Social Work Journal with School Ties Celebrates Its 100th Volume

April 26, 2019 @ 9:38 pm
By Janet Young

Launched by one of our School’s founders and edited by one of our alumni, the journal Families in Society approaches its centennial.

At the height of the American industrial revolution, children labored in factories, men were regularly killed or injured in the workplace, and wives and widows struggled to survive when their husband died or became disabled.

Social work pioneer Mary Richmond was a leader in uniting and professionalizing all the groups that had emerged to assist with these social ills, from churches to charitable organizations to private philanthropies. In 1898, she helped to found the New York School of Philanthropy as a training school for applied philanthropy. In 1920, she began an annual research and practice journal, called The Family, that she hoped would instruct the “friendly visitors” who managed aid to families dealing with urban poverty.

A hundred years later, the New York School of Philanthropy still exists, renamed the Columbia School of Social Work. And Richmond’s journal continues to be published, retitled Families in Society, with a CSSW alumna at the helm.

Dr. Sondra Fogel (MSW’83), the journal’s editor-in-chief, told us her interest in FIS began during her days on campus, when she studied the journal from cover to cover.

“The reading lists provided by the faculty included many, many articles from FIS, which at the time was called Social Casework,” she recalled. “But I read everything back then, whether it was required or not. Some of my fondest memories are of reading in the Social Work Library—you had to read the physical copies back then—and writing abstracts of what I was reading and then using this knowledge in my internship or classes. I remember walking back to the International House late at night with friends, sharing the wisdom found in these works.”

Now an associate professor of social work at the University of South Florida, where she directs the PhD program, Dr. Fogel became a peer reviewer and then moved through various editorial positions until becoming chief editor in 2015.

In an editorial celebrating the journal’s milestone, Dr. Fogel draws parallels between the conditions in which Families in Society began and the challenging environment in which social workers operate today:

“Implicitly or explicitly, there were many debates about who was ‘worthy,’ how ‘need’ should be delivered, and what the role of the professional should be. The pioneering research and reflections remind us that many of the social problems grappled with then are still with us today, albeit with a 21st-century twist, since changing environmental stressors and conditions continuously reshape and frame how we understand and respond to issues.”

When we asked her if she continues to believe that, as Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” she answered affirmatively but then added a caveat.

“The profession has the ability to promote well-being in all the systems that we interact with and to engage in substantial efforts to inform and reform policies and process,” she said. “I do think, however, we as a profession have to embrace the changes that are occurring with and because of technology, other global influences, and political winds.”

To respond to these shifts, she suggested, social work professionals should maintain a critical attitude toward research and science, consider the economic cost of services, accommodate changes in the workplace, and gain influence by learning to speak with one voice. She also cautioned that some rural areas risk being underserved: “We must reach out and be present in all areas where there is need.”

Dr. Mary Sormanti, a professor of professional practice at our School, has served on the journal’s editorial board since 2016 and recently was the guest editor for the special issue “Palliative Care in Social Work.” She underlines the point of the journal’s continued relevance:

“Perhaps now more than ever in its 100 years of publication, the aims of the journal, including a commitment to diverse forms of inquiry and real world applicability for a diverse professional readership, are vital. Anyone who considers the health, mental health, and well-being of individuals, families, and communities to be an important focus of their work should include FIS among the journals they read on a regular basis.”

Both professors are excited about the journal’s centenary volume, for which Dr. Fogel has commissioned articles by a wide range of social work experts on topics to include

  • Mary Richmond’s influence on social work practices
  • child sexual abuse and forensic social work practice
  • a retrospective of the New Deal and its influence on social policy
  • how social work and engineering can collaborate to solve social problems.

And to celebrate the quarterly’s Volume 100, she is making a selection of past articles available for free on the journal’s website, as well as at the 2019 program meeting of the Council for Social Work Education.

Says Dr. Fogel, “One [collection] that I am particularly interested to spearhead is a review of articles on social work practice with military families over the years. Given the 100-year history of the journal, all wars or conflicts since 1920 are represented through cases and research,” beginning with the aftermath of World War I and extending through the Iraq War.

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Would you like to be part of the journal’s second hundred years? FIS welcomes submissions from practitioners and MSW students, as long as they contribute to the dialogue of research and/or practice. You can read the author guidelines here. Dr. Fogel is also available via phone or email if you want to pitch your idea for an article.

Families in Society is published in collaboration with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a national strategic action network comprising thousands of social sector leaders working collaboratively to achieve a healthy and equitable society.