Helping the Vulnerable: What Works and What Doesn’t

Just like in any other field of human activity, governments and individuals need information that will allow them to make better decisions and judgments about their actions.

Early pioneers of social work have developed a number of practices, and tried a variety of methods and approaches that to this day help social workers all around the world. In addition to practical experience, there are theories and various models. However, these latter two areas seem to borrow a lot from other fields of human knowledge, mostly sociology and psychology, and they are often very incomplete.

Octavia Hill started to document her work with women in nineteenth-century England. What some others saw at the time as an incomplete description of her personal experiences, has later become usable knowledge and a foundation for social workers to document and analyze the results of their work. The accumulation of the records of people who were trying to help the vulnerable, was one of the reasons why social work became a discrete area of activity.

The nineteenth century was the time of the steam engine, the motorized vehicle, and the origins of mechanical flying. For this reason, there were also a lot of hope and expectation within society about works that would explain how society functions, and what needs to be done for societies to become more effective, productive, and compassionate at the same time.

The work Social Diagnosis by Mary Richmond, was one of the first pieces that looked at helping the vulnerable and the poor from a conceptual standpoint. Social work it the United States had a lot of influence from the psycho-dynamic theory. In the United States, psychologists, sociologists and social workers were looking at individuals through the prism of their psychological history and the motivations of their unconscious. These theories were very attractive because they allowed the helpers to take a very active role and approach in dealing with vulnerable populations.

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