settings as possible within the
field of human services, but narrow enough to be descriptively meaningful. The role of the human
service professional is examined by exploring the history of the practice setting, the range of clients
served, the psychosocial issues most commonly encountered, the modes of service delivery, the nature
of case management, the level of practice (e.g., micro, mezzo, or macro), and the most common
generalist intervention strategies used within the following practice settings and areas of specializations:
child welfare; adolescents; geriatric and aging; mental health; housing; health care and hospice; schools;
faith-based agencies and spirituality; violence, victim advocacy and corrections; and international
practice and human rights work.
A working definition of the human service professional is developed that identifies key reasons why
people may need to use a human service professional. The nature of the human services profession was
explored, providing comparisons and distinctive aspects of the human services profession compared to
other helping fields. A range of social problems and individual challenges that may lead to people
needing the services of a human service professional is explored. The nature of vulnerability and how
social conditions often render some populations more at risk of needing assistance to overcome various
challenges are also explored.
The role of the Council on Standards for Human Service Education (CSHSE) and the National
Organization for Human Services (NOHS) is described. The function and purpose of the professional
organizations that monitor and support the human services profession, including educational standards,
state licensure, and professional certification, are also explored.
The rationale for the scope and parameters of human service professional functions and competencies
is described. The roles, functions, and scope of human service professionals engaging in practice on
micro and macro levels are described.
Key theoretical frameworks used in the human services discipline to real scenarios are applied. The
foundational theoretical approaches most often used in the human services discipline, including systems
theory, self-actualizing, and strengths-based approaches, are explored.
Recall what you learned in this chapter by completing the Chapter Review.
Internet Resources
Conduct an Internet search for “What is Human Services?” on the National Organization for Human
Services website.
Conduct an Internet search for the Council for Standards in Human Service Education and navigate the
site to learn more about the human service accreditation process.
Conduct an Internet search for the “Human Services Guide” on the Human Services Education website.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Center for Credentialing & Education [CCE]. (n.d.). Human Services–Board Certification Practitioner.
Retrieved from http://www.cce-global.org/hsbcp
Council for Standards in Human Service Education [CSHSE]. (2013). National Standards. Retrieved from
Gumpert, J., & Saltman, J. E. (1998). Social group work practice in rural areas: The practitioners speak.
Social Work with Groups, 21(3), 19–34.
Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York, NY: Harper.
Meyer, C. H. (1988). The eco-systems perspective. In R. A. Dorfman (Ed.), Paradigms of clinical social
work (pp. 275–294). Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/ Mazel, Inc.
National Organization for Human Services [NOHS]. (n.d.). What is human services? Retrieved from
Saleebey, D. (1996). The strengths perspective in social work practice: Extensions and cautions. Social
Work, 41(3), 296–305.
Sullivan, W. P. (1992). Reclaiming the community: The strengths perspective and deinstitutionalization.
Social Work, 37(3), 204–209.
Topuzova, L. (2006). Community Colleges and the Preparation of the U.S. Human Services Workforce.
Retrieved from http://www.cswe.org/File.aspx?id=16354
Chapter 2
2 The History and Evolution of Social Welfare Policy
Learning Objectives
Analyze how England’s historic system of poor care influenced the development of social welfare
policies in the United States
Compare and contrast key movements and associated philosophical influences in poor care and social
reform in early America
Describe ways that the New Deal and Great Society programs alleviated poverty after the Great
Identify key debates surrounding TANF program goals, benefits, and eligibility requirements
Analyze the impact of increased rights on the social welfare of LBGT populations
Describe the impact of contributions made by key African American reformers in the area of social
welfare and justice
Chapter Outline
The Roots of the American Social Welfare System: Poor Care in England 18
The Middle Ages: Feudalism in England and the Role of the Catholic Church: 1100 to 1550 19
The Poor Laws of England: 1500s to 1601 19
The Elizabethan Poor Laws 21
The History of Poor Care in Early America 21
Colonial America: 1607 to 1775 21
Poor Care in the Industrial and Progressive Eras: 1776 to 1920s 22
Charity Organization Societies: 1870 to 1893 24
Jane Addams and the Settlement House Movement: 1889 to 1929 26
The New Deal and Great Society Programs 28
Social Welfare in Contemporary United States 30
A Time of Recovery: 1970 to 1990 30
Welfare Reform and the Emergence of Neoliberal Economic Policies: 1990 to Now 32
PRWORA of 1996, TANF, and Other Programs for Low-Income Families 33
The Tea Party Movement 35
Emerging Issues in the Area of Social Justice Reform 37
Contributions of African American Reformers in the Fight for Social Justice 38
Conclusion 40
Summary 40
The Roots of the American Social Welfare System: Poor Care in England
The practice of helping others in need can be traced back to ancient times, but the human services
profession in its current context has historic roots dating back to at least the late 1800s. Since the United
States was once a colony of England, many of the laws and systems in the United States can be traced
back to its “mother country.” Thus, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the U.S. social
welfare system, including its various influences, it is important to understand the evolution of poor care
in England.
The Middle Ages: Feudalism in England and the Role of the Catholic Church: 1100 to 1550
A good place to begin this examination is the Middle Ages, from about the 11th to the 15th centuries,
where a system called feudalism prevailed as England’s primary method of caring for the poor. Under
this elitist system, privileged and wealthy landowners would parcel off small sections of their land,
which would then be worked by peasants or serfs. Many policy experts consider feudalism a
governmentally imposed form of slavery or servitude because individuals became serfs through racial
and economic discrimination.
