Lessons from Difficult History and Critiques in Social Work

In foresight practice, history is held with the greatest regard – in fact no ethical or credible foresight is really possible without consideration of the forces, patterns and ingredients of “how we got here.” To be a futurist or foresight practitioner, is to be a devoted student of history as well as whatever is ahead.

In my work preparing to deliver a meaningful and (hopefully) useful and relevant set of frameworks for social work as a profession to think about its future – I felt it was necessary to do the deepest dive possible about our history. It was sobering.

While I knew “much” of this before putting the bibliography together, I hadn’t really seen it all together in this way before.  It is, as they say, the “receipts.”   I’m sure this isn’t exhaustive…and always welcome other ideas if someone has them.  This is something that generally is covered in the history of social work courses…but can and should be done with more focus.  I plan to use this in my classes moving forward to underscore (as Amy Rossiter says so well in the piece included) “there is no place of innocence” for social work to stand.    We must hold both the good and the bad in ways that cause us to move the profession ahead with humility.

To focus on the hard history is not to minimize the good work, the social science, the social justice gains, the healing, the very real progress that social work as a profession has done and contributed to. But the truth of our profession includes both things. There are many places to observe social work’s positive contributions. This is not a resource about the good things. This is a resource about the hard things – the deep trespasses and damages caused, and the critiques offered about the very heart of our most basic assumptions about who we are and what we do.

I share it in the spirit of hoping it will further fuel and inform the good work being done to create a transformation in the way we think about need, care and our responsibilities to each other in community.    Despite any/all good work happening in the profession, there is no going forward for social work, in my opinion, without the deepest reckoning for the damage that has been done and the possibilities for losing our way in our work in the future.  We can never be done learning from this history (and the impacts has now and in the years to come). 

Link here.

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