American Social Welfare Policy

Course: SWRK 347-01A, American Social Welfare Policy
Details: 2:40-3:50 PM, Even days, HAB 121
Instructor: John R. Yoakam, Ph.D., LICSW, Assistant Professor
Office: HAB 129
Office Phone: (320) 363-5155
Email: [email protected]

Office Hours: 11.00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.; 1:00-2:00 p.m. Tues., Wed., Thurs., or by appointment.

Course Description

THE MAJOR AIM OF THIS COURSE IS TO PREPARE STUDENTS to function as informed and competent participants in efforts to achieve change in social policies and programs. Students are expected to develop skills to analyze and critique social welfare policy and services. Students should know the structure of service programs and the history of the organized profession and social welfare institutions. They should understand legislative, judicial, and administrative policies, acquire frameworks for analyzing social and economic policies in the light of the principles of social and economic justice. Students will also gain an understanding of political processes and learn to use them in ways that will further the achievement of social work goals and purposes.

This course will emphasize integration of professional social work foundation knowledge (HBSE, Policy, Practice, Research, and Field Practicum). Feminist theory and the empowerment models of practice will be used to understand and critique social policies in practice. Social work values as reflected in the Code of Ethics will be stressed throughout.

The instructor will use various teaching methods including small group discussion, invited speakers, video presentations, simulation exercises, group and individual writing projects.

Knowledge and Skill Goals

Students will become knowledgeable in the following areas of social policy development:

  1. Values (professional, socio-cultural, personal) and ethics and their role in the policy and planning processes.
  2. Historical development of social policy.
  3. Social problems, their impact and social policy responses to them.
  4. Major social institutions, particularly social welfare institutions and the reciprocal impact between them and social policy.
  5. A framework for policy analysis and formation.
  6. The impact of social policy on people's lives including a focus on oppressed groups and women.
  7. Effective use of social policy in integrative generalist social work practice including the reciprocal impact between practice and policy.
  8. Forces that influence the development, implementation and outcome of social policies.
  9. Comparative social welfare systems.
  10. Citizen participation and power in the policy arena.
  11. Social planning, social policy and the legislative process as sources of social change.
  12. Contemporary changes in society and alternative policy responses to these trends.

Skills in

  1. Analyzing, formulating, implementing, and using policy effectively in generalist social work practice.
  2. Identifying the importance of involving citizens, especially the disenfranchised, in all stages of the policy process.
  3. Utilizing research skills and professional ethics in the planning, implementing and
    evaluating policies.
  4. Facilitating organizational functioning for effective service delivery.
  5. Clarifying one's own commitment to social justice and social change and assisting others to do the same.
  6. Valuing diversity when involved in the processes of policy and planning.
  7. Identifying the importance of facilitating the development of support networks,
    (organizational, community, etc.) in social change efforts.

Required Reading (Available at the campus book store)

DiNitto, D. (2000) Social welfare: Politics and public policy (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ehrenreich, B. (2001) Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: Metropolitan Books.

MacDonald, M. 1999. All Souls: A Family Story from Southie. Boston: Beacon Press.

Seccombe, K.1999. So you think I drive a Cadillac?: Welfare recipients’ perspectives on the
system and its reform. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Other readings may be assigned as the semester progresses.

Prrogram Objectives Met

  1. Apply critical thinking skills within the context of professional social work practice.
    This objective will be met during the initial class sessions when we discuss critical thinking. Students will be asked to demonstrate critical thinking in their final policy papers, and will be evaluated on their success in applying critical thinking skills.
  2. Practice within the values and ethics of the social work profession and with an understanding of and respect for the positive value of diversity.
    This objective will be met during initial class sessions when there will be a discussion of ethics relating to policy, supported by readings in the DiNitto text. The mid-term examination will include a question on ethics. Race and gender will be addressed within the context of policy practice, discrimination, and poverty. Students will address diversity in policy in their midterm exams and final papers.
  3. Understand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination and the strategies of change that advance social and economic justice.
  4. Students will be introduced to oppression and discrimination during the initial class sessions, and more directly during the course sections on economic theory. Students will discuss conflict theories, and integrate theories into their final papers. Students will discuss strategies of change throughout the course. Students will be tested on mechanisms of oppression and discrimination, and strategies for change.
  5. Understand the history of the social work profession and its current structures and issues.
    This objective will be met during the initial portion of the class when students read and discuss the books Nickel and Dimed and “So you think I drive a Cadillac?”: Welfare recipients’ perspectives on the system and its reform. Students will be evaluated on their knowledge of social work history and current structures in a mid-term exam.
  6. Analyze the impact of social policies on client systems, workers, and agencies.
    Students will discuss the impact of policies throughout the course, and will address the impact of policy during their final paper.


