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Family Service In The Charity Organization Society, 1935

 Family Service In The Charity Organization Society of New York, 1935

Editor’s Note: (1) In December 1934, Stanley P. Davies, the Executive Director of the organization announced that the  Charity Organization Society of New York (C.O.S.) had renamed their Family Department as the Institute of Family Service to handle the family work of the agency. The goal of the name change was to make clear to the community that the organization’s service was intended for all who have family and personal problems and to remove any barrier which the word “charity” might present. This entry titled “Family Service” was written by Anna Kempshall, Director of the Institute of Family Service, and dated January 4, 1935, during the Great Depression.  For the benefit of users the title has been expanded to reflect the fact that Family Service was a department of the Charity Organization Society.

Editor’s Note: (2) This article was written by Anna Kempshall, a nationally renowned social worker who received her social work diploma from the New York School of Philanthropy in 1913.  The original document was one of many in a scrapbook believed to have been maintained by her older sister Helen Pinneo. The scrapbook was recently gifted to the Social Welfare History Project by Mrs. Elizabeth C. Adamson, a great niece, representing the Adamson, Ogden and Pinneo families. Some of the documents date back to 1917; however, their condition is fragile and difficult to transcribe. Nevertheless, a number of the documents have been transcribed and will be posted on the SWH Web site because of their importance.  The writings of Anna Kempshall are valuable historical records of the experiences and challenges of family casework through two important periods of American history: the Great Depression and World War II.

Trends in Casework

The announcement that the family department is to be known as the “The Institute of Family Service” seems of sufficient importance to justify a statement of the considerations that entered into the decision to use a distinctive title for the department. The reasons for this action may not be immediately apparent to everyone, particularly to those whose long and intimate association with the Society has made their response to its name a warm and friendly one. But persons meeting the organization for the first time, especially those seeking the Society’s services, may have less favorable reactions to the official name of the Society.

The Society’s title, which has remained unchanged from the time of organization, perhaps was never wholly descriptive of its aims and purposes. The organization has always had a dual function, — that of promotion and coordination of general welfare programs, and that of individualized service to persons in difficulties. The Society’s name, perhaps, adequately describes the first interest but the second function- that of personal, individualized service to persons in trouble, which has come to be known as “casework” – has never been implicit in its title.

The concern of the family department, which has felt the practical limitations of having no descriptive title for some time, has become more acute because of the creation of new relief agencies in the community. In reality the distinctive functions of caseworking agencies have continued through the changes in the community relief program. Two general principles that are basic in casework philosophy help in differentiating the specialized service of a caseworking agency: (1) that individuals react differently to the problem of need and dependency (2) that casework services have not been limited to persons in economic difficulty.

If a person who is dependent because of the loss of work is able to live through the experience with calm and fortitude, he may need chiefly assurance that relief will be extended to him until he again finds a place in the economic world. The service attached to relief giving, which includes a legitimate check of resources, an acceptance of the individuals right to plan his life, an approach to him that will foster independence and self-respect, is itself a technical and skilled one. But to some persons the loss of a job, the need to ask for help, the actual receiving of relief are overwhelming experiences resulting frequently in morbid brooding, in a desire to escape from life’s uncertainties and in unwarranted self-accusations. The professional worker in a caseworking agency has a recognized technical service to offer to persons whose problem of relief need is complicated by reactions of strain, worry, over-anxiety.

The public department, in taking over the major part of the relief program of the city has made it possible for the Society to devote more of its time and thought to persons in other difficulties. Since the beginning of its history, the Society has recognized that human problems are not all economic in character or in origin. The unhappy husband, the deserted wife, the estranged couple, the child in difficulty, have always found their way to the doors of the C.O.S.

Methods of treating these personal problems naturally have undergone changes and modification, as tested experience indicated the limitation of certain procedures and suggested the introduction of others. Social work in the past shared with the rest of the world certain notions of acceptable behavior. The delinquent, the deserter, the truant, were regarded as violators of the canons of approved conduct. The role of the social worker — like that of the church, the school, and the family itself — was that of just, but firm authority. The culprit was usually faced with his delinquency by the social worker, who endeavored by exhortation to bring about a change in his feelings and conduct.

