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The History of Social Work in the Caribbean

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Social work and Social Welfare has been with us from as far back as the 1600’s and it has always been, and has continued to be a response to human needs. In order to understand its historical development, it is necessary to examine the significant factors, which has influenced its evolution. It can be said however that factors such as the establishment of the Elizabethan poor laws, the emancipation of slavery and the social unrest which resulted in the 1937 riots, played a momentous role in the development of social work and social welfare. This was evident throughout the Caribbean since they share a common colonial history for a number of years, according to John Maxwell. For the purpose of this essay, specific focus will be on two of its English speaking countries namely Barbados and Guyana.

Compton and Gallaway (1990) defined Social welfare as “an organized set of norms and institutions through which we carry out our collective responsibilities to meet needs.” In unison, Zastrow (2000) noted that the goals of social welfare were to “fulfil the financial, health, and recreational requirements of all individuals in a society.” This also included the enhancement of social functioning of all age and class groups.

Social work can be considered as an applied science of helping people achieve an effective level of psychosocial functioning. The National Association Of Social Workers (NASW) makes the definition even more precise when they refer to it as a way “to enhance human well being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”

It can therefore be said that social welfare encompassed social work and that they are primarily similar at the level of practice. Skidmore et al (1991, .p. 4) reinforced this key point by noting, “social services came first, and the methods of social work developed out of social welfare.”

The earliest forms of social services were provided by the church and the family. However, according to Zastrow (2000), “the middle ages, famines, wars, crop failures, pestilence and the break down of the feudal system all contributed to the substantial increases in the number of people in need.”Ā This assistance provided by the church and family members was inadequate in that it could not meet the needs of all these individuals. As a result, many were forced to resort to begging. In order to alleviate this social problem, England had passed a number of Poor Laws between the mid 1300s and the mid 1800s which were adopted by English colonies such as Barbados and Guyana. It should be noted however that these laws were not established due to the declining social conditions but as a result of the ruling class annoyance with the begging. The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 proved to be the most significant of these Acts. The law provided that local parishes were responsible for they poor (those who had legal residence in the parish), who would be subsidized by the taxes collected from within the parishes.

Under this law only three categories of persons were eligible for relief. These were according to Zastrow the able-bodied poor, the impotent poor and dependant children.

In 1628 in Barbados, the Chief Governor, Sir William Tuften built churches and established vestries that strived to improve the attitudes of the masters towards the slaves. Willoughby ( ) noted, “they were no public provisions to meet the social welfare needs of the slaves prior to their emancipation.” Slaves were not included in the provisions because it was their master’s responsibility to provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care for them. The slaves were considered as property and not human beings with needs.

By 1770 sick houses and workshops were establish for the workers and nurseries were provided for children. On recognizing the need, a free clinic for the sick was established in 1788 and in 1825 the Ladies’ Association founded another.

Maxwell (1993) postulated that after the emancipation of slavery in 1838, “there was a massive increase in the need for relief.” Poverty became more widespread due to the high level of unemployment. Thus, this resulted in a greater demand for social services. Compassionate persons, particularly women, observing and monitoring the conditions of ex-slaves, formedĀ charitable organizations, in alliance with the Public Poor Relief System in order to help with their welfare. Despite the fact that the vestries were also established at this time to provide a more organized form of social services, the needs of the individuals were still not being met. Therefore according to Willoughby, “in 1875 a bill was passed in the House of Assembly to appoint a Commission to investigate the administration of Poor Relief.”

The report subsequently listed a number of contributing factors to pauperism, which included seasonal unemployment during the end of the crop season, illness, disabilities and the payment of low wages. Included also was the fact that they were a number of broken common law unions in which the fathers were absent. Administrative problem also existed since the vestries in the eleven parishes operated separately. (Why was this mentioned, seems out of place)

In those times, poor relief administration and the social assistance offered was mainly of a monetary and medical nature. The Board of Poor Laws would grant the assistance after the applications received was investigated and the need was established. Clothing, food and a home for the disabled children were provided by voluntary organizations. In addition to this, members of the community came together to form friendly societies that made weekly monetary contributions, which provided benefits such as sickness payments and burial expenses. All of these efforts were made in Barbados in order to alleviate some of the harsh treatment after emancipation.

The responsibility of the Colonial legislature to provide social services for the ex-slaves increased. However, they evaded their responsibilities through neglect, or, by expecting the plantation owners to continue to provide housing and medical care while the religious societies such as the Moravians and the Methodist were to provide education. As a result of the neglect, the ex-slaves had to resort to caring for themselves.

Private individuals and humanitarians consequently started the educational system in Barbados. The elementary schools emerged from the attempts of the Anglican, Moravian and the Methodist churches who thought Christian education to slaves before their emancipation. In 1890, the BarbadosĀ Education Act was passed. The Act provided for the founding of the Education Board who made rules to govern the elementary and primary schools. This board was also responsible for the training of teachers, the establishment of sixty exhibitions of five pounds sterling each year at second grade schools and the development of the Barbados Scholarship.

