Once again, a world war brought profound family distress and economic hardship. In the early years of World War II, child and family service agencies were deluged with marital and family problems. With little supervision at home, youth delinquency increased and many communities dealt with the problem of “the victory girl”—a teenage girl who demonstrated her patriotism by having sexual relations with any interested serviceman. Men who were rejected for service for mental or physical health reasons often required counseling, as did wounded veterans returning home.
The latter years of the war brought an influx of refugees resettling in America. Member agencies were especially concerned during these years with aiding new Americans. War brides and fiancés, repatriated Americans, displaced people from the Nazi concentration camps, and other new immigrants needed a wealth of social services to acclimate successfully.The Family Welfare Association of America (FWAA) estimated that 43 percent of America’s families had a recently returned veteran. Upon their return, they faced uncertain employment, marital difficulties, and a greatly increased cost of living. The psychiatric field lent family service agencies a new understanding of the psychological casualties of war.
A Committee on Current and Future Planning was appointed in fall 1943 to identify issues in program, organization, and relationship that were of greatest concern to voluntary family agencies. The committee’s findings were reported at the 1946 biennial conference. The primary issues were defined as:
By 1945, the divorce rate continued to climb rapidly, and had reached 1 in 3, the highest in the world. Some of these divorces might have occurred anyway, but they were postponed by the war. In addition, the war had encouraged hasty marriages between couples who scarcely knew each other.
As far back as the 1929 Buffalo conference, Mary Richmond had urged agencies to focus on marriage and education for family living. Speaker Ernest R. Groves had noted “a real need for some sort of matrimonial clinic to which seekers for help can come to get unbiased assistance grounded on practical experience and a basic understanding of behavior problems.”
In the years since, many family agencies had implemented marriage counseling. The war years created a huge upsurge in this type of service, and national organizations such as the American Social Hygiene Association and the Jewish Institute on Marriage and the Family strongly supported the movement.
“Marriage counseling has become an accepted and undifferentiated part of agencies’ direct service programs,” reported the Committee on Current and Future Planning. “It is not logical to separate marriage counseling from other types of family counseling.” Yet family service agencies still had to define themselves and gain general acceptance as the major community resource for marriage counseling. Their past service as relief agencies impeded this general acceptance.
Family Life Education
The committee urged member agencies to take active leadership in the field of family life education. The work of Anna Freud, Helene Deutsch, and others had contributed greatly to the field of child development. Family agencies had accumulated vast knowledge about the personal attitudes, environmental factors, and social requirements that contribute to a sound and satisfying family life. This knowledge was applied to diagnosis and treatment of individuals and families. Now it was time for agencies to take that knowledge and share it with families proactively—to reach out to “normal” families with “normal” problems and educate them about how to prevent family breakdown. Discussion groups, mothers’ clubs, parent/teacher associations, and similar activities could be an effective media for the family agency to disseminate information about the essential ingredients of healthy family life.
“This responsibility for community education represents one of the most important but as yet undeveloped opportunities for service challenging the family agency today,” said Frank J. Hertel, newly appointed FWAA general director. “The time is now to shift our emphasis ... to education for better family living rather than publicity of agency services. Our services will become better known and more widely used as we move more aggressively in this direction.”
Some member agencies were already leading the way. At a California agency, one staff member’s chief responsibility was to plan group discussions and study classes about family life. A New Jersey agency published a pamphlet with tips for improving family life. The Family Service Society in New Orleans (today’s Family Service of Greater New Orleans) sponsored a two-day institute for parents with sessions on child development, adolescence, and other topics.
As family life education gained increasing prominence, FWAA created a committee to provide research, materials, and other services that would strengthen member agencies in this new line of work.
Social casework programs must immediately reorient themselves to the needs of the rapidly growing older adult population, the committee concluded. In planning for the aged, public programs typically focused only on financial support and institutional care. The committee cited a broader range of needs, such as health, housing, recreation, personal and family adjustment, adult education, and vocational retraining. The committee urged member agencies to provide local leadership in community needs assessment and planning. The association already was assuming leadership at the national level by working with the National Social Welfare Assembly and other national agencies with a common interest in planning for the aged.