Final Paper: Course Criteria for ALL written assignments:
All written assignments should be typed, double spaced, have one inch margins and be printed in a 12 point font. Check your paper for errors in spelling and grammar. Read your papers aloud to yourself to make sure that you have made no omissions or that you have no redundancies or other unintended text. Be sure to cite your text and the other readings in the body of your paper using some form of APA style. Also, include a complete list of references. All papers will be graded according to the following:

Organization of the paper 30%
Use of sources 30%
Style and mechanics 25%
Critical Thinking 15%

The instructor is willing to read drafts of papers and give feedback up to (but not after) five days before the due date. Late papers are not accepted unless a special arrangement has been made with the instructor. Requests for an extension on papers must be submitted in writing at least 5 days before the assignment is due.

Each student will complete a 14-16 page paper (double-spaced, typed and using the APA style to cite references) on a specific social problem and the policy or policies created to ameliorate it. The policy you choose may be either a specific policy for a social welfare agency or a larger issue, such as juvenile delinquency, housing, child abuse, etc.

Resources which can be used

  1. Encyclopedia of Social Work
  2. Director of a specific social welfare program, program recipients
  3. Recent journal articles
  4. The Federal Depository in Clemens
  5. The 1998 Green Book (available on line)
  6. The 2000 U.S. Census

NOTE: You are to cite at least ten print sources (from the above sources and others, but not from Websites). You may consult the Web for information to begin your search and cite the “Websites Consulted” in a section separate from the References. You must include the title of the website, the author, and the date. See the APA for the correct way to site these references.

In order to find the correct way to site references APA style, go to the CSB/SJU library home page. Then go to:

  1. Research Guides
  2. Research help citing electronic sources.
  3. APA, MLA, Turabian and Chicago Citation Styles: Citation Style for Research Papers.
  4. APA

I. Problem or need analysis (Draft due September 26, 2002)
At a minimum, this requires that the student define the problem using objective and subjective data. Although often the most demanding and troublesome step in the inquiry process, it is nevertheless vital. Having defined the problem or need, it then becomes possible to determine its magnitude and scope, the salient characteristics of the problem and the theoretical notions or empirical evidence suggesting causes of the problem or conditions associated with its occurrence. Also consider the role of gender in the problem or need.

II. Policy Analysis (historical overview) (Draft Due October 22, 2002)
The purpose of this task is to arrive at a general understanding of the present-day policies that have been established to deal with the social problem under consideration. More specifically, policy analysis attempts to determine historical antecedents to existing policy; the values and goals implicit and/or explicit in a policy; and the sources - legislative, judicial, or administrative - from which the current formalized policy has emanated. Within this context the student examines the scope of coverage, the kind and level of benefits to be provided in the interest of attaining the goals set forth in the policy, and other specific features that influence the manner in which social services are made available to the problem population. Consider how policies written to affect certain populations based on gender, sexual orientation, race, and/or class.

III. Program Analysis (Draft Due November 15, 2002)
Program analysis is closely related to policy analysis and sometimes inseparable from it for analytic purposes. Nevertheless, it is treated as a distinct phase of the inquiry process because the purpose is to achieve an understanding of the impact of policy objectives at the most local level. The primary focus of this phase of the inquiry is an understanding of the current agency structure existing to deliver programs and services designed to meet policy objectives; an understanding of the factors which impede, neutralize or facilitate such efforts; and an assessment of the programs' impact on the population it aims to serve. In other words, the purpose of the program analysis is to determine whether the objectives of the policy are being realized in the nature of the service being furnished the problem population. At a minimum, it means calling an agency and speaking to a decision maker about the way services are provided, problems and prospects, and a general discussion of how the program is going. Conscientious researchers will also interview service recipients (or their parents) to determine the effectiveness of service provision from the clients’ perceptive. Consider what populations receive the benefits of such programs based on their income, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

IV. Recommendations (Due December 2, with entire paper)
Students should elaborate on what should be done in the future to remedy the problem discovered in the first three areas of inquiry: problem, policy, and program. In this section you may create new policies, modify existing policies, or make any other recommendation that is germane to the policy under consideration. Researchers will reference the knowledge gained in the first three sections in order to
write this section.


  1. Problem: Economic poverty of single mothers with dependent children
  2. Policy: Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193)
  3. Program: Federal: Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF); State: Minnesota Families Investment Program (MFIP)
  4. Recommendations: Extension of the five year limit to families in need with unusual circumstances (mental illness; disabled dependent children, etc.).

Suggested Paper Outline

I. Problem or Need analysis
A. Extent of need
1. Objective data
2. Subjective data
B. Summary
II. Policy analysis: historical overview
A. Legislative overview (county, state, federal)
B. Intent of policy
C. Present policy
III. Program Analysis
A. Description
C. Scope of impact
1. geographic
2. population affected
D. Funding history and future
IV. Recommendations
A. Policy revisions
B. Program revisions

It is expected that the paper will be well written and concise. As a general rule, it is far better to focus tightly and to pick a policy and program that is narrow in scope. This makes the literature to be reviewed and the overall paper more manageable.