Serfs were commonly born into serfdom with little hope of ever escaping, and as such they were
considered the legal property of their landowner, or what was commonly called, a lord. Although lords
were required to provide for the care and support of serfs in exchange for farming their land, the lords
had complete control over their serfs and could sell them or give them away as they deemed fit
(Stephenson, 1943; Trattner, 1998). Despite the seeming harshness of this system, it did provide
insurance against many of the social hazards associated with being poor, a social condition considered
an inescapable part of life, particularly for the lower classes. Many economic and environmental
conditions led to the eventual decline of the feudal system from the mid-14th century through its legal
abolition in 1660. Some of these conditions included several natural disasters that resulted in massive
crop failures, the bubonic plague (also called Black Death), various political dynamics, social unrest, and
urbanization due to the development of trade and towns.
Official poor relief during the Middle Ages was the responsibility of the Catholic Church, primarily
facilitated through the monasteries and local parishes. Catholic Bishops administered poor care through
the support of mandatory taxes or compulsory tithing. Poverty was not seen as a sin, and in fact, the
poor were perceived as a necessary component of society, in that they gave the rich an opportunity to
show their grace and goodwill through the giving of alms to the less fortunate.Thus, caring for the poor
was perceived as a noble duty that rested on the shoulders of all those who were able-bodied. Almost in
the same way that evil was required to highlight good, according to biblical scripture and Catholic
theology, poverty was likewise necessary to highlight charity and goodwill as required by God (Duncan &
Moore, 2003; Trattner, 1998).
The Poor Laws of England: 1500s to 1601
Mass urbanization, coupled with the decline of the feudal system, as well as the closing of most Catholic
monasteries in 1530 (under King Henry III, who was a Protestant), led to a dramatic increase in poverty
from the mid-1500s through the early part of the 1600s. In fact, during this time period about one-third
of the English population was poor, prompting the need for a complete overhaul of the social welfare
system (Trattner, 1998). Increased demand for factory wage labor in the cities ultimately led to droves
of people moving from rural communities to the city to work in factories. The creation of towns also
created new urban problems associated with urban poverty, including begging, vagrancy, and crime.
England responded to these changing dynamics and the associated problems by passing several relief
laws, called Tudor Poor Laws, between the mid-1500s and 1601. Tudor Poor Laws placed responsibility
for dealing with the poor at the local level and reflected a complete intolerance of idleness. Local police
scoured the cities in search of beggars and vagrants, and once found, a determination was made
between those who could not work—the worthy poor, and those who were able-bodied but refused to
work—the unworthy poor.
Legislative guidelines typically stipulated that only pregnant women, individuals who were extremely ill
and unable to work, or any person over the age of 60 were justifiably poor. The worthy poor were
treated more leniently, such as having government authorization to beg (typically in the form of a letter
of authorization), or they were given other forms of sustenance, such as food assistance. If a person was
found to be able-bodied and unemployed (the unworthy poor) they were often determined to be
vagrant, which was punishable by whippings, naked parading through the streets, being returned to the
town of birth, or incarceration. Repeat offenders were often subjected to having an ear cut off or even
death (Beier, 1974; Birtles, 1999; Jones, 1969).
Clearly, there was no sympathy to be had for individuals, male or female, who were deemed capable of
working but found themselves without a job or any means of support. Additionally, little consideration
was given to social or economic dynamics or what is now referred to as the cycle of poverty. What’s
even more surprising is that little sympathy was extended even to children, particularly adolescents who
were unparented and found begging in the streets. In fact, district officials often took these children into
custody, placing them into apprenticeship programs or almshouses, and subjected them to what we
would now consider to be child slavery (Trattner, 1998).
Factory with child workers
The Elizabethan Poor Laws
The Tudor Poor Laws were replaced by the Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601, a set of laws that established
a system of poor relief for England and Wales. The Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601 reflected an organized
merging of England’s earlier, sometimes conflicting and erratic, social welfare legislation. The
Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601 formalized many of the driving principles rooted in the Tudor Poor Laws,
including the belief that the primary responsibility for provision of the poor resided with one’s family,
that poor relief should be handled at the local level, that vagrancy was a criminal offense, and that
individuals should not be allowed to move to a new community if unable to provide for themselves
It was quite common for community members to bring charges against others if it could be proven that
they had moved into the district within the last 40 days and had no means to support themselves. Such
individuals would be charged as vagrants by the local officials and returned to their home districts. The
underlying notion was that local parishes didn’t mind supporting individuals who had fallen on hard
times after years of paying taxes and contributing to society, but they didn’t want to be forced to
support strangers who came to their district for the sole purpose of receiving aid. The Elizabethan Poor
Laws of 1601 served as the foundation for social welfare legislation in colonial America, and elements of
residency requirements can be found in current U.S. welfare policy.
During this time period in England there were generally two types of charitable provision: indoor relief
and outdoor relief. Indoor relief was provided for the unworthy poor—those deemed able-bodied but
who did not work (vagrants, indigents, and criminals). Indoor relief consisted of mandatory
institutionalization in workhouses or poorhouses, where residents were forced to work. Workhouses
were designed to be harsh, with the hope that they served as a deterrent for those individuals who
either lacked the skill or desire to work and become self-sufficient. Outdoor relief consisted of money,
clothing, food baskets, and medicine, provided in the homes of those who were considered the worthy
poor, most often widows, the disabled, and the aged (Jones, 1969; Slack, 1990).
