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Human services refers to a variety of delivery systems such as community services, social welfare services, education, mental health services, and other forms of healthcare. Human services professionals may provide services directly to clients or help clients access services. Human services professionals also manage agencies that provide these services. And because of their engagement with human conditions, they are involved in policy development and advocacy. The academic discipline of human services educates these professionals at the associate, bachelor's, and graduate levels and studies how delivery systems and public policies affect service users.

History of human services[edit | edit source]

Human services has its roots in charitable activities of religious and civic organizations. In the nineteenth century these services baecame institutionalized as independent secular nonprofit organizations. However, the academic discipline of human services did not start until the 1960s. At that time, a group of college academics started the new human services movement and began to promote the adoption of a new ideology about human service delivery and professionalism among traditional helping disciplines.[1] The movement's major goal was to make service delivery more efficient, effective, and humane. The other goals dealt with the reeducation of traditional helping professionals to have a greater appreciation of the individual as a whole person and to be accountable to the communities they serve. Furthermore, professionals would learn to take responsibility at all levels of government, use systems approaches to consider human problems, and be involved in progressive social change.

Traditional academic programs such as education, nursing, social work, law, and medicine were resistant to the new human services movement's ideology because it appeared to challenge their professional status. Changing the traditional concept of professionalism involved rethinking consumer control and the distribution of power. The new movement also called on human service professionals to work for social change.[2] It was proposed that the reduction of the monopolistic control of professionals could result in democratization of knowledge and would lead to professionals advocating on behalf of clients and communities against professional establishments (Reiff, 1970). The movement also hoped that human service delivery systems would become integrated, comprehensive, and more accessible, which would make them more humane for service users (Agranoff, 1974; Baker, 1974). Ultimately, the resistance from traditional helping professions served as the impetus for a group of educators in higher education to start the new academic discipline of human services.

Human services as an academic discipline[edit | edit source]

Human services is the study of social technologies (models and methods of practice) and service technologies (programs and systems) that are designed to assist people. Human services is also an academic discipline and field with a mission to advance the autonomy of service users, build civic engagement, make human service systems more accessible, egalitarian,integrated, efficient, and effective, and advocate for social change at all levels of society. Research in this field focuses on an array of topics that deal with direct service issues, case management, organizational change, management of nonprofit human service organizations, advocacy, community organizing, community development, social welfare policy, service integration, multiculturalism, integration of technology, poverty issues, social justice, and social change strategies.

Some maintain that the human services discipline has a concrete identity as a profession that supplements and complements other traditional professions (Mehr & Kanwischer, 2004). Yet other professionals and scholars have not agreed upon an authoritative definition for human services (Kincaid, 2009).

Academic program development[edit | edit source]

Chenault and Burnford argued that human services programs must educate and train students at the graduate or postgraduate level if human services hoped to be considered a professional discipline.[1] A progressive graduate human services program was established by Audrey Cohen (1932–1996), who was considered an innovative educator for her time. The Audrey Cohen College of Human Services, now called the Metropolitan College of New York, offered one of the first graduate programs in 1974 (Grant & Riesman, 1978). In the same time period, Springfield College in Massachusetts became a major force in preserving human services as an academic discipline. Currently, Springfield College is one of the oldest and largest human services program in the United States.

Manpower studies in the 1960s and 70s had shown that there would be a shortage of helping professionals in an array of service delivery areas (Cohen, 1969; Kadish, 1969; McPheeters & King, 1971). In turn, some educators proposed that the training of nonprofessionals (e.g., mental health technicians)could bridge this looming personnel shortage (McPheeters & King, 1971; Sweitzer, 2003; True & Young,1974). One of the earliest educational initiatives to develop undergraduate curricula was undertaken by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), which was funded by the National Institute on Health. Professionals of the SREB Undergraduate Social Welfare Manpower Project helped colleges develop new social welfare programs, which later became known as human services (McPheeters & Ryan, 1971). Some believed that community college human services programs were the most expedient way to train paraprofessionals for direct service jobs in areas such as mental health (True & Young, 1974). Currently, a large percentage of human services programs are run at the community college level.

The development of community college human services programs was supported with government funding that was earmarked for the federal new careers initiatives. In turn, the federally funded New Careers Program was created to produce a nonprofessional career track for economically disadvantaged, underemployed, and unemployed adults as a strategy to eradicate poverty within society (Grosser, Henry, & Kelly, 1969; Haskell, 1969; Pearl & Riessman, 1965; Riessman & Popper, 1968) and to end a critical shortage of health-care personnel (Steinberg, Shatz, & Fishman, 1969). Graduates from these programs successfully acquired employment as paraprofessionals (True & Young, 1974), but there were limitations to their upward mobility within social service agencies because they lacked a graduate or professional degree (Grant & Riesman, 1978).

Current state of human services programs[edit | edit source]

Currently, there are academic programs in human services at the associate, baccalaureate, and graduate levels. There are approximately 600 human services programs throughout the United States. A new online directory of human services programs at lists many (but not all) of the programs state by state in conjunction with their accreditation status from the Council of Standards for Human Services Education (CSHSE).

