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Institute of Family Service, C.O.S.

 Institute of Family Service

A Department of the Charity Organization Society

Circa 1936


 By Anna Kempshall, Director of the Institute of Family Service


Editor’s Note: 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.

It seems appropriate that the Institute of Family Service of The Charity Organization Society, in announcing its new name, should present a statement of its program and purposes, in the interest of increased usefulness to the community.

Institute of Family Service has been selected as a title that would create no uneasiness or embarrassment on the part of anyone seeking its help, yet might suggest the specialized character of the services offered. The name, Charity Organization Society, has never been adequately descriptive of that aspect of the program which is concerned with individualized services to persons in difficulty. The new title for this department has been chosen to indicate the emphasis on the study and treatment of problems in family life, and the caseworkers’ recognition not only of factors in the social environment but in the individual’s response to personal life experiences.

Changes In Program

The recent period of social and economic change has affected the programs and functions of many social agencies in the community. The Institute of Family Service has constantly adjusted its program in relation to the total community situation, making such revisions of practice and procedure at various times as seemed indicated. Its relief program, which was greatly enlarged prior to the establishment of the new governmental agencies, has been somewhat reduced, but it is still maintained at a point higher than that of the pre-depression period. Its present relief program has become more clearly defined during the past few years in relation to the new relief agencies in the community as they have assumed a more definite responsibility for meeting general maintenance needs.

Relations With Other Agencies

In New York City the major responsibility for providing maintenance has been assumed by the Emergency Home Relief Bureau, for resident persons, and by the Unattached and Transient Division for the non-resident group. The Institute of Family Service, because of the nature of its program, has not limited its services to special categorical groups, but has defined its function in ms tit the individual and his particular problems. The Institute of Family Service, the family service departments of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor and the Catholic Charities and the Jewish Social Service Association have an agreement by which each assumes continued responsibility for families under its care. Upon application, a person is usually referred back to the agency having previous contact. Exceptions are made to this practice if the client for some special reason wishes to be transferred to one of the other agencies.

Relief Functions

The institute feels that it has a particular service to give to families whose need for relief is complicated by other problems, such as marital strain, desertion, friction with children, and also in situations in which the existence of other problems is indicated, not by specific behavior, but by such attitudes as depression, over-anxiety, or extreme tension. Because at times the problem of relief is not easily separated from other, and perhaps more fundamental problems, the Institute undertakes the responsibility, in these situations, for maintenance relief as well as for the treatment of the other problems and attitudes.

When personal problems are not directly related to relief needs, the family may receive maintenance from some community resource, and help with other problems from the Institute. This special service in connection with personal problems and adjustments is frequently requested of the Institute by the Emergency Home Relief Bureau and other agencies. If the special problem involves relief expenditures that are in addition to the general maintenance budget, the Institute considers it within its function to meet the items that are incident to its particular service.

Other Services

Many families and agencies are turning to the Institute for help with problems that are noneconomic in character. The family may be wholly or partially self-supporting or may be receiving maintenance through some community resource—such as work relief, home relief, or compensations. The problems often are related to burdens that have become too heavy to bear and are manifest in personal strains and family disturbances. The request for help may take a concrete form and be expressed in terms of confusion about such matters as the placement of children, health care, vocational plans or court action. Some, times, after a few interviews, the person works out a satisfactory solution to his difficulty. In other instances, where the situation is one of long time strain or of deep conflict, the treatment may be more prolonged.

Types Of Situations Considered

The Institute’s concept of its function makes it impossible to list specifically the kinds of problems that might be referred. It can only suggest in general the character of the services it is able to give and to invite discussions and referrals of situations in which it might be helpful.

The following list of situations is presented merely as a general outline of the Institute’s possible area of service. The list is not intended to be limiting, but only suggestive.

Situations where persons have undergone disabling experiences in relation to reduced incomes, unemployment and other personal and family misfortunes.

Situations where desertion, irregular marital status, court action and other severe family frictions have had a disturbing effect on the family.

Problems of health involving special care or adjustment to illness.

Problems of budget and home-making nutrition and special diets. These may be in relation to management of income and spending habits, particularly as they influence the family’s standard of living.

Conflict situations between husband and wife, parents and children

Maladjustments related to difficult personality traits.

Problems of personal reactions of hopelessness and tension, threatening the individual’s capacity to handle his difficulties.

Problems of adolescents who are having difficulties in connection with their economic, vocational or family adjustments.

Situations related to children who are affected by adverse family conditions.

Problems about which persons of social agencies may desire consultation or guidance in behalf of individuals or families in whom they are interested.

Vocational and employment problems. Two experienced employment counselors on the staff have their offices at the State Employment Bureau. Their services in obtaining regular employment or giving individualized advice on special vocational problems are available both to men and women referred for this purpose by the staff of the Institute of Family Service.

Homeless and unattached men and boys. The Joint Application Bureau gives service to the unattached men, and the Boys Bureau, which operates within the Joint Application Bureau, offers a specialized service to boys between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. As these departments are especially equipped to serve these groups, the districts usually refer eligible men and boys to these Bureaus at the time of application.

The number of cases for which responsibility is assumed is dependent upon budgetary considerations.

Referrals And Appointments

An appointment, made for the client in advance, obviates waiting on his part and gives him the opportunity to call at his convenience. The appointment can be an immediate one if the situation is urgent. Ordinarily the person finds greater freedom in discussing his personal difficulties at the district office than in his home. In most instances it seems desirable for him to call at the district office for his first appointment. If for some reason an interview in the home is indicated, a visit is made.

In keeping with the effort to reduce anxiety on the part of those seeking help, the district offices all have provisions for privacy in interviewing. In many districts additional space has been secured and attempts have been made to create a comfortable and reassuring atmosphere in all the offices.

As it is desirable for persons to seek advice and help before their problems become too entangled and involved, it is suggested that whenever possible referrals for assistance, with both financial and personal difficulties, be made before the situations become critical. The Institute would like to invite preliminary and informal discussions of possible referrals, either in person or by telephone.



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