From its earliest incarnation in 1908, the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) has never been simply a place to learn about social work; it has helped create and define the profession of social work and the field of social welfare.
SSA has a historic role as one of the first schools of social work in the United States, whose founding pioneers left an indelible commitment on the profession to pursue social justice and alleviate human suffering in rigorous and evidence-based ways. In 1924, Edith Abbott not only became SSA's first dean, but was the first female dean of any graduate school in the United States—trailblazing the way for many social work pioneers and women in academia.
While most early schools of social work concentrated on practical training for caseworkers, SSA's leaders insisted on the need for a solid foundation in social science and social research as well. In its first decade, The Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy faculty and students were investigating such issues as juvenile delinquency, truancy, vocational training, and housing in the rapidly growing city of Chicago. The decision in 1920 to merge the School and the University of Chicago opened students to contact with the social sciences.
In the decades since then, the emphases on social research and on applying the insights of social science to solving human problems have continued. Crucial to that effort has been the Social Service Review founded in 1927 with the aim of opening "scientific discussions of problems arising in connection with the various aspects of social work." Like SSA itself, the Social Service Review has not only reflected the social welfare field but helped to shape it. It remains the premier journal in its field.
Early research at SSA had a distinct public policy cast. Investigations of the status of mothers and children, for example, laid the foundations for the child-related provisions of the nation's Social Security System in the 1930s. Beginning in the 1940s, SSA energies turned to issues in the social work profession itself. Such faculty members as Charlotte Towle and Helen Harris Perlman applied the insights of ego psychology to casework, and developed the generic casework curriculum, which became a model for social work education. Recent contributions to the direct practice tradition have included Laura Epstein's and William Reid's work in designing and testing the task-centered approach. "Task-centered Treatment" was the first theory and research-based social work model of treatment and this approach is one of the foundations for evidence-based practice. The School is thus in the unique position of having been a pioneer both in policy research and in the development of innovative methods of social work practice.
SSA today continues to establish the connections between the social and behavioral sciences, research, and the real world of policy and practice. The faculty is drawn from the fields of social work, psychology, sociology, political science, public policy, public health, economics, geography, and anthropology. Research at the School reflects this diversity. Our faculty collaborate within the University and throughout academia to forge tangible solutions to real-world problems.
SSA faculty have been honored as White House Fellows, Fulbright Fellows, and Kellogg Fellows. They have strong ties both to public and private welfare agencies and to local, state, and national governments. Among them, for example, is a former division chief of the Bureau of the Budget, a former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and a former interim chief education officer for the Chicago Public Schools. Faculty members have contributed their expertise to long lists of national and state commissions on such topics as juvenile justice, mental health, aging, and child welfare.
SSA faculty and alumni have been and continue to be nationally and internationally recognized as among the most influential and talented leaders tackling the major social problems of our time.