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Sources for the history of social work

The Archives

The Modern Records Centre’s holdings of archives relating to the development of social work from the late nineteenth century onwards are among the most important in Britain. Listed in this guide are the relevant organisations whose archives are held here, with summaries of their history and of the nature of their archives. Links to the summary or full catalogues of each archive are also given. A pdf version of this guide in leaflet form is also available.

The records typically found in the archives of these organisations include documents relating to their establishment and constitution, minutes and papers of general meetings, committees and conferences, publications created or used by the organisation, subject files and the organisation’s responses to government reports, proposed legislation and other initiatives by external bodies. The covering dates are those of the items in the archive of the organisation concerned, which are not always the same as the period of the organisation’s existence.

Types of social work

The organisations have been grouped under the headings that reflect the areas with which they were mainly concerned: general social work, children and families, moral welfare, general health care, mental health and education (in the sense of social workers working in education). But it should be noted that an organisation’s archive does not necessarily relate solely to the heading under which it has been placed.

General social work

Association of Social Workers, 1936-1970 (MSS.378/ASW)

This organisation began in 1935 as the British Federation of Social Workers, which was primarily a federation of social workers’ organisations, although associate status was available to individuals working in a field of social work in which there was no existing organisation. In 1951 the organisation changed its name to the Association of Social Workers and in 1963 it took the initiative in setting up the Standing Conference of Organisations of Social Workers, which entailed the disaffiliation of its member organisations. It therefore became an organisation of individual members only. In 1970 it merged with six other organisations to form the British Association of Social Workers. Its archive reflects its efforts to promote co-ordination of effort among social workers’ organisations and is therefore a good source for the study of a range of disciplines within the field.

Standing Conference of Organisations of Social Workers, 1962-1970 (MSS. 378/SCOSW)

The Conference was established in 1962 by six of the bodies which in 1970 formed the British Association of Social Workers, plus the National Association of Probation Officers. Its membership consisted of these organisations as a whole rather than individuals. Its aims were to facilitate co-operation between the associations and to work towards the establishment of a unified national association for trained social workers. Its archive reflects what was seen as the over-lapping of boundaries between different fields of social work, the increasing movement of workers between fields and the development of generic training.

British Association of Social Workers, 1970-1990s (MSS.378/BASW)

This is now the main professional association of social workers. It grew out of the Standing Conference of Organisations of Social Workers and was formed in 1970 by the merger of the Association of Child Care Officers, the Association of Family Case Workers, the Association of Psychiatric Social Workers, the Association of Social Workers, the Institute of Medical Social Workers, the Moral Welfare Workers’ Association and the Society of Mental Welfare Officers. Its extensive archive therefore contains a wealth of information about a wide range of issues with which social workers were concerned.

Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, 1962-1980 (MSS.422)

The Council for Training in Social Work (CTSW) was established in 1962; it was renamed the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) in 1970. CCETSW was a UK-wide, statutory organisation responsible for promoting, approving and assuring the quality of education and training for social work and social care staff in the personal social services. It ceased to exist on 30 September 2001 and many of its functions passed to the four new Care Councils: the General Social Care Council (GSCC) the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), the Care Council for Wales (CCW), and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC). The Centre holds microfiche of CCETSW files 1962-1980. These include information on courses and training schemes, on their approval and assessment, and on the development of social work training, papers of the Council for Training in Social Work council papers, Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work council, board and committee papers, Council for National Academic Awards board and committee papers, Personal Social Services Council papers, Standing Committee on Approval & Review of Courses papers, files on many related organisations, and training initiatives in Britain and Europe. Some records of CCETSW, including committee papers, have been transferred to the National Archives.

National Institute for Social Work and the papers of Dame Eileen Younghusband, 1926-2002 (MSS.463)

The Institute was formed in 1961, following the proposals in the report of the Ministry of Health Working Party on Social Workers in the Health and Welfare Services (the Younghusband Committee) in 1959. It operated throughout the UK and internationally, supporting users and carers, practitioners and managers, policy makers and their organisations with a range of services aimed at achieving excellence in practice and management in social work and social care. It was wound up in 2003.

Dame Eileen Younghusband (1902-1981), the chair of the Ministry of Health working party mentioned above, was a leading figure in the development of social work training, both in Britain and elsewhere. Her archive is therefore one of the most important among those of individuals working in this field. It includes her professional research material and her diaries and correspondence. It also reflects her major contribution to the relief of refugees.

British Association of Social Workers: Social Workers Educational Trust, 1978-2015 (MSS.378/SWET)

The Centre holds a small deposit of records of this body, including trustees’ minutes, 1990-1999, and papers concerning applicants for scholarships, 1983-1999. .

Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust, 1970s onwards (MSS.432)

The Trust was established in 1971 on the initiative of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW). Its aim is to give financial help and support to people engaged in professional social work. Its archive consists of agendas, minutes, and related papers, 1976-1985, annual reports, 1980-1984, accounts, 1977-1982, and applications for help from the 1970s onwards.

Children and families (see also Moral Welfare)

Association of Child Care Officers, 1951-1970 (MSS.378/ACCO)

The Association was formed in 1949 following recommendations made in 1946 by the Curtis Committee on Children Deprived of a Normal Home Life. Its substantial archive provides a full record of the development of the profession up to 1970, when the Association merged with others to form the British Association of Social Workers.

