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When Budgeting Was A Casework Process

When Budgeting Was A Casework Process

Harris Chaiklin, Ph.D., University of Maryland School of Social Work


The people who staffed the Charity Organization Society made major contributions to the growth of social casework. It was not a development they eagerly embraced. Their goal was to provide material relief after a thorough investigation of who was or was not entitled to help. They gradually found that confirming need and certifying moral worth did not achieve the rehabilitation results they desired. The Charity Organization Society added additional factors to their determination of need, but they continued to be dissatisfied with the results they were achieving. In 1928 they asked Grace Marcus to undertake a practice evaluation by reviewing family casework records (Marcus, 1929).

In her presentation Marcus displays an understanding of science and theory but keeps these in the background. The report is presented in language that is directed at the practitioner. In Part I she focuses on attitudes toward relief as they are expressed by clients, workers and the agency. She covers the emotional values and conflicts that are attached to relief by all those involved. The quality of her mind is reflected in her discussion of “The Values of Relief as a Casework Tool.” She notes that many caseworkers have such an excessive fear of the destructive effects of relief that they destroy its value. Among the virtues of relief is that it provides a way to gain the client’s confidence since it demonstrates that real assistance is being given. It assures the client they will survive and this frees energy to work on other things so that eventually they will live on their own.

In Part II she discusses some of the major factors that can interfere with the client’s effective use of relief. These are physical health, mental health, family relationships, and employment. Her aim is to demonstrate that while the quantitative aspects of relief are important its success in achieving independence for the client will depend on the quality of the relationship and taking account of the reality factors that bring a person to need relief or which impede their using it effectively so that they become independent.

Throughout, the writing is clear and direct. She generally starts by giving a positive explanation of the topic under consideration and then the dangers. She then points to some good things that the workers do, then some poor practices, and ends up with a positive summary of the subject. Above all she never loses sight of the need to respect the dignity of the client and the power of casework. In the introduction she says the aim of this work is, “To remove from the poor the disfiguring mask which has encouraged the traditional idea that poverty of income is more than likely associated with poverty of native endowment, is to remove at the same time a stigma from casework itself” (Marcus, 1929, p. 3).

The catalog of positive casework achievements and the dangers of negative and premature evaluations presented in this book can be profitably read today. It is a good refresher course on casework principles and values. This is so even though the practice described in this book is rare today. Private agencies have tended to get out of providing direct relief and public agencies have separated relief and services so that budgeting is no longer a casework process. It is just possible that those who read this work will conclude that social work has lost its soul.

One sidelight about Grace Marcus. Generally I like to know something about the person who wrote the historical work I present in this column. She is not listed in the Social Work Encyclopedia or as a Social Work Pioneer. She did associate with the giants of social work. In her acknowledgements she thanks, among others, Karl de Schweinitz, Mary Antoinette Cannon, Philip Klein, Porter Lee and Gordon Hamilton. She had a long career connected with assistance and is well represented in the literature. Lubove accuses her of using a concern with relief as a way to smuggle a psychiatric orientation into casework (Lubove, 1965). This misreads her intent. The emotional was only one of the elements she considered and she was from an era where psychiatrists did all of the diagnosing and controlled treatment.

Marcus saw Freudian ideas as an element in making casework have a scientific base, as demonstrating that behavior has multiple causes, and showing that at times people’s behavior is beyond their control. In commenting on this she says, “How difficult it is for us to accept this harsh truth is revealed by our distortion of it into the facile concept of ‘self-determination,’ whereby we can relapse more into comforting dependence on free will, and by talking of self-determination as a ‘right,’ flattering ourselves that a fact that is so intolerably painful to the individual and to society is still within our power to concede or refuse as a social benefit” (Marcus, 1935, p. 134). This statement in no way detracts from the fact that Marcus was a fierce defender of human rights and client dignity. What it points to is the distortion of self-determination so that it becomes an excuse for abandoning the client or worse.

Bertha Reynolds makes an interesting reference to Marcus (Reynolds, 1963). In discussing her own reaction to the Family Service Association?s comparison of diagnostic and functional concepts of casework Reynolds looked at their conclusion that the differences were irreconcilable and said that in Freud she saw the possibility of a scientific base but not in Rank (Family Service Association of America. Committee to Study Basic Concepts in Casework Practice & Kasius, 1950). In a footnote she said that Marcus, who she characterized as “one of the finest thinkers our profession has ever had,” was more critical than she was because Marcus said that vested interests got in the way of both approaches helping people (Reynolds, 1963, pp. 343-344).


Family Service Association of America. (1950). A comparison of diagnostic and functional casework concepts; report. New York: Family Service Association of America.
Lubove, R. (1965). The professional altruist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Marcus, G. E. (1929). Some aspects of relief in family casework. New York, NY: Charity Organization Society of New York.
Marcus, G. E. (1935). The status of social case work today. Paper presented at the National Conference of Social Work, Montreal, QC.
Reynolds, B. (1963). An uncharted journey. New York, NY: The Citadel Press.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Chaiklin, H. (2011). When budgeting was a casework process. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from