How do I get started on my paper? It is best to get started on the paper right away. The hardest part of the paper is choosing the topic. Ask yourself the following questions You may begin from any point along the following continuum:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Is there a social problem that really motivates you?
Is there some issue you’ve been wanting to learn more about?
Do you have access to lots of data on some social issue?
Have you come into contact with a piece of legislation that has sparked your curiosity? Made you mad? Is there some historical trend you’d like to explore more thoroughly?
Have you worked for a program, and wondered where it got its funding, etc.? Have you seen a program you’d like to work at, and would like to do more research on it to prepare yourself?
Do you feel very strongly about the unfairness of an issue that has touched your life? Are you angry about a certain social injustice?

You may move from one part of the paper to another, once you’ve answered one of these questions. For example:

  1. You may be curious about the federal Food Stamp Program (Part II), and then move to interviewing the director of the local Food Stamp Program, who will give data and insight to help inform parts I, II, III, and IV.
  2. Your family may have utilized the Minnesota Children’s Health Insurance Program, and formed opinions about its effectiveness. You then have subjective data for part I, and can locate the office you used to receive benefits (part III).
  3. You may be angry about state policies about transracial adoption (part IV). You can get on the Internet to find out about legislation (part II), call a local public and private adoption agency to find out more (part III).
  4. You may have worked at the local Kidstop program, and are curious about how the agency operates. You can interview your supervisor to learn about program operation, draw from your own experience for subjective data, etc.

Students most often think of initial paper topics that are too large. Move from the general to the specific: think about child abuse, and then write about the most recent legislation on child abuse. Think about Down Syndrome, but write about aspects of Medicaid that assist families to maintain high-need kids in their home, or about local main streaming programs.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at any point along the way. I have many resources and can serve as a sounding board for your ideas. It is always best to email me with your ideas to get my reaction.

Current Issues in Social Welfare: Journal and Newspaper Critique Assignments

Each week you will read and prepare a critique of an article from selected newspapers and journals which are relevant to this course (articles about poverty, welfare reform, proposals to privatize Social Security, etc). These articles should be selected from the following newspapers and/or journals: The New York Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The St. Cloud Times, The Nation, The Progressive, The Economist, The New Republic, Harpers, The Atlantic with no more than three critiques selected from any one newspaper or journal. The intent of this assignment is to provide students with a variety of perspectives on social policy issues. Such articles should focus on social problems and policies and programs related to addressing these problems. For example, an article about the difficulty or single mothers trying to find affordable housing would be appropriate especially if it discusses policies which address the problem, such as rent control, expansion of housing vouchers, proposed programs to expand home ownership options for low income families. Articles about natural disasters are appropriate only if these articles discuss governmental programs and their effectiveness in providing relieve to the victims.

You will then write a one to two paragraph summary of the article and a one to two paragraph critique of the article using information gained from other class readings and discussions to shape and inform your opinions. Each critique is worth one point and is due on the first day of the week that the class is held for ten weeks beginning September 16 and ending November 19.You will be asked to critique articles on the midterm and final exams.

Attendance and Class Participation

Class participation is important because the exchange of ideas is necessary in the quest for knowledge. Active class participation facilitates learning not only for the individual participating but for the other class members as well. In order to obtain full credit for participation, students need to attend all classes. Students who miss class will not earn any class participation points for that session. Absence from class more than three times a semester will result in failure of the course.

Developing the ability to participate in a group discussion is essential in the social work field. In class students are expected at all times to demonstrate courteous listening skills and to contribute to the discussions. In order to contribute to discussions students must be prepared, having read the assignments for the day and prepared responses to questions on the readings which will be distributed in previous class meetings . Students will be evaluated for class participation by their frequency of contributions as well as their adequate preparation to contribute intelligently to the discussion.

Class participation will be graded as follows

A = Excellent participation includes frequent and appropriate contributions which:

    1. Pose good questions for the group
    2. Use relevant reading material to answer particular questions
    3. Invite others to contribute information or interpretations to the discussion
    4. Build on the comments of others
    5. Admit confusions, and ask for clarifications
    6. Give interpretations, explanations, opinions (sometimes personal)

B = Regular contributions that are not so integrative or interpretive such as:

    1. Offering discrete facts and some new information
    2. Single sentences or phrases, rather than more complex formulations
    3. Less connection with other participants in conversation

C = Little contribution such as:

    1. Speaking only a few times
    2. Offering just a little information
    3. Offering ideas that are vague or relatively unformulated'
    4. Stating unsubstantiated opinions or educated guesses.

D = Minimal participation such as:

    1. Usually saying nothing
    2. Speaking without having done the reading
    3. Speaking or making noises while another person has the floor

F = No class participation

Course Requirements
Research paper 30% Dec. 6
Mid-term 1 15% Oct. 2
Mid-term 2 15% Nov. 7
Final Exam 20% Dec. 19
Newspaper Critiques 10% weekly,
Class Participation 10% each class

Grading System

A=94-100 AB=87-93
B=80-86 BC=79-85
C=72-78 D=65-71

Mid-terms and final exam will be comprehensive and have integrative questions based on the readings, class discussions, lectures, speakers, and films.