• 61°

Family Services has investigated issues of poverty for 100 years

Dear Editor,

When the Community Work Board (the original Family Services Association of Boyle County) was founded in 1916, it proposed to make social work scientific. Part of what that meant was halting both begging and ongoing handouts. Such activities, the board believed, only created pauperism and stole people’s dignity and sense of self-worth. One of the board’s first acts was successfully to persuade the city to pass an ordinance prohibiting begging. Moreover, the very first sentence of the agency’s statement of purpose declared: “It is not the primary or chief aim of this organization to furnish relief though…a certain amount of relief work will be found to be necessary. Chronic cases for which no reconstructive work can be done should be referred to other agencies.”

This progressive approach brought the agency into conflict with local churches, many of which provided the agency’s funding. The churches believed relief should be given whenever anyone asked for it. In fact, the agency’s reluctance to give handouts prompted the Ministerial Association to launch an investigation of the agency. Miss Daley, one of the agency’s executive directors, wrote for the newspaper a strong defense of the agency’s policy. The reaction to it was so negative that she resigned and left town.

The agency understood its chief task, its distinctive task, to be “investigation” followed by “reconstruction.” Investigation of what? The underlying causes of people’s problems. The relief work merely eases the temporary anxiety and sense of panic arising in a person who is facing an imminent eviction or the cutoff of electricity and has no money to pay the rent or utility bill. Only when the panic subsides are clients able to examine, with the help of the agency, the systemic reasons why no money is available. Only then can begin the reconstructive work that prevents a recurrence of the problem. That prevention often requires clients to make fundamental changes in their lives. The investigation and the subsequent reconstruction of lives and families is the agency’s real work. That is as true of Family Services today as it was in 1916.

In 2016, looking back, one can see that there has been a continuity in that purpose across an entire century.

Milton Scarborough

Danville