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THE COUNTYAS A UNIT IN SOCIAL WORK
Homer W. Borst, General Secretary, Associated Charities, Jacksonville,
The usefulness of an excellent survey may be greatly impaired through neglecting to carry out its provisions. Our organization, the Associated Charities of Jacksonville, is trying to compensate for the shortcomings of a rapid and, in many respects, incomplete survey which we made of the relief work of the Duval County Commissioners last summer, through staying by until its findings are worked out in the complete co-ordination and unification of all the outdoor relief of the county, both public and private.
Survey of Duval County, Florida
Duval County, Florida, is approximately forty miles long and thirty miles wide. Its population may be estimated at 115,000. Of these 75,000 are within the city proper; 25,000 additional are within the metropolitan area outside of the city, and 15,000 more in the remainder of the county. Fishing, truck gardening, working in saw mills and turpentine camps, and general farming are the chief occupations outside of the city.
When we undertook the survey the county commissioners were granting assistance to approximately 150 families throughout the city and county. We looked into the condition of 100 of these.
Three very bold facts stood out immediately upon the completion of our rapid study. First, the county officials were giving money to many families which did not need relief. Second, they were giving inadequate relief to many which did need assistance, and utterly failing to supply the case-work assistance which should have been available. Third, the county lacked institutional as well as case-work facilities, notably a county infirmary, and a county tuberculosis sanitarium.
Of course all these facts had been known by the social work group, but the survey gave the facts a very demonstrable basis.
We divided our families into two very natural groups, the white and the colored. There were 72 white and 28 colored, and that I believe represents a very fair statement of the proportion existing between our colored and white dependents in a population which is half white and half colored. The white families proportionately far exceed the colored as charity problems. On this point we find that deserted women and children, widows, orphans, families handicapped by illness, and many other types of family defeat as they are known among the white clients of our office, are fairly well swallowed up in the life of the colored community on the basis of blood and neighborhood relationships. The aged colored come to us, partially because of the infidelity of children and partially because of the extreme and uncompromising desire of many to remain in their own little homes and accept only such aid as can be given them there.
We next marked carefully the distribution of our families throughout the county. Over three-fifths of the county relief funds we found being used within the metropolitan area of Jacksonville. This relief represented almost one-third of the entire relief budget being expended in that territory and was absolutely uncoordinated with the other two-thirds which came from the Associated Charities and the Board of Charities of Jacksonville. For this estimate we made use of all of the families receiving county aid, and not only those intensively investigated.
Turning again to our classification of white and colored, we broke each of these groups into three sub-groups. First came those which we meant to have dropped from the county aid and accorded no further attention. Second, we placed a group of families which needed constructive aid, of both a financial and service nature; and third, came a group of aged and infirm individuals and couples which we called institutional to indicate that if there had been an infirmary available for them we should have asked them to enter it.
Modifications of Treatment Recommended
Of our 28 colored families we recommended that 5 become closed cases on the basis of care by relatives, property, or other natural resources. These were all old people. We recommended that 12 additional families, aged or physically handicapped couples and individuals, be considered case work problems. Of these nine owned their little homes. Because of contagious disease or other infirmities we pronounced the remaining 11 of the 28 colored families subjects for institutional care in an infirmary—which does not yet exist. Those who are still alive when our projected institution is available will be offered a home there.
Of the 72 white families, 20 were recommended for closing immediately, 34 were excellent case-work problems, and the remaining 18 we recommended for institutional care, and for out-door relief under supervision until our suggestion could be carried out.
In the 34 white case work families there were 17 widows, 4 deserted mothers, 26 individuals needing medical attention, 2 feeble-minded people, 9 instances of relatives able to assist but not doing so, 9 instances of unemployment, 1 alcoholic, and in three of the families were open cases of tuberculosis receiving no adequate oversight.
You will have foreseen the recommendations which we were able to make to the county officials. First we asked that the 26 families which did not need assistance be cut off. This we said would release 25 per cent of the funds. An additional 25 per cent we prophesied could soon be released by providing case work on the 44 white and colored case work families. Our second proposition was therefore that the county commissioners take advantage of the case work service of the Associated Charities in connection with these families. Our third was that they complete the county infirmary without delay. None of our suggestions were carried out.
City and County Employ Trained Workers
A new attack was suggested by our experience in organizing the City Board of Charities, the social service department of the city. We had begun in that field by offering our services to the city relief committee of the council. When through charter changes this committee was relieved of power and their functions turned over to a quasi-political board of seven citizens, our plan went rapidly forward. We began again by giving this board the services of a trained social worker, and shortly thereafter she was taken over on the city pay-roll. Our experience with her taught us the value of a friend at court, of the advantage of working from the inside.
One day we appeared before the county commissioners and offered them the services of a social worker, free of cost, to be their very own. "Beware the Greeks though bearing gifts." Our plan went through.
Now, social work in our county is very difficult work. I think that when we first began to speculate about it we were like the people who dream of the back-to-the-farm movement for the city poor. We talked of farm loans and fertilizer. Acting on some such notion a northern family recently brought a feebleminded son to our state and set him up in agriculture in the midst of a five-acre patch of sand. Climate will not do everything, and neither will agriculture.