Margaret Wagner, executive secretary of the Benjamin Rose Institute in Cleveland, presented a paper “What Hope for Our Aged?” at the 1946 conference. “With the increasing numbers of aged in our population, we cannot deny them an opportunity for a satisfying life without having it reflect upon the total welfare of the community. There is a very mistaken idea that little can be done with older people or that it is not worthwhile because they have come to the end of the road. Modern science, however, has made the older person more active and physically more comfortable. Old age is at the threshold of a new world where many of the old ideas and patterns must be refitted to suit the modern oldster,” the report stated.
Sphere of Responsibility in Child and Family Agencies
The Committee on Current and Future Planning noted that while family agencies have always focused on the needs of the entire family, current practice revealed increasing attention to working with children within the family. Likewise, children’s agencies were giving more and more attention to the family environment in their work with children. The committee recommended that the structure and function of these agencies be re-examined.
In 1946, approximately 30 percent of member agencies were rendering child placement services in addition to family casework. Depending on services available within the community, some family and children’s agencies were merging, while others were expanding their existing service to include the other program focus.
The city of Pittsburgh was typical of dozens of other cities during this period. In 1948, two organizations merged to form Family and Children’s Services of Allegheny County (today’s Family Services of Western Pennsylvania). “The existence of multiple agencies with similar services put pressure on donors to make a choice,” explains Don Goughler, current president and CEO. “At that time, much of social services was funded by private donations and the community chest. There were too many bidders for the limited charitable dollar. People who had the power to urge agencies to come together did so. It was driven by the community chest and also by the major charitable donors.
The Committee on Current and Future Planning noted that workers in the child placement field had built up a body of knowledge and skill in dealing with the casework process. “It is therefore incumbent upon agencies which expand their program in this way to make full use of all the skill that has been accumulated,” the committee concluded.
Recognizing that some agencies were members of both FWAA and the Child Welfare League of America, both national organizations appointed a committee in 1945 to work separately and jointly. Their role was to analyze membership standards and requirements, ascertain points of agreement, evaluate local agency situations, and consider a closer working relationship between the two organizations.
Scope of the Family Services Program
New demands of the war years broadened the range of services within agencies. With the exception of the ongoing crisis in personnel, member agencies were most concerned with the scope of services they should appropriately provide.
The committee struggled with this question. What should the basic and underlying direction of the family service agency be? Of course, the scope of a family service program was determined largely by factors such as the size and type of the community and its unique needs, by the adequacy of other organizations, and by the agency’s own resources.
In assessing range of services, the committee concluded, “The prevention of family disorganization and breakdown should be in reality the basic reason for the family agency’s existence.” Specifically, the committee believed that agencies:
Should do only what they could do well. The worth and value of a family service program must be measured by qualitative, not quantitative, standards.
Should have the freedom to experiment with new methods and techniques and to demonstrate new and untried services. “Without such freedom, one of the underlying purposes of the voluntary family agency, that of pathfinding, cannot be served,” the committee reported.
Must use carefully determined criteria in judging the kinds of family problems and situations in which its social treatment program is most likely to be effective. Otherwise, the agency risked draining its resources in meeting the residual needs of the community and would not be free to develop a program of prevention.
Expansion of Services
The demands of the war period necessitated a vast mobilization of social services including day nurseries, counseling for veterans as well as the families they left behind, and travelers aid. Many agencies, aware of the permanent traumatic effects of removing children from their homes during crisis or family illness, developed homemaker services as part of their casework aid. In 1949, 47 member agencies had such a service.
The community’s need for, and use of, these services brought an acceptance and reliance on the family service agencies. The American family had a new awareness of the basic problems of individual behavior and of family and social adjustment. It was now more socially acceptable to seek expert, specialized help for emotional difficulties. In fact, both family agencies and the general public recognized that casework was an effective means of preventing family breakdown.
The passage of the National Mental Health Act in 1946 intensified the demand for counseling and mental health services. It was a strong affirmation that a wide range of organizations, both public and private, contributed to the overall mental health program. The National Mental Health Act opened the door to new community-based services. It also made available public funding of special demonstration projects for research and educational purposes.
“A comprehensive national federal health act resulted in another source of funding for many agencies,” says Bob Rice, former FSAA chief operating officer, who has a long history of executive leadership with family service agencies. “Agencies formed connections with psychiatrists and other consultants for these new kinds of contracts. It really changed the kinds of programs and accountability requirements for local agencies.”