The History of Poor Care in Early America
Life in colonial America not only offered tremendous economic opportunities but also presented
significant hardship related to life on the frontier. Many immigrants were quite poor to begin with, and
the long and difficult ocean voyage to the New World often left them unprepared for the rigors of life in
America. Thus, even though colonial America offered many opportunities not available in the Old World,
such as land ownership and numerous vocational opportunities, many of the social ills plaguing new
immigrants in their homeland followed them to America.
Colonial America: 1607 to 1775
English and Scottish colonization of North America began in 1607 in Virginia and continued through
most of the 1700s until independence. Because there was no existing infrastructure in the original 13
British colonies, poor relief consisted primarily of mutual kindness, family support, and distant help from
England. Self-sufficiency was a must, and life was not easy on the frontier. There was a dramatic rise in
the population between 1700, when there was an estimated population of about 250,000, and 1775
(just prior to the revolution and independence), when there was an estimated 2.5 million settlers
(Lemon, 1990). As the population increased, so did the need for a more formal and organized system of
poor care.
Although the prevailing assumption among many is that the United States was founded on a desire to be
completely different than England, in reality, the overriding reasons for the American Revolution,
although certainly complex, were based more on the desire for independence than solely on the desire
for a completely different governmental structure. This presumption is evident in the development of
many of the social customs, governmental infrastructures, and legislation, including the social welfare
policy of the American colonies. Thus, the colonies adopted not only the social welfare legislation of
England, but much of the perceptions of and attitudes about the poor and indigent as well.
Poor Care in the Industrial and Progressive Eras: 1776 to 1920s
After independence in 1776, poor care remained minimal, consisting primarily of free land grants,
pensions for widows, and aid to disabled veterans. There was very little formal social welfare legislation
passed at the state or federal levels until the early 1900s. And even those early laws provided minimally,
primarily for some groups of children and the disabled on the state level. One of the first federal social
welfare efforts was the Civil War Pension Program, passed in 1862, which provided aid to Civil War
Veterans and their families. Unemployment benefits were offered in most states by about 1929, and a
program offering veterans benefits, consisting primarily of medical aid, was instituted after World War I.
World War I veterans stand in front of a New York City post office to fill out applications for their long
promised bonuses
Essentially, prior to the Great Depression in 1929, which marked the first time that the federal
government recognized the necessity of a national social welfare program, poor care was primarily
handled by families, churches, and private charities. The nature of provision in the late-1800s and early
1900s was highly influenced by philosophical and religious belief systems that presumed to explain why
poverty and other social ills existed, which in turn influenced how the leaders of early American society
believed poverty should be addressed.
One such philosophical belief system was rooted in John Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, which
emanated from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Calvin wrote about the nature of God’s
control over the world and how this control was exercised, primarily in the form of who God would
allow into heaven (the elect) and who he would condemn to hell (the condemned). According to Calvin’s
doctrine, a person’s salvation was predestined by God and based solely on God’s grace, not by what
people did in their lives (whether they were essentially good or bad). Thus even though all people were
called to faith and repentance, not all people would be allowed into heaven.
Even though many Protestants rejected Calvin’s concept of predestination, including Lutherans and
Methodists, Calvin’s doctrine became embedded into early American society in a number of ways. In his
book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber described in detail the vast influence
of Calvin’s doctrine on European and American society. According to Weber, Calvin theorized that since
everyone deserved to go to hell anyway, that was the lot they should accept, and those who were saved
from condemnation were blessed by the grace of God. Human action in an attempt to secure salvation
(through works) was futile since one’s eternal fate rested not on human goodness, but solely on God’s
mysterious desire and will (Weber, 1905/1958). Roman Catholic theology, which previously influenced
poor care, recognized the omnipotence of God in matters of salvation, but also acknowledged that
people had free will and choice, and could elect to walk with God and have everlasting life by following
his commandments.
According to Weber, the Calvinists accepted the concept of predestination, but did not accept that there
was no way to determine who was saved and who was condemned, since participation in society and
privilege was based in large part on separating people into two categories: those who were Godly and
those who were not. For instance, only God’s faithful were allowed to become members of the church,
receive communion, and enjoy other benefits of salvation, including societal respect. Determining that
one was condemned to hell, not because of anything that person necessarily did, but because of God’s
mysterious determination, became a legitimate form of social exclusion.
In time particular behaviors and conditions became certain indicators—or signs—of one’s eternal fate.
For instance, hard work (what Weber referred to as the Protestant work ethic) and good moral conduct
(the ability to deny worldly pleasures in pursuit of purity) became signs of the elect since it was believed
that God blessed the elect by giving them a vocation, and only the elect were given the ability to be pure
(Weber, 1905/1958,). In other words, those who could not work for any reason, even through no fault of
their own, were considered condemned by God, because they were not bestowed a vocation. A “catch22” with regard to living a pure life was that it was the privileged members of society who determined
what was considered “pure.” For instance, church attendance was a requirement of purity, but only
members of the elect were permitted to join the church, and the remainder were excluded, which was
then used as an indicator that they were not pure, and thus not a member of the elect. Even if the poor
and suffering had a voice and could protest the paradoxical reasoning behind the signs, according to
Calvin, everyone deserved to be condemned anyway, thus there was simply nothing to complain about
(Hudson & Coukos, 2005; Weber, 1905/1958).