The experience of dealing with human difficulties led social work gradually into an interest in the causes of problems. The caseworker’s role passed from a general personal advisory one to a more objective and technical one. The discovered causal factors seemed mainly environmental ones, and the treatment then instituted was directed toward the improvement of the individual’s immediate social situation. The state of health and the effect of illness, the effect of poor housing and neighborhoods, the importance of the individual’s immediate social situation. The state of health and the effect of illness, the effect of poor housing and neighborhoods, the importance of satisfactory working conditions and the values of vocational training, the need for recreational and social outlets, the importance of a decent standard of living, and the values of adequate relief, all became part of the caseworker’s interest and concern. The individual’s behavior passed from moral categories interest and concern. The individual’s behavior passed from moral categories to social ones. He was understood and treated by the caseworker as a person reacting to an undesirable social setting. The changes in attitude and procedures in social work were not so sudden and complete at this general statement might indicate, but were gradual and cumulative.

During the past few years there has been a growing awareness on the part of the staff that a person’s reactions are not entirely conditioned by his social environment. It is true that illness, unemployment, bad housing, and other factors in the social setting have their effect on the individual and his capacity for satisfactory living. But the effects of the social environment do not give a complete explanation of behavior. Leaving out of consideration constitutional or hereditary factors, the evidence suggests that the theory of environmental causation and control does not give a complete explanation of human conduct. A child who has progressed normally and happily, suddenly develops habits of destructiveness or truancy. A head of a family who has worked all his life, seems to be avoiding a search for a new job. A woman, who has always taken excellent care of her children, decides impulsively that she wishes to place them in institutions.

The casework staff has been attempting to discover the meaning of these shifts of feeling and attitudes in relation to some of the newer psychological concepts. Responses in feeling and behavior appear to be related not only to the immediate social environment, but also to the more personal life experiences. Reactions to present situation may be colored by the feelings that the person experienced in earlier life situations. The painful experiences of the past leave their mark on the individual and often affect his response to new situations or to increased responsibility.

In many cases, the difficult attitudes of defiance, confusion, depression, are not treated directly, or made issues with the person. The caseworker’s awareness of the psychological forces operating may indicate to her the things she should not do. If the person, for example, is an anxious one, the caseworker would attempt to avoid, in her relationship to him, creating new anxieties. She would not try to direct him, advise him, and lecture him. She would avoid any “investigatory” steps that would be painful to him. She might be content to defer a visit to the home until he indicted a desire to have her call. The application of these psychological principles in casework which, stated simply, is the concern of the worker for the feelings and responses of the person she is trying to help, produces a number of interesting effects. The anxious person, who is accustomed to facing but always fearing, the world and its demands, suddenly has a new experience. He discovers, perhaps for the first time, a person who is not a new authority, nor yet another conscience. His response after a time, it that of wishing to talk about the things that he been trying to keep out of his mind, to express feelings that he has been attempting to deny. The feelings are usually ones of shame and humiliation, related to episodes of disappointment, jealousy and failure.

When the feeling has been expressed, not once but over a series of interviews, the actual fear and anxiety seem to be reduced. The person in his behavior is actually less fearful. It is often manifest in his ability to take a job, to meet people, to improve his appearance, to be more cheerful, to speak better of himself, or to express a belief in his family’s love and respect for him.

There are degrees of improvement, just as there are degrees in the seriousness of the symptoms. The caseworker, naturally, limits this type of service to the person who is having difficulty in his social relationships and recognizes that where real disturbance or confusion exists, the patient should be receiving the specialized treatment of a psychiatrist.

Because of the community’s awareness of the effect of family relationships on child development, parents have been asking the Society’s help in the treatment of problems of child behavior. Adolescents too, out of work, or a group who seem particularly affected by the present situation. They have been seen usually in connection with their family problems. The discussion, starting with work, often turns, with a flood of feeling, to a discussion of their personal problems and real conflicts. Have they a right to any life, to work, to love, to children? Sometimes after a period of discussion young people decide to marry. Sometimes they gain courage to announce a marriage that previously had seemed too selfish to be acknowledged.

The use of the Society’s official title for the family department created a feeling that does not exist, for certainly there is nothing in the staff’s approach to the people they serve that savors of “charity”. Their “clients” usually ask for the service. Most of them make personal application. The district offices have space for privacy for interviews. Persons are extended the courtesy of appointments. The staff are seriously interested in the development of a service that is not charitable, nor paternalistic, but professional in the best sense of the word.

The District Offices

Recently the low rent situation has made possible better housing for clients and staff in the districts. In early days it was assured that in dealing with poverty, poverty stricken surroundings were more suitable. So in general, the offices of the family department have been characteristically overcrowded, dark, ill painted, and ill furnished. We are glad now to be able to report improvement in our offices. Some have enlarged space; some have offices in better locations. Some have playrooms for the children; most have pleasant waiting rooms for adult clients, with sun, air, magazines and cheerful surroundings conductive to morale and efficiency. As one client said with satisfaction -– “This looks just like a doctor’s office”. Most important is the acquisition of private interview rooms, so that clients do not have to overhear each other’s troubles, and an appointment system which tends to reduce long waits.