As demand grew, there was a far greater emphasis on graduate training and supervised internships for caseworkers. The shortage of trained personnel was already acute, and the increased length and cost of training exacerbated the problem. In 1942, FWAA general secretary Linton Swift projected a shortage of 10,000 social workers within the next several months.
The newly created FWAA Committee on Family Social Work Personnel held its first meeting in 1942. The association helped coordinate planning for recruiting by schools of social work, national organizations and professional membership associations, and local agencies. Agencies realized that they would have to employ some workers with partial or no training. The FWAA helped organize work/study plans and field training so workers could acquire professional training. Still, by 1946 the association declared that meeting demand was the most serious problem facing FWAA and its members.
Families also increasingly turned to family service agencies for help with problems caused by economic insecurity. Association members participated in a survey that revealed the effects of an escalating cost of living on family stability. Agencies observed that the practical and personal problems caused by an inflationary economy, similar to a depression, seriously undermined the stability of family life. Member agencies reported vastly increased numbers of clients who could not afford housing and food, had exhausted their savings, were highly in debt, postponed needed medical and dental care, and were unable to continue supporting ill or aged relatives and dependents. As during the depression, high school students were leaving school to supplement the family income.
In 1948, Frank Hertel, FWAA general director, testified before the Congressional Committee on Ways and Means on revision of the public assistance provisions of the Social Security Act. The association’s survey, “Family Security in Danger,” was published in the Congressional Record.
Urgent Need for Community Leadership
It was crucial that family agencies exercise leadership in their communities, Robert F. Nelson of United Charities of Chicago (today’s Metropolitan Family Services) told members at the 1946 conference. Without leadership and community support, agencies could not hope to extend the quality and reach of service, he stated.
Nelson cited the most obvious aspect for leadership: the need to increase financial resources. Community chests had made great gains in finding new money during the war years. In 1946, they raised and allocated to local community services 46 percent more money than in 1941. But in 1946, the family field received only about 16 percent more from community chests than it had in 1941.
Family agencies either would have to attain a greater share of community chest funding or find new money elsewhere. As casework gained recognition as a skilled service, its clientele grew to include people who customarily paid for professional help. Some family agencies had begun developing a fee plan for those who could pay. In 1945 only 15 member agencies charged fees; this number doubled by 1949. Although agencies were experiencing steady growth in fee cases, they represented an incremental portion of total agency income. The fees ranged from about .50 cents to $3.
Beyond funding to support family casework and education, leadership also was essential to fulfill another fundamental objective of family service: to be a galvanizing force in the community’s program for a better life for its citizens. Many organizations, public and private, came together to weave the fabric of total resources in a community. FWAA and its members understood that they must work together to delineate their respective purposes, continue to assess unmet needs, and plan how they could be met.
What makes a family agency strong enough to play a leadership role in the community? The association and its members acknowledged that professional competence was not enough. Agencies must have a vital board of directors that represented the community to the agency, and the board must, in turn, interpret the agency’s work to the community. They must enlist good will amongst the entire community, and not just major donors. And they must use their knowledge and experience to effect social action.
Ralph Uihlein of Family Service of Milwaukee, had exhorted his fellow board members in 1942 to engage in social action. “As a body of over 5,000 community leaders, we local board members can exercise a nationwide influence upon family welfare,” he told them. FWAA adopted a standing committee on social legislation in 1944. Its social advocacy activities during these years included:
- Cooperative planning for the post-war period.
- A resolution of extension of the Social Security program.
- Support for adequate housing for low-income households.
- Support for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission.
- Support for passage of a Full Employment Bill.
- Support for continuation of federal funds to maintain day care centers for children of working mothers.
- Support for continuance of the Social Protection Program.
- A letter to President Harry S. Truman calling attention to the effect of high living costs on families, along with the results of the association’s High Cost of Living Survey.
New Name Reflects Changing Focus
In 1946, the association changed its name to the Family Service Association of America, or the FSAA. Both the association and its member agencies had been moving away from the misleading designation “charity” or “welfare” to describe their services. “Family service more aptly describes the nationwide program of assistance to individuals in their personal and family problems. Because of long experience in dealing with intimate personal and family problems, thousands of people from every walk of life now come to these agencies for consultation,” explained Ralph Uihlein of Family Service of Milwaukee.
Read the next chapter from A Century of Service.