The influence of the Protestant work ethic and Calvin’s doctrine of predestination on society as a whole,
and specifically on the poor, were significant, extending well beyond that of the religious community
(Kim, 1977). With hard work, material success, and good moral conduct serving as the best signs of
election to salvation, it did not take long for poverty and presumed immoral behavior (remember, it was
presumed that only the elect had the spiritual fortitude to behave morally) to become clear indications
of one’s condemnation (Chunn & Gavigan, 2004; Gettleman, 1963; Hudson & Coukos, 2005; Kim, 1977;
Schram, Fordingy, & Sossz, 2008; Tropman, 1986; Weber, 1905/1958).
Social Darwinism was another philosophy that significantly influenced how poverty and the poor were
perceived, as well as how they should be treated. Social Darwinism involved the application of Charles
Darwin’s theory of natural selection to the human social world. Darwin’s theory, developed in the mid19th century, was based on the belief that environmental competition—a process called natural
selection—ensured that only the strongest and most fit organisms would survive (allowing the
biologically fragile to perish), thus guaranteeing successful survival of a species (Darwin, 1859/2009).
Darwin’s theory was focused primarily on the biological fitness of animals and plant life; yet, it appears
that he applied his theory to humans as well, in an attempt to provide naturalistic explanations for
various phenomena in human social life. Weikart (1998) describes written discussions between Darwin
and a colleague, in which Darwin espoused a belief that humans were subject to natural law as well, and
that economic competition was a necessary component of natural selection. Darwin argued that
socioeconomic inequality was due to biological inequality, and thus those in society who suffered from
poverty and other forms of misfortune were merely victims of their own biological inferiority, and their
demise was necessary for the survival of society as a whole (Weikart, 1998). In other words, the poor
should be allowed to perish, and attempts at intervention could harm society. By maximizing
competition for economic resources, the weaker members of society would be weeded out. Thus,
allowing the biologically (and mentally) superior to prevail, ensuring survival of the human species.
One of the most influential social Darwinists was Herbert Spencer, an English sociologist and
philosopher who actually preceded Darwin in applying concepts of natural selection to the social world.
Spencer coined the term survival of the fittest (a term often incorrectly attributed to Darwin) in
reference to the importance of human competition for resources in securing the survival of what were
considered the fittest members of society. Spencer was a fierce opponent of any form of government
intervention or charity on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, arguing that such interventions would
interfere with the natural order, thus threatening society as a whole (Hofstadter, 1992). Although
Spencer’s theory of social superiority was developed in advance of Darwin’s theory, his followers relied
on Darwin’s theory of natural selection for scientific validity of social Darwinism.
The fatalistic nature of the concept of predestination, the Protestant work ethic, and social Darwinism
became deeply imbedded in U.S. religious and secular culture, and were used to justify a laissez-faire
approach to charity throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries (Duncan & Moore, 2003;
Hofstadter, 1992). Although the specific tenets of these ideologies may have softened over the years,
the significance of hard work, good fortune, material success, and living a socially acceptable life have
remained associated with special favor and privilege in life, whereas poverty and disadvantage have
remained associated with presumed weak character, laziness, and immoral behavior. Leaving the poor
and disadvantaged to their own devices was perceived as nothing more than complying with God’s (or
nature’s) grand plan (Duncan & Moore, 2003). Remnants of these doctrines and philosophies can still be
seen in contemporary approaches to helping the poor and disadvantaged, and continue to influence the
development of legislation in the United States, as well as people’s attitudes about poverty and the poor
(Chunn & Gavigan, 2004; Duncan & Moore, 2003; Gettleman, 1963; Hudson & Coukos, 2005; Kim, 1977;
Schram et al., 2008; Tropman, 1986).
Charity Organization Societies: 1870 to 1893
The Charity Organization Society (COS), often considered one of the forerunners of the modern social
services profession, marked one of the first organized efforts within the United States to provide charity
to the poor. The COS movement began in England in 1869, in response to increased urbanization and
immigration and common frustration with the current welfare system, which consisted primarily of
disorganized and chaotic almsgiving. The COS movement was started by Rev. S. Humphreys Gurteen,
who believed that it was the duty of good Christians to provide an organized and systematic way of
addressing the plight of the poor in a manner that would increase self-sufficiency and personal
responsibility. Gurteen and his colleagues strongly believed that giving alms indiscriminately, and
without conditions, encouraged fraud and abuse, as well as encouraging laziness among those receiving
the help.
The first COS was founded in Buffalo, New York, in 1877 and served as a sort of umbrella organization
for other charities by assisting in the coordination and oversight of relief services to the poor (Schlabach,
1969). The COS concept of organized and systematic provision quickly spread to large cities across the
nation, and in 1890 over 100 cities had at least one COS serving the community (Wahab, 2002). The COS
philosophy focused on self-sufficiency and reducing dependence. Therefore, outdoor relief, such as cash
assistance, was discouraged because it was considered harmful to the beneficiary based upon the belief
that material relief would encourage dependence and laziness, thus ultimately increasing poverty
(Gettleman, 1963; Kusmer, 1973). In this respect, the COS embraced many of the principles of social
Darwinism, as well as the concepts of the unworthy and worthy poor.
