Social work is an academic discipline and profession that concerns itself with individuals, families, groups and communities in an effort to enhance health and social functioning and overall well-being. Social functioning refers to the way in which people perform their social roles, and the structural institutions that are provided to sustain them.Social work applies social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, political science, public health, community development, law, and economics, to engage with client systems, conduct assessments, and develop interventions to solve social and personal problems; and create social change. Social work practice is often divided into micro-work, which involves working directly with individuals or small groups; and macro-work, which involves working communities, and within social policy, to create change on a larger scale. Social work developed in the 19th century, with roots in voluntary philanthropy and grassroots organizing.However, the act of responding to social needs have existed long before then, primarily from private charities, and religious organizations. The effects of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression placed pressure on social work to be a more defined discipline.
Social work is a broad profession that intersects with several disciplines. Social work organizations offer the following definitions: “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing International Federation of Social Workers "Social work is a profession concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. It aims to help people develop their skills and their ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems. Social work is concerned with individual and personal problems but also with broader social issues such as poverty, unemployment, and domestic violence." Canadian Association of Social Workers Social work practice consists of the professional application of social work values, principles, and techniques to one or more of the following ends: helping people obtain tangible services; counseling and psychotherapy with individuals, families, and groups; helping communities or groups provide or improve social and health services; and participating in legislative processes. The practice of social work requires knowledge of human development and behavior; of social and economic, and cultural institutions; and of the interaction of all these factors."- National Association of Social Workers "Social workers work with individuals and families to help improve outcomes in their lives. This may be helping to protect vulnerable people from harm or abuse or supporting people to live independently. Social workers support people, act as advocates and direct people to the services they may require. Social workers often work in multi-disciplinary teams alongside health and education professionals. - British Association of Social Workers.
The practice and profession of social work has a relatively modern and scientific origin, and is generally considered to have developed out of three strands. The first was individual casework, a strategy pioneered by the Charity Organization Society in the mid-19th century, which was founded by Helen Bosanquet and Octavia Hill in London, England. Most historians identify COS as the pioneering organization of the social theory that led to the emergence of social work as a professional occupation. COS had its main focus on individual casework. The second was social administration, which included various forms of poverty relief – 'relief of paupers'. Statewide poverty relief could be said to have its roots in the English Poor Laws of the 17th century, but was first systematized through the efforts of the Charity Organization Society. The third consisted of social action – rather than engaging in the resolution of immediate individual requirements, the emphasis was placed on political action working through the community and the group to improve their social conditions and thereby alleviate poverty. This approach was developed originally by the Settlement House Movement. This was accompanied by a less easily defined movement; the development of institutions to deal with the entire range of social problems. All had their most rapid growth during the nineteenth century, and laid the foundation basis for modern social work, both in theory and in practice. Professional social work originated in 19th century England, and had its roots in the social and economic upheaval wrought by the Industrial Revolution, in particular the societal struggle to deal with the resultant mass urban-based poverty and its related problems. Because poverty was the main focus of early social work, it was intricately linked with the idea of charity work. Other important historical figures that shaped the growth of the social work profession are Jane Addams, who founded the Hull House in Chicago and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931; Mary Ellen Richmond, who wrote Social Diagnosis, one of the first social work books to incorporate law, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, and history; and William Beveridge, who created the social welfare state, framing the debate on social work within the context of social welfare prevision.