100 Years of Professional Social Work


1950s to Present

Other Sections:
BC through 1700s Social Work Milestones
The 1880s Social Work Milestones
1900 to 1950s Social Work Milestones

1950 The first licensing for independent social work practice goes into effect in San Diego, California.

Japan’s first MSW program is established at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

1951 The Hollis–Taylor Report is published as Social Work Education in the United States (New York: Council on Social Work Education) and recommends a more generic orientation. Many of its recommendations are adopted.

1952 The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is formed through a merger of the American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW) and the National Association of Schools of Social Administration (NASSA)—the two competing organizations that had been setting standards for schools of social work. CSWE is soon granted the authority to accredit graduate (master of social work) schools of social work.

The McCarran–Walter Act (Immigration and Nationality Act, Ch. 477, 66 Stat. 163) is enacted to codify the requirements for immigration and naturalization into the United States. The law includes a quota system that permits many more people from northern European nations to come to the United States than people from Asia, Africa, or Latin America.

1953 The U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) is established.

1954 The U.S. Housing Act of 1954 (Ch. 649, 68 Stat. 590) becomes law, establishing a massive urban renewal program in most American communities.

In social casework, the so-called "diagnostic" and "functional" schools begin to merge and lose their separate identities. The functional school had been oriented toward a highly focused, goal-oriented approach to casework intervention. The diagnostic school had been influenced by Freudian theory, but adherents of this approach develop more of a psychosocial orientation in the 1950s.

In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

1955 On October 1, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is created through the merger of seven organizations—the American Association of Social Workers (AASW), the American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW), the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers (AAPSW), the National Association of School Social Workers (NASSW), the American Association of Group Workers (AAGW), the Association for the Study of Community Organization (ASCO), and the Social Work Research Group (SWRG). Membership is limited to members of the seven associations and subsequently to master’s degree–level workers graduating from accredited schools of social work.

1956 The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) is established and comprises national social work professional associations. The Council of International Programs (CIP) is founded in Cleveland to facilitate an exchange program in social work education between the United States and 110 other nations.

1957 The U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1957 (P.L. 85-315) is passed.

1958 The National Defense Education Act of 1958 (P.L. 85-864) is passed, providing federal aid to all levels of public and private education in the United States. The act stressed education in math, sciences, and foreign languages and gave extensive funding for low-interest student loans.

1959 The first professional school of social work to focus exclusively on social policy and planning is established in Waltham, Massachusetts. It is the Florence Heller Graduate School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare at Brandeis University.

Social Work Curriculum Study, a 13-volume evaluation and recommendation for improved social work education, edited by Werner Boehm, is published (Washington, DC: Council on Social Work Education).

1961 Unemployed parents may be included in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) payments in states that elect to include them.

Rhode Island becomes the third jurisdiction to pass a regulatory law for social workers.

The White House Conference on Aging develops plans for effective care for the nation’s older people. Its work leads to the Older Americans Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-73).

1962 The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) organizes the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW), restricted to NASW members with accredited master of social work (MSW) degrees, two years’ agency experience under certified social work supervision, and adherence to the NASW Code of Ethics. ACSW membership requirements are subsequently revised to include testing and professional recommendations.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) recognizes community organization as a legitimate specialization for social work education.

Congress passes the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962 (P.L. 87-415), a full-scale government training program to return displaced and unemployed workers to new fields.

President John F. Kennedy signs into law the social security amendments, which provide greatly increased federal support for states to employ social workers and others. The workers would provide counseling and training to help people get off the welfare rolls.

1963 In Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that all needy defendants in criminal cases have the right to free legal counsel.

The Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health issues its findings. President Kennedy signs into law the Community Mental Health Centers Act (P.L. 88-164), which funds development of mental health centers, training programs, and outpatient treatment programs.

1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson launches the Great Society programs. With legislation in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-452) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-352), the resulting programs include the Job Corps, Operation Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the Neighborhood Youth Corps, and the Community Action program. Federal funding is also used to train thousands of social workers and end the social work personnel shortages.

Racial discrimination in public places is made illegal.

The Food Stamp program (Food Stamp Act of 1964, P.L. 88-525) is enacted. Recipients are required to purchase coupons that are redeemable in food stores. A family of four with a monthly income of $140 could buy $166 worth of coupons for $37.

1965 More Great Society programs and organizations are enacted and implemented, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-73), and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-10).

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is established.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-110) becomes law.

Wilbur Cohen, a social worker and economist who helped found the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and served on the committee to create the Social Security Act, is appointed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), which is to administer most of the Great Society programs.

1966 The U.S. Supreme Court issues the Miranda decision, requiring that police inform a suspect of his or her constitutional rights before questioning.

1967 The Social Security Act is amended to include a Work Incentive (WIN) program designed to encourage recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) to work without losing most of their benefits.

Amendments (P.L. 90-36) to the Social Security Act separate the welfare system’s income maintenance features from personal social services. Clerks can replace professionals in administering the income maintenance program. Social workers are needed only to provide personal social services; thus, their role in public welfare is greatly diminished.

The In re Gault decision by the U.S. Supreme Court determines that juveniles have the same constitutional rights as adults. The juvenile court system, which had minimized the adversary process and used social workers as advocates and probation officers, is greatly curtailed.

1968 The Kerner Commission (National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders) issues its report, blaming white racism and limited opportunities for black people as major causes of the strife and rioting in urban ghettos. The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-351) is passed and establishes the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) to help state and municipal governments control crime, rehabilitate offenders, recruit and train corrections officers and police, and improve correctional facilities.

The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) and War on Poverty programs start to dismantle. Within the next three years, many programs are abolished and others are downgraded and placed within other federal agencies, especially the Community Service Administration.

