The Social Worker Speaks : A History of Social Workers Through the Twentieth Century book cover
1st Edition

The Social Worker Speaks
A History of Social Workers Through the Twentieth Century

ISBN 9781138245587
Published September 8, 2016 by Routledge
224 Pages

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Book Description

The Social Worker Speaks charts the motivations, work activities and attitudes of social workers across the country from 1904 to 1989. The book is about workers in the public sector (from Poor Law to Social Services Departments), probation and workers in the voluntary field (including early century philanthropic visiting societies as well as specialist societies such as the Children's Society and the NSPCC). Where possible accounts by and the words and thoughts of social workers themselves are used. Since the war, histories of social work have concentrated on practice theory and methods, developments instigated by legislation, university training and professional status, but there has been little attention paid to who social workers were, what they believed, what they actually did, and what they thought of what they did. Also, individual social workers appearing in nearly all histories have been 'leaders' - managers, teachers or academics, with people who did the job on the front line accorded barely a mention. If part of the aim of this book is to remedy this partial coverage, another aim is to offer a more human history of social workers. There is too little celebration or humour in what has been published about the history of social workers; The Social Worker Speaks deliberately includes stories of how social workers behaved, their frustrations and triumphs, passions and occasional sins. So this is deliberately not a history of social work, but a history of social workers - the first of its kind.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; 1904-1914: visiting societies, the Poor Law and local activists; 1904-1914: missionaries, inspectors, lady visitors and Mr Cramp the Almoner; 1914-1930: the Great War and after: a new breed; 1919-1939: public assistance, new ideas, old attitudes; 1939-1948: the impact of the Second World War; 1948-1971: social workers: public servants; 1948-1971: training, outsiders and themes; 1971-1979: Seebohmising; 1980-1989: this is alright; Afterword; Appendices; References; Index.

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David Burnham studied history at Sheffield University then qualified in social work at Leicester. Following time working as a probation officer and then a child care social worker, his subsequent career was as a trainer and then manager in social care in a local authority. He currently works part time for the NHS. His interest in history has focussed on various aspects of twentieth-century British society and culture. Over the last five years he has been researching the history of social workers.


'Most writers on social work history do not deal with the lives of individual front line social workers - for example, how they behaved, their attitudes, frustrations, triumphs and even occasional misdemeanours. Burnham’s book attempts to remedy this, dealing with the motivations and activities of workers in the public sector from the Poor Law to Social Services Departments, as well as those in probation and workers in the voluntary field, including philanthropic visiting societies and more specialist societies such as the NSPCC... Burnham has put together a rather impressive and unusual text - one which I found to be an easy and enjoyable read. It brought back some fond and some not-so-fond memories, and will certainly appeal to those wanting to gain an insight into the history of social workers and what their attitudes and activities involved.' British Journal of Social Work '... it is a human story, engagingly told and with clear regard to historical changes; real people, making difficult decisions in sometimes dangerous situations, cross the pages. Social work students, interested to know a little about the personal experiences of their professional predecessors, may benefit from its insights and the general reader, concerned to know more about the ways in which attitudes and social work tasks have changed, and particularly about the personal experiences of those men and women who undertake difficult or even impossible tasks on behalf of all of us, may benefit by gaining some understanding of their thoughts and reflections.' Contemporary British History 'A book that uses the stories of individuals to tell the history of social work during the 20th century makes a lively and refreshing change from standard history books ... David Burnham’s debut book, ’The Social Worker Speaks’ is an eloquently written and authoritative history of social workers from 1904-1989. ... Burnham’s book ends with a series of unanswered questions and an invitation to the read