The 1930’s brought a global depression, which had a significant effect on the Caribbean. It had a great influence on the development of welfare in Barbados due to the economic situation, this caused hardship and social unrest for the population. The dissatisfaction of the masses resulted in the 1937 riots in Barbados. According to Augier et al (1976) “The riots moved the colonial office, in August 1938, to appoint a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Moyne.” Its purpose was to investigate the social and economic conditions in all the West Indian territories and make recommendations. This commission was made up of several professionals from disciplines such as health, labour relation, agriculture and social welfare.

The report concluded that the “prolonged economic depression of recent years found the West Indian communities ill equip to withstand it.” (Reports of West India Royal commission, 1945) As a result, a branch of the colonial office was established in the West Indies with the one in Barbados being located at Hastings. Blackman (1990) postulated that it was “staffed by professionals paid by the British Government, but whose job assignment was to visit the islands and advise several governments and colonial offices.”

The main recommendation was the creation of a West Indian Welfare fund of 1,000.000 (what is this 1,000 or 1,000,000) pounds per annum for twenty years from the Imperial Government, which was under the charge of a controller. The object of the fund was to finance schemes for the general improvement of education, health services, housing, the creation of a labour department, provision of social welfare facilities, land settlement and the training of social workers.

The Government regarded the recommendations of the commission and started by approving an old age pension scheme in 1937 for persons over the age of 68.Ā This was as a direct result of a campaign lead by Rev. Francis Godson. Persons were not eligible if they owned a house or had a bank account of $300.00 and over. A distribution office was set up in St. Michael, but in other parishes payment was made through the post office.

Professor Simey, a colonial social welfare advisor, recommended the appointment of a trained welfare officer. Betty Arne a social worker employed by the British government arrived in Barbados in 1945 to assume the office of Deputy Social Welfare Officer. The first Social Welfare Officer was a Barbadian, Major Chase. He held meetings with the welfare officers and workers in Jamaica and soon arranged training courses in 1946, 1947, and 1953 at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies for Social Workers. These were six months residential courses that were attended by the early Social Workers such as Humphrey Walcott, Hildegarde Weekes and Enid Lynch. These early Workers also did additional training in the United Kingdom.

During the period of 1925 Blackman (1990) noted that the Probation act was introduced and by 1926 the Government Industrial School for boys at Dodds was opened followed by the school for girls at Summervale. By the 1930’s district officers were attending several magistrates’ courts when juveniles appeared. By 1945, a Probation Offenders Act was passed which provided probation and supervision for adults and the establishment of a Probation Department. According to Willoughby ( ), “the Salvation Army officers were appointed as full-time social workers to perform these services.” Mr. Humphrey Walcott and Hildegarde Weekes were appointed as the first probation officers. This department was primarily concerned with juvenile offenders and the Probation officers served as liaisons between the courts, the community and the families of the young offenders as well provided after care when they were released from detention. The officers were also members of an After Care Committee for the incarcerated and provided a link between the adult offender and the community.

The first organized Social Service government agency was the Social Welfare Department, which was established in 1952 as a result of the Commission’sĀ report. There was one Chief Welfare Officer, Senior Welfare Officer and two District Social Welfare Officers. Their mandate involved working with groups in order to help them to move towards democratic functioning as well as to work with individuals in promoting cottage industries and community activities.

The Welfare department soon emerged due to an amalgamation of the Local Government Councils and the Central Department of Social Welfare, which were responsible for childcare, sports, community development, and the National Assistance Board. The Welfare Department was also instrumental in the setting up of housing schemes in St. Lucy and St. Philip.

The first specialist officer, a caseworker, was appointed in 1958. These officers were to concentrate on fieldwork and their intentions were to promote organized groups. They were successful in this venture since by the ending of 1959, approximately 80 groups were participating in club activities, and workshops were set up for the blind, deaf and dumb.

Medical services were introduced to Barbados and a general hospital named the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was built in 1964. Its department of social work got started in 1965 with one social worker that carried the title of Almoner. The Colonial Government also provided a Geriatric hospital with its first social worker being Mrs. Muriel Gibbs. Some additions were made to the psychiatric hospital, which was originally established in 1894. It now has two halfway houses namely Everton and Roseville House, which came about in 1985 and 1989 respectively and approximately four trained social workers attached to its department.

According to Willoughby ( ), “in 1969 there was a re-organization of several government departments thus resulting in the National Assistance Board and the Child Care Board gaining their autonomy.” The National Assistance Board provides home help services to the elderly and the disabled in the community. Included are also house repairs for those who are unable to do so and free housing for senior citizens whose houses are in a state of disrepair. In 1982 however it was established as a statutory co-operation.