The CSHSE offers accreditation for human services programs in higher education. The accreditation process is voluntary and labor intensive; it is designed to assure the quality, consistency, and relevance of human service education through research-based standards and a peer-review process. Currently, only 41 human services programs in the United States are accredited.[citation needed]

Human services curricula are based on an interdisciplinary knowledge foundation that allows students to consider practical solutions from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Across the curriculum human services students are taught to view human problems from a socioecological perspective (developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner) that involves viewing human problems as interconnected to a family unit, community, and society. This perspective is considered a “whole-person perspective” (Woodside & McClam, 2008). Overall, undergraduate programs prepare students to be human services generalists (Burger & Youkeles, 2004) while master’s programs prepare students to be human services administrators,[1] and doctoral programs prepare students to be researcher-analysts and college-level educators.

Profession of human services[edit | edit source]

Currently, the three major employment roles played by human services graduates include providing direct service, performing administrative work, and working in the community (Mandell & Schram, 2006). According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the US Department of Labor, the employment of human service assistants is anticipated to grow by 34% through 2016, which is faster than average for all occupations. There will also be excellent job opportunities for individuals with postsecondary degrees. But salaries remain low, which might reflect employers’ lack of understanding of the human services profession.

Certification for human services professionals[edit | edit source]

Graduates from human services programs can obtain a Human Services Board Certified Practitioner (HS-BCP) credential offered by the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE). The HS-BCP certification was created for the human services profession to ensure their practitioners offer quality services, are competent service providers, are committed to high standards, adhere to the NOHS Ethical Standards of Human Service Professionals, and to help solidify the professional identity of human services practitioners.[citation needed]

Organizations for human services professionals[edit | edit source]

There are several different professional human services organizations for professionals, educators, and students to join. The National Organization for Human Services (NOHS) is a professional organization open to educators, professionals, and students interested in current issues in the field of human services. NOHS sponsors an annual conference in different parts of the United States. In addition, there are four independent human services regional organizations: (a) Mid-Atlantic Consortium for Human Services, (b) Midwest Organization for Human Services, (c) New England Organization for Human Service, and the (d) Northwest Human Services Association. All of the regional organizations are also open to educators, professionals, students and each regional organization has an annual conference in different locations throughout their region.

Human services special interest groups also exist within the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The ASPA subsection is named the Section on Health and Human Services Administration and its purpose is to foster the development of knowledge, understanding and practice in the fields of health and human services administration and to foster professional growth and communication among academics and practitioners in these fields. Fields of health and human services administration share a common and unique focus on improving the quality of life through client-centered policies and service transactions.

The AERA special interest group is named the Education, Health and Human Service Linkages. Its purpose is to create a community of researchers and practitioners interested in developing knowledge about comprehensive school health, school linked services, and initiatives that support children and their families. This subgroup also focuses on interpersonal collaboration, integration of services, and interdisciplinary approaches. The group’s interests encompass interrelated policy, practice, and research that challenge efforts to create viable linkages among these three distinct areas.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 (1978) Human services professional education: Future directions, New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. Dumont, M (1970). The changing face of professionalism. Social Policy 1: 26–31.
  • Agranoff, R. (1974). Human services administration: Service delivery, service integration, and training. In Human services integration (pp. 42–51). Washington, DC: American Society for Public Administration.
  • Baker, F. (1974). From community mental health to human service ideology. American Journal of Public Health, 64: 576–581.
  • Brager, G., & Holloway, S. (1978). Changing human services organizations: Political and practice. New York: The Free Press.
  • Brofenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: Biological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Burger, W. R., & Youkeles, M. (2004). Human services in contemporary America. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.
  • Fair, C. D. (2007). "I just want to help people, why do I need research methods?": Community-based research with human service majors. International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: 1–12.
  • Foster-Fishman, P. G., & Behrens, T. R. (2007). Systems change reborn: rethinking our theories, methods, and efforts in human services reform and community-based change. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39: 191–196.
  • Grant, G., & Riesman, D. (1978). The perpetual dream. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Hasenfeld, Y. (1992). The Nature of Human Service Organizations. In Y. Hasenfeld, Human Services as Complex Organizations (pp. 3–23). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Kincaid, S. O. (2009). Defining human services: A discourse analysis. Human service education, 29 (1): 14–23.
  • Mandell, B. R., & Schram, B. (2006). An introduction to human services: Policy and practice. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • McPheeters, H. L., & King, J. B. (1971). Plans for teaching mental health workers:Community college curriculum objectives. Washington, DC: US Department of Health, Education & Welfare.
  • Mehr, J. J., & Kanwischer, R. (2004). Human services concepts and intervention strategies. Boston: Person Education.
  • Reiff, R. (1970). Community psychology, community mental health and social needs: The need for a body of knowledge in community psychology. In I. Iscoe, & C. Spielberger, Community psychology: Perspectives in training and research. (pp. 1-?). New York: Appleton.
  • Sweitzer, H.F. (2003). Multiple forms of scholarship and their implications on human service educators. Human Service Education, 25(1), 5–13.
  • True, J. E., & Young, C. E. (1974). Associate degree programs for human service workers. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 53 (4): 304–307.
  • Woodside, M. R., & McClam, T. (2008). An introduction to human services. Bemont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.
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