The Employment Service

The C.O.S. employment service at the State Employment Bureau, now in its fourth year and financed by Riverside Church, reports 1,607 placements in 1934 – approximately the same as the number made in the previous year. Exclusive of C.W.A. and C.W.S. placements made through the employment service, 27% of the jobs were classified as permanent. 1,323 new applicants were registered during this period. Wages earned by applicants placed during the four-year period total over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

However, placement figures alone give only a partial idea of this service. The employment workers give the client an opportunity to discuss his feelings about his previous work experience and his present unemployment. Such interviews frequently help the applicant to know and to use new resources for job-hunting, or to recognize the values of some form of vocational training which he may not have considered previously. The caseworkers are in constant touch with the employment workers, finding their evaluation of a client’s abilities and attitudes useful in understanding the family situation as a whole.

Joint Application Bureau

Although there has been marked expansion of the public program, and other private agencies have extended their services, the Joint Application Bureau continues to provide a service for the unattached or homeless man or boy that has not been available elsewhere. As the Home Relief Bureau has assumed responsibility for an increasing number of men, effective cooperative working relationships have been built up. The Joint Application Bureau has continued to take an active part in community planning. This has been effected through the work of its committee and through the participation of staff members in community planning groups. Along with representatives of other agencies interested in unattached men and boys, it has stimulated and assisted in the development of an adequate public program. It has worked cooperatively with churches, clubs and individuals interested in this field.

Home Economics

The Home Economist has continued her studies of standards and costs of living, particularly in relation to low and marginal income families. These studies are the basis of the schedules which are used as a guide in planning family budgets, to determine relief needs or for discussion of family spending problems.

During the past year the Home Economist has not only consulted with the staff concerning the nutrition, budgeting and home-making problems of their families, but has offered this consultation service to the families themselves, many of whom have welcomed the opportunity of discussing their home economics problems with a specialist.

The Laundry

After forty-four years of service, the C.O.S. laundry has been discontinued. Originally started as a work test and to train the less adequate in work habits it proved too restrictive for people with widely diversified occupational backgrounds. Moreover, as skill in studying and understanding difficult needs was developed, less reliance had to be placed on the work test method. Moreover, it seemed inadvisable to continue a project which in some measure might interfere with normal industry. When the laundry was closed, seven of the eighteen workers were able to secure employment in commercial laundries, eight found other positions and the remainder, the distinctly handicapped, were continued under agency supervision in accordance with their specialized needs.

Gillender Cottage

Ten tuberculosis patients were assisted last year through the Gillender Fund in the Trudeau cottages at Saranac.

Our total expenditure for the year was $8,948.80 and we ended the fiscal year with a deficit of $535.91. This was due to the fact that the discharge of several patients from Trudeau was delayed because of temporary illnesses. Up to October first, we were carrying seven patients on the Gillender Fund although it is adequate for only five. There are at present six names on the waiting list.

We have continued our interest in the three recently discharged patients. Two of them were given made work for two months with the C.O.S. and one of these has been taken on the regular clerical staff. The third girl secured temporary work on her own initiative.


The Clothing Center of the Junior League C.O.S. Committee, under Miss Lucy Dominick, has distributed 20,234 articles of clothing to families under the care of C.O.S. These included warm clothing for school children and outfits for men looking for jobs, who instead of being down at heel were trim and therefore more confident. Donations were received and remodeled. Furniture and household furnishings were also distributed. An appropriation was made by the Junior League to cover the wages of a chauffeur and the salary of a seamstress four days a week. Distributions were made not only to the nine C.O.S. districts but to the social service departments of twelve hospitals.

Acknowledgement should also be made to those friends who contributed over 2,000 tickets to the circus, rodeo, baseball and hockey games and theaters.

A volunteer committee of J.A.B has become more and more interested in matters pertaining to the bureau. The group’s personal interest has expressed itself though money raising efforts under the leadership of Mr. Edwin K. Merrill and directly in work in the delinquency and mendicancy problems, in public relations and in special consideration of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Teaching and Training

Last year the districts received for training from the New York School 160 students, including 26 first and second year fellows. Every year there are upwards of 200 applicants for these joint fellowships from the most representative colleges. 5 members of the staff have been on part time teaching assignments at the School and in addition, courses have been offered by 7 staff members at Barnard College, New York University, Rutgers, Dana and Smith Colleges.

