Introduction and History of Social Work Week
Social Work Week
Social Work Week (SWW) is celebrated annually across Canada
during the month of March. In Ontario, the first week of
March marks the start of SWW. Activities that occur during
this time highlight the role and contribution of the profession in
providing services to the public. Each year a theme is selected
that reflects the ideals and values of social workers.
For more information, click Social Work Week Themes.
History of Social Work Week
Social Work Week (SWW) was established by the Canadian Association
of Social Workers (CASW) in March 1990 to recognize the
contribution of social workers across the country. Each year a
different theme is selected to serve as a focus for activities
within the profession and promotion of the role of social work with
the public. In Ontario, SWW is held during the first week of
Roots of Social Work in Ontario
The early roots of social work in Ontario and Canada can be
found in the volunteers who, at the beginning of the 1800s, visited
the poor. Chiefly women from financially comfortable backgrounds,
they offered little more than moral advice on such things as the
value of working hard and being thrifty.
The approach of governments towards poverty was basically
"laissez-faire" with poverty seen as the result of personal failure
and thus personal responsibility. The volunteers were also known as
"friendly visitors" and learned on the job.
Over time, charities were set up to provide very basic financial
help to those in the most dire need but help was not without
strings - you had to be considered "worthy" of help. For example,
single mothers and beggars were not given assistance.
By the early 1900s thinking began to change regarding the causes
of poverty and it began to be linked to larger societal problems
such as low wages and ill health. Gradually friendly visitors were
replaced by people who were paid to offer services to those in
By 1914, Canada's first school of social work was established at
the University of Toronto followed by one at McGill University in
1918. Ontario's second school of social work was established in
1949 at what is now Carleton University.
WWI and II, along with the Great Depression in the 1930s, caused
many social problems and led to growing pressure for government to
play a bigger role in helping its people manage when they faced
hardships. Governments began to realize that trained social workers
were needed to provide basic services.
Since that time, 15 schools of social work have been established
in Ontario and produce graduates with bachelor's, masters and
doctorates in social work. Graduates from these programs help
people from all age groups and social backgrounds solve problems
that affect their day-to-day lives.