A part of aid provision involved the evaluation of poor women’s situations to determine whether they
were worthy of aid. To accomplish this goal, the COS employed volunteer friendly visitors, primarily
Christian women from the middle to upper classes, who visited the homes of those in need, and
evaluated the root causes of their poverty. A case plan would then be written, detailing the visitor’s
assessment and recommendations (Trattner, 1998). Since material relief was discouraged, most friendly
visitors offered only sympathy, encouragement, and guidance on how to seek employment, with
perhaps minimal financial assistance (Wahab, 2002).
A social hierarchy was reflected in the philosophical motivation of COS leaders, often the community’s
wealthiest and most religious members, who agreed to provide charity to the poor as long as the poor
remembered their proper place in society (Gettleman, 1963). Yet, even the deserving poor did not
escape the influence of the Protestant work ethic or the fatalism of social Darwinism, both of which
were deeply imbedded in COS culture. For example, friendly visitors often focused excessively on the
sexual behavior of the women who they helped. The COS viewed immorality as the primary problem in
most slums, believing that the women living in the slums (many of whom were single mothers) were
weak and fallen, having succumbed to the charms and sexual advances of male suitors (Wahab, 2002).
The friendly visitors often used the guise of friendship to connect to these women, hoping they could
influence them through modeling the value of becoming a good Christian woman. Many COS visitors
even went so far as to ask neighbors to monitor the younger women in the slums and report back on
any male visitors (Wahab, 2002).
The principles of the Protestant work ethic and social Darwinism, with their focus on hard work, selfsufficiency, and natural selection, were clearly reflected in various speeches and writings of COS leaders.
Common themes included arguments that even widows would become lazy if too much help was given
and life was made too easy for them. Many COS leaders also argued that providing charity to the
unemployed, able- bodied poor was actually immoral since, according to natural selection, they were
destined to perish, and providing them charity only prolonged their suffering and was therefore in
neither their nor society’s best interest (Gettleman, 1963).
Mary Richmond, the general secretary of the Baltimore COS, had a far more compassionate attitude
toward the poor. She was a fierce advocate for social justice and social reform, and believed that
charities could employ good economics and compassionate giving at the same time. Richmond became
well known for increasing public awareness of the COS movement and for her fundraising efforts.
Richmond’s compassion for the poor was likely due to her own experience with poverty as a child.
Richmond was orphaned at the age of two and then later abandoned by her aunt, who left Richmond to
fend for herself in New York when she was only 17 years old. Thus, Richmond no doubt understood the
social components of poverty, and how factors outside of peoples’ control could have a devastating
impact on their lives. Richmond is credited for contributing to the development of the modern case
management model through her conceptualization of social diagnosis, a process involving friendly
visitors assessing clients and their environments. Social diagnoses enabled the visitor to identify sources
of power and barriers to self-sufficiency (Kusmer, 1973; Richmond, 1917).
Despite the general success of the COS and the contributions the movement made to professionalizing
the helping fields, its adherence to deterministic philosophies that negated social factors of poverty
while pathologizing the poor deepened the belief that the poor were to blame for their lot in life. In
retrospect, one can recognize the naivety of believing that poverty could be controlled merely through
moral behavior. But, the country was about to learn a very hard collective lesson during the Depression
era—one that immigrants, many ethnic minority groups and single mothers had known for years—that
sometimes conditions exist that are beyond an individual’s control and that create immovable barriers
to economic self-sufficiency.
Jane Addams and the Settlement House Movement: 1889 to 1929
During the same time that the COS friendly visitors were addressing poverty in the slums by focusing on
personal morality, Jane Addams was confronting poverty in a vastly different way—by focusing on social
injustice. Addams was a social justice advocate and a social reformer who started the settlement house
movement in the United States with the opening of the Hull House in Chicago. Addams considered the
more religiously-oriented charity organizations rather heartless because they were more concerned
with efficiency and controlling fraud than alleviating poverty (Schneiderhan, 2008). Addams used a
relational model of poverty alleviation based on the belief that poverty and disadvantage were caused
by problems within society, not idleness and moral deficiency (Lundblad, 1995). Addams advocated for
changes within the social structure of society in order to remove barriers to self-sufficiency, which she
viewed as an essential component of a democracy (Hamington, 2005; Martin, 2012). In fact, the opening
of the Hull House, the first settlement house in the United States, was considered the beginning of one
of the most significant social movements in U.S. history.
Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois, in 1860. She was raised in an upper-class home where education
and philanthropy were highly valued. Addams greatly admired her father, who encouraged her to
pursue an education at a time when most women were destined to solely pursue marriage and
motherhood. She graduated from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881, the same year her father died.
After her father’s death, Addams entered Woman’s Medical College in Pennsylvania but dropped out
because of chronic illness. Addams had become quite passionate about the plight of immigrants in the
United States, but due to her poor health and the societal limitations placed on women during that era,
she did not believe she had a role in social advocacy.
The United States experienced another significant wave of immigration between 1860 and 1910, with 23
million people emigrating from Europe, including Eastern Europe. Many of these immigrants were from
non-English-speaking countries, such as Italy, Poland, Russia, and Serbia, thus did not speak English and
were very poor. Unable to obtain work in the skilled labor force, many immigrants were forced to work
in unsafe urban factories and live in subhuman conditions, crammed together with several other
families in tenements. For instance, New York’s Lower East Side had approximately 330,000 inhabitants
per square mile (Trattner, 1998). With no labor laws for protection, racial discrimination and a variety of
employment abuses were common, including extremely low wages, unsafe working conditions, and
child labor. Poor families, particularly non-English-speaking families, had little recourse, and their mere
survival depended on their coerced cooperation.