The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) is established; the National Association of Puerto Rican Social Service Workers (NAPRSSW) is founded; and the Asian American Social Workers (AASW) is formed.

1969 Membership in the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), once restricted to people with master of social work (MSW) degrees, is opened to social workers with qualified bachelor’s degrees. The NASW Delegate Assembly approves the resolution to pursue licensing of social work practice within each state.

President Richard M. Nixon proposes the Family Assistance Plan (FAP) to reorganize the nation’s welfare program. The plan, which proposes a minimum guaranteed annual income and incentives to encourage people to work, is not enacted.

1970 The National Indian Social Workers Association (NISWA) is created.

1971 The National Federation of Societies for Clinical Social Work (NFSCSW) is established.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) establishes the Educational Legislative Action Network (ELAN). Its political action functions are later assumed by local NASW chapters and by other NASW bodies at the national level.

ACTION is established as an independent federal umbrella agency that includes the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and the Foster Grandparent program.

1972 The Supplemental Security Income program (P.L. 92-603) is enacted, which combines and federalizes public assistance for adult poor, aged, blind, and disabled people. Sex discrimination in federally assisted educational programs is abolished.

1974 CETA (the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, P.L. 93-203) provides job opportunities and education for disadvantaged people. Section 8 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-383) helps low-income people live in housing provided by the private sector at fair market value. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (P.L. 93-495) prohibits discrimination in credit based on gender or marital status, among other criteria.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (P.L. 93-247) is signed. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) is established. In 1978, this law is expanded to cover improvements in the nation’s adoption system.

1975 Personal social services, work training, housing and community development, and juvenile justice and delinquency programs become law. The amendment to the Social Security Act known as Title XX (P.L. 93-647) becomes the major source of funds for personal social services. Each state is reimbursed by the federal government for helping individuals achieve economic self-support and independence, preventing and remedying neglect and abuse, and reducing and preventing improper institutional care.

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142) becomes law, requiring that the nation’s public schools will provide equal educational opportunities for handicapped and learning-disabled youngsters.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) removes "homosexuality" from its diagnosable mental disorders.

1976 The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) establishes Political Action for Candidate Election (PACE).

The Rural Social Work Caucus is formed (at the first national Institute on Social Work in Rural Areas) to coordinate the activities of social workers who serve nonmetropolitan people.

1977 President Jimmy Carter proposes a thorough revision of the nation’s social welfare system with a Jobs and Income Security program, which fails to gain approval in Congress and is abandoned when he is not reelected.

The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work (GADE) is formed.

1979 The U.S. Supreme Court rules that welfare benefits must be paid to families left needy by the mother’s loss of her job, just as to families in which the father becomes unemployed.

The American Association of State Social Work Boards (AASSWB) is incorporated to coordinate the procedures and activities of state licensing for social workers.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Delegate Assembly approves the profession’s new Code of Ethics.

1980 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is established when the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare is divided. The U.S. Department of Education is established as an independent cabinet-level department.

The British government’s Barclay Report is completed, defining the roles and tasks of social workers in public assistance and personal social services. It states that social workers should be more involved in social care planning and counseling, promoting community networks, negotiating, and social advocacy.

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272), which provides programs for children, including subsidized adoptions, changes in foster home care, and day care facilities, is passed.

The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-611) clarifies laws pertaining to parental custody rights and obligations and helps state and local law enforcement agencies coordinate their efforts to reunite children with their custodial parents.

1981 The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-35) and the social services block grants are established to fund social services programs at the state level with reduced federal scrutiny and funding and to decentralize social services programs to states.

1982 The proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for sexual equality fails to be ratified by two-thirds of the states by the deadline required by law.

The Job Training Partnership Act (P.L. 97-300) and the Emergency Job Bill (P.L. 97-404) are enacted. This legislation replaces many CETA public service job-

training programs and seeks to encourage state governments and private industry to train needy people for suitable employment.

The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (P.L. 97-248) is enacted, cutting back social services funding as well as Medicare, Medicaid, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and unemployment compensation.

The Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups (AASWG) is formally established.

1983 The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) establishes the National Peer Review Advisory Committee and trains social workers to evaluate the work of other social workers to promote accountability and to meet quality control requirements of government and third-party funding organizations.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) issues a Curriculum Policy Statement for baccalaureate as well as master’s degree programs in social work education. Bachelor of Social Work education is recognized as the first level of professional social work education.

1985 The Canadian Health Act is established to provide universal comprehensive health care.

1986 The Family Services Administration (FSA) is created as a unit within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It consolidates the six major federal low-income programs (Aid to Families with Dependent Children [AFDC], Work Incentive [WIN] program, Community Services Block Grants, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance, Refugee Assistance, and the Child Support Enforcement program).

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-603) establishes new criteria for immigration and opportunities for U.S. residents of illegal alien status to become citizens.

1987 The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Center for Social Policy and Practice is established to coordinate the exchange of information, education, and policy formulation pertaining to social work and social welfare in the United States.

1990 The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-336) makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled people in terms of employment opportunity in businesses with more than 15 employees.

The NASW Code of Ethics is revised.

1991 The Academy of Certified Baccalaureate Social Workers (ACBSW) is established.

1993 The Brady Bill (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, P.L. 103-159), to limit access to handguns in the United States, is passed.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-3) becomes law, requiring larger U.S. companies to permit employees job-protected unpaid leave to care for family members.

1994 Americorps is established to facilitate volunteer human services efforts in American communities.

The Person-in-Environment (PIE) System is published by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to enable social workers to classify and code problems of psychosocial, health, and environmental functioning.

1995 The U.S. National Voter Registration Act goes into effect, giving U.S. citizens easier access to registering to vote while applying for government services.

by Robert L. Barker,
published by NASW Press, 1995
National Association of Social Workers

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