The Child Care Board formally began its operation in 1969. It is (removed the word “the” from here) responsible for the care and protection of children up to the age of eighteen, the administration of children’s homes and the government day care centres, as well as advising voluntary institutions as it relates to childcare. It should be noted however that childcare in Barbados did not begin in the 1960s but as early as the 1930s. It was then that John Beckles, who was attached to the vestries, started the ‘Baby League’ in 1935 hence the name John Beckles Day Nursery. Trained nurses such as Mrs. Florence Dash and Madame Elsie Ifill were also involved in keeping babies well. As a result of this program, the Goodwill League was developed in 1938 to increase the service to some 200 children daily, along with the assistance of the Salvation Army Soup kitchen. These much appreciated clinics eventually spread to several other parishes including Christ Church, St Philip and St. John.

In the 1970s, the Community Development originated from the Welfare Department. This was essential in order to create a separate department to deal with the community and group work effectively. Its directive was to encourage groups and individuals to utilize leisure time advantageously and to foster a sense of belongingness in individuals and groups. In addition to this, there was evidence, which highlighted the great need for parent education in Barbados and as a result Paredos’ programme was implemented in 1970.

1995 brought the establishment of the National Counsel of Substance Abuse. Its aim is to fight against substance abuse through the use of education and the reduction of supply and demand thus promoting drug-free lifestyles. There was also the opening of the Elroy Philips home, which caters to the needs of those living with HIV and AIDS. In 1996 -1997 the Roeit Report further integrated the Child Care Board, the Welfare Department and the National Assistance Board to establish the Ministry of Social Transformation.

According to Dans (1990), “social welfare in Guyana can be viewed as a concept of social transformation rather than a concept of adjustment,” andĀ like that of Barbados, the development of Social Welfare in Guyana started back in the days of slavery. The slaves had no human or civil rights. They had to work long hours and were punished severely for disobedience and idleness. Sickness and disrepair continued despite the fact that the planters had both the moral and legal right to provide their slaves with the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. This legal obligation came to an end on the 1st August 1838 when the period of apprenticeship ended. The concept of welfare therefore only involved the provision of minimum resources, which only intended to preserve the captive labour force.

After emancipation, the black population was made up of predominantly the elderly and ill people who were unable to care for themselves. The Anglican Church along with the help of other missionary societies and a few philanthropists consequently initiated a system where assistance in the form clothing, food, shelter and even burying the poor was provided for those in need. In 1839, the Government intervened and the first legislation was passed by the combined Court of Policy to implement Poor law Relief based on that of the British Poor Relief Laws (Dans, 1990). The Poor Relief Act specified who should maintain whom and the Central Government took responsibility for all other cases. A board made up of the Church and Poor Friends was set up to distribute the Poor Relief.

Similarly, 1934 and 1936 brought social discontent in British Guiana and the British Government appointed the Royal Commission, which visited Guyana from January27th to February 20th to investigate these conditions. The report highlighted a number of problems, which were namely, deficiencies in the educational system, the problems of unemployment and juvenile delinquency and the high rate of infant mortality. It also emphasized the dilemma of the workers on the sugar estates, small farmers and the need for better living conditions for the growing population in general. Dans (1990) noted that the “social workers in Guyana generally agreed that the findings of the Moyne Commission laid the foundation for the introduction of new social services and the improvement of existing ones.”

Ultimately, there were a number of social services, which were introduced as a result of the Commission’s report. On the July 1st 1944 a non-contributory old age pension was introduced. The 1950’s brought a system of internal self-rule in Guyana. The British Government blocked the constitutional reform, which included a proposal for social welfare and in 1954 introduced a caretaker government following the suspension of the constitution. The existence of a locally elected People Progressive Party Government, which had communist principles, was seen as a threat to the British Imperialism. Therefore during this period the British Government used the institution of social welfare as a ‘political weapon’ as a measure of community control and to safeguard its imperialism.

In the 1960’s, social work had become a vacation in Guyana. Previously only a few social welfare officers were being trained overseas. In August 1969 the National Insurance and Social Security Act was passed in Parliament. In the 1970’s however, social work education gradually began to develop in Guyana with a Diploma in Social work being offered at its University. Subsequently, a Bachelor’s programme was implemented as a joint programme with Dalhouse University in Canada. From 1977 to 1982 ten persons benefited from this arrangement. In an attempt to modify the level and quality of practical training given to students, the first phase of a two phase training programme for agency supervisors was carried out in 1989 with phase two following the next year.

Today, Guyana has a number of existing agencies these are namely, Statutory services for children, School Welfare Service, Sophia Centre, Child Care Services, Voluntary Social Services for Children, Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association, Department of Youth and Sport, Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency, the Board of Industrial Training and the Occupational Health and Safety Division. These social services have been negatively affected by the economic decline in Guyana. Dans, (1990) stated, “in 1989 the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP) was created, in an effort to cushion the negative social effects of structural economic adjustment.” SIMAP focused on particular projects, which were devised to generate employment opportunities for vulnerable groups and simultaneously improveĀ the social and economic infrastructure.

In concluding therefore it is important to note that the progression of social welfare and social work in Barbados and Guyana has been a gradual one. Both countries were successful in bringing some level of assistance to those citizens in need through the administration of poor relief and self-help initiatives. It ought to be emphasized however, that in order for social workers to be more effective in meeting the needs of their clients, an educational foundation and the support of a unified professional body is critical when advocating for change.

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