Addams was aware of these conditions because of her father’s political involvement, but she was unsure
of how she could help. Despondent about her father’s death and her failure in medical school, as well as
her ongoing health problems, Addams took an extended trip with friends to Europe, where among other
activities she visited Toynbee Hall settlement house, England’s response to poverty and other social
problems. Toynbee Hall served as a neighborhood welfare institution in an urban slum area, where
trained settlement house volunteers worked to improve social conditions by providing community
services and promoting neighborly cooperation.
The concept of addressing poverty at the neighborhood level through social and economic reform was
revolutionary. Rather than monitoring the behavior of the poor through intermittent visits, settlement
house workers lived right alongside the immigrant families they endeavored to help. In addition to
providing a safe, clean home, settlement houses also provided poor immigrants with comprehensive
care, such as assistance with food, health care, English language lessons, child care, and general
advocacy. The settlement house movement had a mission of no longer distinguishing between the
worthy and unworthy poor, and instead recognizing the role that society played in the ongoing plight of
the poor—a stance that was a departure from the traditional charity organizations.
Social worker Jane Addams (R) talking with a little girl in the Hull House nursery school
Addams returned home convinced that it was her duty to do something similar in the United States, and
with the donation of a building in Chicago, and the help of friend Ellen Gates Starr, the Hull House
became America’s first settlement house in 1889. Addams and her colleagues lived in the settlement
house, in the middle of what was considered a bad neighborhood in Chicago, offering services targeting
the underlying causes of poverty such as unfair labor practices, the exploitation of non-English-speaking
immigrants, and child labor. The Hull House became the social center for all activities in the
neighborhood and even offered residents an opportunity to socialize in the resident’s café. From the
late 1800s through the mid-1900s, up to 400 settlement houses were opened in the United States,
primarily in low-income urban, immigrant neighborhoods.
Addams’ influence on American social policy was significant, in that her work represented a shift away
from the fatalistic perspectives of social Darwinism, as well as the religious perspectives of Reformed
theology. Instead, Addams highlighted the need for social change so that barriers to upward mobility
and optimal functioning could be removed (Martin, 2012). Addams and her colleagues were committed
to viewing the poor as equal members of society, just as worthy of respect and dignity as anyone else.
Addams clearly saw societal conditions and the hardship of immigration as the primary cause of poverty,
not necessarily one’s personal moral failing. Social inequality was perceived as the manifestation of
exploitation, with social egalitarianism perceived as not just a desirable but achievable outcome
(Lundblad, 1995; Martin, 2012). Addams’ focus on social inequity was reflected in her tireless lobbying
for the passage of child labor laws (despite fierce opposition by corporations and conservative
politicians). Addams also advocated on a local and national level for labor laws that would protect the
working-class poor, who were often exploited in factories with sweatshop conditions. She also worked
alongside Ida B. Wells, an African American reformer, confronting racial inequality in the United States,
such as the extrajudicial lynching of black men (Addams, 1909).
Although there are no working settlement houses today, the prevailing concept espoused by this
movement, with its focus on social components of poverty and disadvantage, remains foundational to
the human services and social work professions, and also serves as the roots of today’s urban
neighborhood centers. Yet, despite the overall success of the settlement house movement and the
particular successes of Addams with regard to achieving social reform in a variety of arenas, the threads
of moralistic and deterministic philosophies have remained strongly interwoven into American society,
and have continued to influence perceptions of the poor and social welfare policy and legislation.
The New Deal and Great Society Programs
In 1929 the stock market crashed, leading to a series of economic crises such as the United States had
never before experienced. For the first time in modern U.S. history, large segments of the middle-class
population lost their jobs and all means of income. Within a very short time thousands of people who
had once enjoyed financial security were suddenly without jobs and eventually without homes and food.
This served as a wake-up call for social reformers, many of whom had abandoned their earlier
commitment to social activism because of decades of a good economy. In response, many social
reformers started pushing President Hoover to develop the country’s first comprehensive system of
social welfare on a federal level.
Hoover was resistant, though, fearing that a federal system of social welfare would create dependency
and displace the role of private and local charities. Hoover wanted to allow time for the economy to selfcorrect through the capitalist system and the market economy before intervening with national
entitlement programs. But much of the country apparently did not agree with this plan. In 1933, Hoover
lost his bid for reelection, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as the country’s 32nd president.
Roosevelt immediately set about to create changes in federal policy with regard to social welfare,
promising dramatic changes, including sweeping reforms in the form of comprehensive poverty
alleviation programs.
From 1933 through 1938, Roosevelt instituted a series of legislative reforms and domestic programs
collectively referred to as the New Deal programs. In his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt passed 13
acts, including one that created the Civil Works Administration (CWA), which provided over a million
temporary jobs to the unemployed; the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), which provided direct aid
and food to the unemployed (and was replaced by the Works Progress Administration [WPA] in 1935),
and one that created the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), which put thousands of young men ages 18
to 25 to work in reforestation and other conservation programs. Yet, as progressive as Roosevelt was,
and as compassionate as the country had become toward the poor due to the realization that poverty
could strike anyone, racism was still rampant, as illustrated by Roosevelt placing a 10 percent
enrollment limit for black men in the CCC program (Trattner, 1998).
