I love the word “Care.” Unfortunately, it has become a bit overused, and, by and large, our society is so narcissistic that the Practice of Caring has become obscure and minimized as a cultural value. When one devotes themselves to self-interest, it is difficult to focus on the needs of others, let alone put it into practice. Simply put, to “Care” is to “provide what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.” To “Practice” is to habitually apply an action or activity; i.e., a doctor “practices” medicine, a lawyer “practices” law. The Practice of Caring is nothing less than the exercise of Social Justice. For the next several blogs, I will explain this idea in greater detail.
Social Justice has become inappropriately viewed as a negative within certain segments of our society. It is viewed as being “liberal” or “socialism” or some other errant misbelief which serves no healthy purpose or value to our cultural wellbeing. Understanding the origins and definition of Social Justice is not only enlightening, but essential if we are going to exist as a healthy, civil society. Social Justice is the heart and soul of the mission of the Family Care Network. It is the foundation for our Practice of Caring.
Historically, the concept of Social Justice has strong religious roots. The term originated in 1843 from the teachings and work of Italian priest, Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio. Social Justice became a key tenet of the Catholic Church, and was formally adopted by the Pope in 1931. Interestingly, the practice of Social Justice was initially considered a very “conservative” movement at the time. The Industrial Revolution had ushered in a vibrant progressive era, and also created a pronounced gap between the rich and poor. Taparelli was very concerned that the “liberalism” of the period was influencing the Church and was, thus, needing reform. Social Justice was an effort to protect the health, wellbeing and welfare of those being marginalized, disenfranchised and abused by the emergence of capitalistic greed, and return the church to its roots, especially the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas.
In the United States, Social Work and Social Justice have been intimately paired since the mid-19th century. As in Europe, industrialization produced significant social dishevel, increased poverty, labor exploitation, injustices and social problems as the nation transitioned from agrarian to industrial. Churches and charities stepped in to meet people’s needs which gave birth to Social Work as a professional Practice of Caring. By the end of the century, major universities were offering degrees in Social Work.
After the Great Depression, the social work profession grew exponentially under the New Deal designed to address society’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens through the addition of government-based welfare and social services agencies. Social work pioneer Jane Addams was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, one of the first women to receive the honor. Known best for establishing settlement houses in Chicago for immigrants in the early 1900s, Addams was a dedicated community organizer and Social Justice proponent.
So, what is the nexus between Social Work and Social Justice? Social justice is rooted in the idea that all people should have equal rights, opportunity and treatment. It promotes fairness and equity, safety and security, health and wellbeing across society. The primary mission of the Social Work Profession is to enhance human wellbeing and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, living in poverty and victims of trauma or abuse as a result of Social Injustice. The Family Care Network is a human services organization committed to Social Justice by providing social work, treatment, services and support to individuals and families impacted by social injustice.
As the founder of the Family Care Network, my motivation for this agency was rooted in my Christian faith. The Bible has over 170 references to justice. We are challenged time and time again to live righteously and to provide justice. Justice for the oppressed, justice for the poor, justice for the orphan and widow, justice for the stranger, justice for the sick and injured, and justice for the helpless. The Book of Isaiah, chapter 58, describes the Ordinances of Justice: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, To break every yoke; To share your bread with the hungry, To bring to your house the poor who are cast out; and when you see the naked, to cover him!
As a longtime student and teacher of the Bible, I am firmly convinced that the Heart of God is Social Justice. Matthew 25 states it this way, “'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you helped Me; I was in prison and you came to Me [...] Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” For all of my adult life, this has certainly been a primary driver of my focus, conduct, and Practice of Caring.
Regardless of one’s faith or belief, Social Justice manifested through a Practice of Caring is universally accepted as important and valuable for a healthy society and culture. Over the next few articles, I will delve much deeper into the importance of Social Justice and the Family Care Network’s Practice of Caring; and the opportunities we have in our community to enhance the wellbeing of the lives of our children, youth and families!