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 need.

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.