By far the most famous of all programs in the New Deal were those created in response to the Social
Security Act of 1935, which among other things created old-age pension for all workers, unemployment
compensation, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and aid to the blind and disabled.
Programs such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which provided insurance for bank
deposits, helped to instill a sense of renewed confidence in the banking system, and the development of
the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which regulates the stock market, helped to ensure that
a crash similar to the one in 1929 would be unlikely to occur again. In total Roosevelt created 15 federal
programs as a part of the New Deal, some of which remain today, and some of which were dismantled
once the crisis of the Great Depression subsided. Although some claim that the New Deal was not good
for the country in the long run, it did pull the country out of a severe economic decline, providing relief
for millions of Americans who may have literally starved had the federal government not intervened.
The United States recovered from the Great Depression and has since experienced several periods of
economic growth and decline, but never any as severe as that which was prompted by the 1929 stock
market crash. This is likely because of federal programs such as the FDIC and creation of the SEC (and
others). In later times though, the dismantling of some post–Depression financial regulations would
contribute to yet another devastating economic downturn in 2007—perhaps not as severe as the Great
Depression, but more serious and longlasting than any other recession experienced in the U.S. post–
Depression era, particularly because of its global consequences.
The 1940s remained a time of general recovery and the 1950s was a relatively stable time, both
economically and socially. Several laws were passed and agencies created that continued to advance the
state of social welfare in the United States, including the creation of the U.S. Department of Health,
Education, and Welfare (HEW) in 1953, and the passage of the U.S. Housing Act of 1954 (Ch. 649, 68
Stat. 590).
The 1960s was a time of civil unrest and increasing rates of poverty, which spawned a resurgence of
interest in social problems, including poverty and social injustice, particularly related to many at-risk
populations, such as ethnic minority populations, older adults, and the mentally ill. For instance,
President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Centers Act (PL 88-164) on
October 31, 1963, which transitioned the U.S. mental health system from one of institutionalization to a
community health model. Kennedy was assassinated less than a month later, on November 22, 1963,
and President Lyndon B. Johnson continued the Kennedy legacy with the introduction of the Great
Society programs—a set of social welfare programs designed to eliminate poverty and racial injustice.
Policy areas within the Great Society programs included civil rights, education, and poverty (later
popularly referred to as Johnson’s War on Poverty). Examples of some of the social welfare legislation
and programs included under the umbrella of the Great Society include the Economic Opportunity Act of
1964 (PL 88-452); the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (PL 88-352); the Food Stamp Act of 1964 (PL 88-525);
Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act of 1965 (PL 89-73); the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act of 1965 (PL 89-10); the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and
the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (PL-89-110).
Whether the Great Society and the War on Poverty programs were successful in reducing poverty, racial
discrimination and other social problems continue to be debated to this day. It’s no surprise that
conclusions tend to fall along party lines, with many conservatives complaining that Johnson’s social
experiment amounted to nothing more than throwing money at oversimplified problems with disastrous
results, and liberals decrying just the opposite—that most of the programs had the potential to be
successful, but were grossly underfunded (Zarefsky, 2005). Some point to racism as the reason why
many Great Society programs were ultimately dismantled (Quadagno, 1994), while others pointed to
the Vietnam War as the reason for government (and societal) shifting priorities (Zarefsky, 2005).
Regardless, many of the programs remain and represent a time in history when there was increased
recognition of structural barriers in society that can keep many people from functioning at their optimal
level and achieving economic self-sufficiency.
Social Welfare in Contemporary United States
A Time of Recovery: 1970 to 1990
The 1970s and 1980s was a time of mixed reviews on welfare and welfare reform. There was
considerable conservative backlash in response to what was considered a few decades of liberal social
welfare legislation and entitlement programs, but despite President Nixon’s opposition to welfare,
existing programs continued to grow. The mid-1970s through the 1980s was a boom time economically
in the United States, and boom times typically mean that people become less sympathetic toward the
plight of the poor, and that’s exactly what happened—there was a resurgence of earlier negative
sentiments toward the poor beginning in the mid-1970s and peaking in the 1990s.
This increased negative attitude toward the poor was reflected in several studies and national public
opinion surveys that indicated a general belief that the poor were to blame for their lot in life. For
instance, a national survey conducted in 1975 found that the majority of those living in the United States
attributed poverty to personal failures, such as having a poor work ethic, poor money management
skills, a lack of any special talent that might translate into a positive contribution to society, and low
personal moral values. Subjects ranked social forces, such as racism, poor schools, and the lack of
sufficient employment opportunities, the lowest of all possible causes of poverty (Feagin, 1975).
Ronald Reagan capitalized on this negative sentiment toward the poor during the 1976 presidential
campaign when he based his platform in large part on welfare reform. In several of Reagan’s speeches
he cited the story of the woman from the South Side of Chicago who was finally arrested after
committing egregious welfare fraud. He asserted that she had 80 names, 30 addresses, and 12 Social
Security cards, claiming that she was also collecting veteran’s benefits on four husbands, none of whom
were real. He also alleged that she was getting Social Security payments, Medicaid, and food stamps,
and was collecting public assistance under all of her assumed identities (Zucchino, 1999). While Reagan
never mentioned the woman’s race, the context of the story as well as the reference to the South Side
of Chicago (a primarily black community) made it clear that he was referring to an African American
woman—thus playing on the common stereotype of welfare users (and abusers) as being black
(Krugman, 2007). And with that, the enduring myth of the welfare queen was born.
