Cathy Massaro, MSW, CCM

Case Management Education and Compliance Manager

 “We stand today united in a belief in beauty, genius and courage, and that these can transform the world.”  Jane Addams, 1881

These words are as true today as they were back then when Jane Addams spoke them. The early beginnings of Social Work can be traced to the late 1800’s when Jane Addams founded the first United States Settlement House in Chicago called the Hull House. This started the movement to establish settlement houses in poor urban areas for volunteer middle class social workers to help alleviate the poverty of their low income neighbors. The movement started at a community level reaching individuals where they lived. Meeting the client “where” they are remains one of the fundamental foundations of present day social work. Jane Addams was laying more than just the floor of settlements for those in need. She was laying the foundations of principles that today’s social workers utilize as their standards of practice.

At the time feudalism was ending and the industrial revolution was beginning massive migration into the urban area was happening. This large influx of people brought an increase in poverty, homelessness, disease, prostitution, injustice and mental illness. Just like the foundations of social work that started way back then, the same societal issues social workers deal with today were also prevalent back then.  

Poverty. According to the United States Census Bureau ( in 2017, 12.3 percent of the nation’s population lives in poverty. That equates to 39.7 million people. The state of being extremely poor as defined by Wikipedia ( is scarcity of the lack of a certain (variant) amount of material possessions or money. Poverty is a multifaceted concept, which may include social, economic, and political elements.  Absolute poverty is extreme or destitution. A complete lack of the means to meet basic personal needs such as food, shelter and clothing.  US News, Poverty in America: New Census Data Paints Unpleasant Picture, ( provides many reasons for poverty that include but are not limited to:

  1.  Lack of clean water or nutritious food
  2.  Not having access to a job to provide a livelihood
  3. Conflict such as war
  4. Inequality
  5. Poor education
  6. Climate change
  7. Lack of infrastructure
  8. Limited capacity of government

Poverty effects women more than men, minorities and those with lower education in greater numbers. The minimum wage earners, seniors and those with a disability are more likely to live in poverty.

Homelessness. Wikipedia ( defines homelessness as “lacking a fixed and adequate nighttime residence.” The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 has not resolved the problem of homelessness for the 554,000 across the United States according to the 2017 US Department of Housing and Urban Development Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

The reasons for homelessness are as varied as the individuals it effects:

  1. Lack of affordable housing
  2. Divorce
  3. Lawful eviction or foreclosure
  4. Negative cash flow and lack of or inadequate income sources
  5. Post Trauma Stress Disorder or other mental illnesses
  6. Fire or natural disasters
  7. Physical disability
  8. No family or support network
  9. Substance abuse
  10. Limited resources
  11. Elimination of pensions and unemployment entitlements
  12. Poverty
  13. Gambling
  14. Unemployment or low paying jobs

Unlike poverty, homelessness can and does effect anyone including entire families, children, domestic violence victims, ex-cons, veterans, and the aged.

Disease. “A disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury” is how the Oxford Living Dictionaries ( defines disease. The CDC, (Centers for Disease Control Prevention) office of National Center for Health Statistics ( reports that in 2017 heart disease had the highest number of recorded incidents. The diseases that follow are in order of prevalence for the remaining top 10:

  1. Cancer
  2. Injuries
  3. Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease
  4. Stroke
  5. Alzheimer’s Disease
  6. Diabetes
  7. Influenza
  8. Kidney Disease
  9. Suicide

The causes of disease include poor nutrition, physical inactivity, tobacco use and substance abuse as well as genetics and lack of access to medical care.  Disease is an equal opportunist with more women getting ill but more men dying according to The Guardian (

Human Trafficking. While the early social workers dealt with prostitution current social workers are focused on Human Trafficking which includes those used for sex. Human Trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act ( According to, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked in the United States each year. These victims are forced into agricultural labor, massage parlors, prostitution, janitorial services, construction crews and restaurant work.

The perpetrators of this crime prey on vulnerable individuals which includes 1 in 6 runaways. The LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), intersex, asexual (allied) population is more often victimized by trafficking (www.theodysseyonline). There is an obscene amount of money, up to 270 million, made by these perpetrators per city per year in the 8 cities with the largest human trafficking numbers: Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington DC.

Social Injustice. Social Injustice is defined as a situation in which dominant population is made known of the inequity that leads for others due to their relative position in the structure of power (Maus n.p.). This injustice is also the way unjust actions are done in a society where the equals are treated unequally and the unequal is treated equally (Honor Society Strength and Honor,  Social injustice includes any issue affecting a society where there are differences based on certain criteria, generally affecting marginalized groups of those who are not considered to be ‘equal’ to the ‘norm’ (Clarion Ledger, ) Examples include but are by no means limited to discrimination, ageism and homophobia.

The causes of social injustice run as deep as the riches one holds to the prejudices one believes. Social injustice has no boundaries, restrictions or limitations. It can breed anywhere, anytime and involve anyone.

 Mental Illness. The Mayo Clinic ( defines mental illness as a wide range of mental health conditions-disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness ( in 2015, 18.1% of adults in the United States experienced an anxiety disorder such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and specific phobias. The most common form of mental illness is mood disorder which affects 21 million Americans. This umbrellas includes major Depression, Dysthymic Disorder and Bipolar,

Mental illness is thought to be conditions which are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors ((WebMD, Whether one lives in poverty, is homeless, has a disease, or is a victim of human trafficking or social injustice, mental illness does not discriminate. Anyone at any time can experience a mental illness be it an acute short episode or a life-long condition.

Those in any of these situations are thankful that Jane Addams had a vision for change and that even though the same issues exist, current social workers keep that vision alive through their hard work every day.


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