Social work developed in the 19th century, with roots in voluntary philanthropy and grassroots organizing. However, the act of responding to social needs have existed long before then, primarily from private charities, and religious organizations. The effects of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression, placed pressure on social work to be a more defined discipline.
Social work is a broad profession that intersects with several disciplines. Social work organizations offer the following definitions.
“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing." International Federation of Social Workers
"Social work is a profession concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. It aims to help people develop their skills and their ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems. Social work is concerned with individual and personal problems but also with broader social issues such as poverty, unemployment and domestic violence." - Canadian Association of Social Workers
Social work practice consists of the professional application of social work values, principles, and techniques to one or more of the following ends: helping people obtain tangible services; counseling and psychotherapy with individuals, families, and groups; helping communities or groups provide or improve social and health services; and participating in legislative processes. The practice of social work requires knowledge of human development and behavior; of social and economic, and cultural institutions; and of the interaction of all these factors."- National Association of Social Workers