Journalist David Zucchino attempted to debunk the myth of the welfare queen in his expose on the
reality of being a mother on welfare, but stated in his book The Myth of the Welfare Queen that the
image of the African American woman who drove a Cadillac while collecting welfare illegally from
numerous false identities was so imbedded in American culture it was impossible to debunk the myth,
even though the myth was not (and is not) supported by factual evidence (Zucchino, 1999). Krugman
(2007) also cites how politicians and media pundits have used the myth of the welfare queen ever since
in order to reduce sympathy for the poor and gain public support for welfare cuts, arguing that while
covert, such images clearly play on negative racial stereotypes. They also play on the common belief in
the United States that those who receive welfare benefits are poor because they are lazy, promiscuous,
and generally immoral.
More recent surveys conducted in the mid-1990s revealed an increase in the tendency to blame the
poor for their poverty (Weaver, Shapiro, & Jacobs, 1995), even though a considerable body of research
points to social and structural dynamics as the primary cause of enduring poverty. Examples of
structural causes of poverty include a shortage of affordable housing, recent shifts to a technologically
based society requiring a significant increase in educational and training requirements, longstanding
institutionalized oppression of and discrimination against certain racial and ethnic groups, and a general
increase in the complexity of life (Martin, 2012; Wright, 2000).
The general public’s perception of social welfare programs seems to be based in large part on this
negative bias against the poor and the stigmas such bias creates. Surveys conducted in the 1980s and
1990s showed support for the general idea of helping the poor, but when asked about specific programs
or policies, most respondents became critical of governmental policies, specific welfare programs, and
welfare recipients in general. For instance, a 1987 national study found that 74 percent of those
surveyed believed that most welfare recipients were dishonest and collected more benefits than they
deserved (Kluegal, 1987).
Welfare Reform and the Emergence of Neoliberal Economic Policies: 1990 to Now
Political discourse in the mid-1990s reflected what is often referred to as economic neoliberal
philosophies—a political movement embraced by most political conservatives, espousing a belief that
capitalism and the free market economy were far better solutions to many social conditions, including
poverty, than government programs, which were inefficient and poorly run. Advocates of neoliberalism
pushed for social programs to be privatized based upon the belief that getting social welfare out of the
hands of the government and into the hands of private enterprise, where market forces could work their
magic, would increase efficiency and lower costs. Yet, research has consistently shown that social
welfare services do not lend themselves well to free market theory due to the complexity of client
issues, unknown outcomes, a highly trained workforce, the lack of competition among providers, and
other dynamics that make social welfare services so unique (Nelson, 1992; Van Slyke, 2003).
During the 1994 U.S. Congressional campaign, the Republican Party released a document entitled The
New Contract with America, which included a plan to dramatically reform welfare, and according to its
authors, the poor would be reformed as well (Hudson & Coukos, 2005). The New Contract with America
was introduced just a few weeks prior to Clinton’s first mid-term election, and was signed by all but two
of the Republican members of the House of Representatives, as well as all of the party’s Congressional
candidates. In addition to a renewed commitment to smaller government and lower taxes, the contract
also pledged a complete overhaul of the welfare system to root out fraud and increase the poor’s
commitment to work and self-sufficiency.
Hudson and Coukos (2005) note the similarities between this political movement and the movement
100 years before, asserting that the Protestant work ethic served as the driving force behind both. Take,
for instance, the common arguments for welfare reform (policies that reduce and restrict social welfare
programs and services), which have often been predicated on the beliefs that (1) hardship is often the
result of laziness; (2) providing assistance will increase laziness (and thus dependence), hence increasing
hardship, not decreasing it; and (3) those in need often receive services at the expense of the working
population. These arguments were cited during the COS era as reasons why material support was illadvised. One of the more stark (and relatively recent) examples of this sentiment was expressed by Rep.
John Mica, Congressman of Florida, when he stood in front of the U.S. House floor, holding a sign that
read Don’t Feed the Alligators while delivering an impassioned speech in support of welfare reform.
During hearings on the state of public welfare in the United States Rep. Mica compared people on
welfare to alligators in Florida, stating that the reason for such signs is because “unnatural feeding”
leads to dependency and will cause the animal to lose its nature desire for self-sufficiency. Mica argued
that welfare programs would do the same for people, creating another generation of enslavement and
servitude (Lindsey, 2004).
While there may be some merit in debating the most effective way of structuring social welfare
programs, arguments such as Mica’s negate the complexity of poverty and economic disadvantage,
particularly among historically marginalized populations. They also play into longstanding stigmas and
negative stereotypes that portray the poor as a homogenous group with different natures and
characters than mainstream working society. These types of narratives also reflect the genderized and
racialized nature of poverty, contributing to institutionalized gender bias and racism.
Whether veiled or overt, negative bias, particularly that which is bestowed upon female public welfare
recipients of color, negates the disparity in social problems experienced by African American women
and other women of color (El-Bassel, Caldeira, Ruglass, & Gilbert, 2009; Martin, 2012; Siegel & Williams,
2003). Negative stereotypes and myths also provide a false picture of welfare recipient demographics by
implying that the largest demographic of beneficiaries is African American single women with numerous
children, which statistics do not support.
PRWORA of 1996, TANF, and Other Programs for Low-Income Families
Although a Republican Congress initiated welfare reform, it was passed by the Democratic Clinton
administration in the form of t…
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