Characterization of Cases
We have all the usual and some unusual types in our country work. The widows are there, and their children tend to be more neglected, more overworked and underschooled than they would be in town. The immoral are out there, and those infected with tuberculosis. Pellagra, and hook-worm trouble us, but more significant, in many respects than the type of family distress is the nature of the typical family stock, the cracker. The cracker is the native Floridian. The decadent examples which come to us in our county work are the shy, stubborn, soft-voiced, simple-minded natives of the creeks and the back-woods. Many of them live in almost inaccessible corners of the landscape, and are to be found only after the most careful search and inquiry. As many as seven of such related families have been found to be receiving county assistance, and to have a very definite connection to the political situation.
The isolation of county families makes case work arduous. The families are hard to reach. Even a Ford gets tired. They are far away from the dispensary and the hospital. For them the facilities are hard to reach. They are comparatively individualistic and unamenable to influence and suggestion. They are not subjected to the close scrutiny of their kind and are not held up to certain social standards through close social contact.
Reasons for County Social Service
In spite of the difficulty of the work, however, I want to present the following brief arguments in its behalf and in favor of the county as a unit in charity administration.
First, county families are just as human as city families and are entitled to as much consideration in respect to their social needs as are the families of Clinton district, New York City, for example. Unfortunately, I suspect it is better in many respects to be poor in Clinton district than in the fringes of Duval county, Florida.
Second, if one is thorough in his ambitions, the thought of neglected social work fence corners is unbearable. The county represents a geographical unit which is at all points contiguous to another unit of the same sort, or to a natural barrier against habitation; for example, the sea. The problem of bringing social service to all the people is very simple, geographically. The only requisite from that angle is to organize all the counties. «
Third, so long as there are social weed patches in the country, the results will make themselves known in the city. Every small town worker knows that her worst problems are in the suburbs. If the work of the associated charities stops at the city limits, its workers can never hope to reach in the early and hopeful stages of their misfortune the families which will later drift across the line and becomes chief among the troublesome problems. However, once the city limits are crossed, there is no natural stopping place, in at least many instances, short of the county line. That was the case with us, and once we had stepped over we went the limit. The county health officer is a recognition of this principle in public health, and the zone health officer sent by the United States Public Health Service to every army cantonment to clean up the territory surrounding the camp, for the sake of the men inside. Of course, a more admirable argument is my first one. For the sake of the direct social service the county job is well worth doing regardless of the reaction upon the urban population involved; but it is well to remember while we are analyzing the problem that the urban population is involved.
As a fourth point, let me suggest that the county unit presents mechanical advantages in the delicate matter of the coordination of facilities. You may be surprised to be reminded that the county commissioners have already been doing social work throughout the whole of their counties, long before a case work program may be projected. With us their work includes the city as well as the country districts, as I have said. Unless such county commissioners as we possess are assisted by a force of case workers you will easily agree they are producing poverty faster than a battery of independent case workers can cure it. Outdoor relief is not the only one of the public facilities that needs to be coordinated with the community scheme. The county infirmary, the county hospital, the county tuberculosis sanitarium, must be brought into harmony, and related to the family case work basis of social work. Arbitrary rules regarding residence, property, color, or what not, give way before the revolutionizing force of case work discrimination.
As a matter of fact, making county officials see that the administration of charity is a problem, and not a routine, is good for the county commissioners and good for the government which they represent. The charity funds of the county have frequently been known to constitute a real source of demoralization, especially at election time. Harmful as careless giving is to the recipient, it may be still more blessed to receive such than to give. Now I do not wish to be understood as assuming that politics can be made safe for case work through any easy process. I am merely stating my conviction that it is a very important element in the success of the political order that it set about realizing the direct and indirect benefits of a case work program of its own.
Finally, there is this to be said for the county unit. The city we will grant is not sufficiently inclusive for our purpose.
The choice then lies, if we neglect specially laid out geographical units, between the county, a group of counties, and the state. Some social facilities need state-wide organization of course; for example, the state board of health, or the state board of charities. For others, a group of counties may form a convenient unit. Possibly in a program of constructing tuberculosis hospitals this may be the case.
When case work is concerned, many considerations indicate the desirability of not too large a unit. One is the desirability of rendering good and uniform service. Another is the necessity for the support of an informed and active public opinion. A final one is the loyalty to public causes which is possible only on the basis of a strong sense of group self-interest, pride and responsibility.
THE COUNTY AS A UNIT OF CHARITY ADMINISTRATION
William H. Davenport, Secretary, Prisoners' Aid Association, Baltimore
The county is the most logical unit for charity administration in the rural districts, for several reasons. It is almost everywhere the judicial unit. A very large part of social work in the counties must center around the courts, particularly the juvenile court, and in most states the county is the limit of the jurisdiction of such courts. The county is, in many states, also the unit for medical organizations, and people are accustomed to thinking of it as an administrative unit in medical matters. It is also almost everywhere a unit for certain kinds of taxation. All of these would seem to make it a logical unit for work.
However, the most important reason for regarding the county as a unit is the nature of social case work in rural communities. The percentage of cases needing material relief in rural communities is considerably smaller than that in cities. Out of a year's work in one of the rural counties in Maryland, one hundred and one cases were definitely worked