Special Studies

“Some Aspects of Relief in Family Casework” by Grace Marcus, first printed in 1929, has been in such demand that a second printing of one thousand copies has within three months been practically exhausted, and another printing is contemplated. This little book is generally considered the most useful textbook for public and private agencies on the technique of handling relief.

A study of “Special Diets at Low Cost” has just been printed in pamphlet form –- to which the home economist made important contributions. Since it is estimated that for one-third of all clinic patients diet therapy is recommended the size and importance of the problem is apparent. The study concerned itself with working out special diets at the lowest possible cost, so that low-income families could afford to follow them. They were built around normal diets in so far as possible so that they would contain all the food essentials, would not require special marketing and preparation, and so that the patient could share the family’s meals with only the necessary additions and substitutions required by his special diet.

The Mendicancy Project, initiated by the Joint Application Bureau Committee under Mr. Walter D. Wile and later made a reality under the auspices of the Welfare Council, has continued with increasing success. It is now an integral part of the program of the Department of Public Welfare for homeless and unattached men. The number of beggars on the streets has been appreciably reduced and more intensive study is being given the whole problem through the services available to each beggar arrested.

With the cooperation of Commissioner Austin McCormick, the Sub-committee on Delinquency of the Joint Application Bureau Committee, under Mr. John D. Rockefeller, 3rd, has been conducting a study of young prisoners in the Tombs. A member of the Boys Bureau staff has spent half time at the Tombs since May 1934, interviewing all boys 16-21 committed there -– or 481 persons. It is probable that this is only the beginning of a more comprehensive survey of delinquency problems among this age group, looking toward the formulation of a more socialized correctional program.

A study of Court Hearings in the Family and Children’s Divisions of the Domestic Relations Court has also been completed. This study was undertaken under the auspices of the Welfare Council because of over-crowded court calendars, inadequate probation and lack of integration between legal and other community agencies. The results of this study are being presented to the presiding magistrates and other individuals interested in better casework functioning in this strategic court.

Other studies include a survey, carried on in Chelsea Lowell district, of housing standards –- directed toward helping the client obtain the maximum value in his apartment, including such furnishings as make for a reasonable degree of comfort. It is hoped on such intimate knowledge of living conditions, will find a place in the new housing programs.

Contributions to two important wage studies by the Consumers’ League and to a study of hotel and restaurant workers by the Women’s Trade Union League, as well as to the minimum wage study of the New York State Labor Standards Committee, have been made.

Future Problems

Besides the problems of families, with special attention in the future to the troubles of children and adolescents, there is one aspect of the community’s relief problem which might continue to be of interest to private as well as public agencies. Relief giving presents a series of social implications, of which agencies dealing with relief are becoming increasingly aware. When relief is inadequate, when it does not provide for the minimal physical and spiritual needs of a family, what will be the future costs in terms of lowered health, morale, stamina? What will the effect be on the mental and physical health of the younger generation if only subsistence needs are met over a period of years? On the other hand, what problems of continuing dependency will be created if relief is disproportionate to the normal earnings of the family? What problems are created for industry if relief becomes higher than the current wage rate? What special problems are created by a high level of relief for an economically deprived group?

No agency dealing with relief is prepared to answer those questions. In many respects the problems present opposing concerns. The questions, however, are ones in which the Society feels that it has a legitimate interest and may, because of its history of individual relief giving, be in a position to make a contribution to their solution in various advisory, training and research capacities.




Applications from different families during year           9, 383

Accepted for care                                                                  5,774

Referred to other agencies                                                  3,609

Total families receiving care                                                               7,450

There were 27,885 individuals included in these families

Families continued under care from previous year                      1,676

Families applying during year                                                         5,774

Families given intensive care                                                           5,781

Including relief                                                                                   3,352

Families given incidental service                                                     3,669

Including relief                                                                                    1,016

Total families receiving relief                                                           4,368

Amount of relief given                                                                  $700,066

In addition 22,000 Federal “food tickets” were distributed

Paid staff participating in direct service to resident families              92

Volunteers participating in direct service to resident families            16


Homeless men and boys under care of Mens and Boys Bureaus     1,293

Relief given to homeless men and boys                                             $18,703

Families previously known to C.O.S. served by reports to other agencies  6,418

Families living in other cities served by the Intercity Bureau                         1,536

Paid staff participating in these services                                                                    13


Total families and homeless persons receiving some type of service


Total relief given                                                                                               $718,769

Total paid staff participating in family casework                                               105

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