Association of Children’s Officers, 1949-1971 (MSS.378/ACO)

The Association was formed at the same time as the Association of Child Care Officers by the chief officers of the children’s departments which had been established by local authorities under the Children Act of 1948. Its archive reflects the history of these departments and of the children’s officers’ perspectives on child care. The most detailed information about the Association’s activities is to be found in the records of its executive council and in its bulletins to members. The Association was disbanded in January 1971 as a result of the merging of local authority child care into wider social services departments and the formation of the Association of Directors of Social Service.

Association of Family Case Workers, 1942-1970 (MSS.378/AGFC)

The Association was formed in 1940 to contribute towards the general progress of family case work, to raise and maintain professional standards of work and training in consultation and co-operation with the National Council of Family Welfare Associations, and to encourage the employment of fully trained case workers on adequate salaries. In 1954 it adopted a new constitution and changed its name to the Association of General and Family Case Workers to reflect the fact that it was now seeking to cater for all case workers, not just those working specifically with families. It reverted to its original name in 1963. Its archive includes a fairly complete run of minutes from 1942 to 1959 and its newsletters from 1959 to 1970.

Family Service Units, 1947-2010 (748)

FSU formally came together in 1948 with the aim of helping families in difficulty after the war, particularly those affected by evacuation. It promoted the welfare of families and communities, focusing on casework with individuals and families. It's work was performed through local units. This archive includes minutes, policy papers, annual reports, local unit reports, newsletters and the recollections of FSU work by former staff.

Papers of Marjory Allen, Lady Allen of Hurtwood, 1897-1976 (MSS.121)

Marjory Allen was a landscape architect and a campaigner for pre-school education and promoter of child welfare. In the 1940s she became chairman and president of the Nursery Schools Association of Great Britain, and then chairman of the UN Children's Fund (1950-1951). She campaigned on the plight of children in institutions and the inner-cities, and promoted adventure playgrounds. This archive contains the texts of many speeches and articles on child welfare, photographs and newspaper cuttings, newsletters and correspondence.

Training records of Sidney and Lilian Branner, residential social workers, 1949-1959 (1226)

Sidney Branner (1915-2005) and Lilian Branner (1919-2011) were amongst the first cohort of trained residential social workers after the Second World War, and worked as Superintendent and Matron of Long House Children's Home in Oxfordshire between 1950-1980. The deposited records are a descriptive record of their training, including notes of lectures, visits and practical work; and contain personal opinions on the running of residential children's homes and care of children.

Moral welfare

Moral Welfare Workers’ Association, 1952-1975 (MSS.378/MWWA)

‘Moral welfare’ was a term used to cover such issues as unmarried mothers and prostitution. In the nineteenth century this area of social work was largely the province of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and other religious bodies. In 1938 the Standing Committee of Diocesan Organising Secretaries for Moral Welfare Work was instrumental in the formation of a professional association to contribute to the establishment and maintenance of standards of work. In 1942 the Association became affiliated to the British Federation of Social Workers. Its archive dates mainly from after the Second World War and can be used as evidence of the attitudes of the Church of England and others to matters of sexual morality.

General health care

Institute of Medical Social Workers, 1895-1971 (MSS.378/IMSW)

The roots of the Institute can be traced back to 1895, when the first hospital almoner, Mary Stewart, was appointed at the Royal Free Hospital in London, under the auspices of the Charity Organisation Society, an organisation which sought to make the administration of charitable giving more efficient and systematic. Further similar appointments, all of women, were made at other London hospitals over the next decade. Parallel organisations concerned with the interests of existing members of this emerging profession and with recruitment, training and registration were set up in 1903 and 1907 respectively. In 1945, these two organisations, by then known as the Hospital Almoners’ Association and the Institute of Hospital Almoners, were merged to form the Institute of Almoners.

In the early years of the profession, the almoners’ role was to prevent free hospital services being used by those who could afford to pay, to refer those in need of relief to the Poor Law authorities, and to encourage people to join a provident dispensary or friendly society, which would give free access to medical services at a time of need in return for regular subscriptions. In later years, this role widened to include a concern with the patient’s total social welfare and with establishing links between the patient, the hospital and the community. These developments were reflected in 1964 by the renaming of the Institute of Almoners as the Institute of Medical Social Workers. The IMSW and its earlier incarnations are among the best documented of the organisations which merged in 1970 to form the British Association of Social Workers. The archive contains a good deal of information on the work of the early almoners, and on the ideas on charity and health care which formed the background to their appointment. It also allows the subsequent evolution of the profession to be charted well into the age of the National Health Service.

Association of Tuberculosis Care Workers, 1940-1961 (MSS.378/TUB)

The Association was formed in 1940 with 20 members and was affiliated to the British Association of Social Workers in the following year. In January 1948 it became the Medico-Social Section of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (NAPT). Its archive includes Holborn Tuberculosis Care Committee papers, 1950s-1960s, files about recuperative holidays and rehabilitation generally, 1950s, and the bulletin of the NAPT, 1943-1961.

Mental health

Association of Psychiatric Social Workers, 1929-1970 (MSS.378/APSW)

The Association was formed in 1929 after the establishment of a training course in mental health at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The Association’s archive is substantial and contains much information on training within this discipline. It includes material relating to the APSW’s relations with other organisations concerned with mental health.

Society of Mental Welfare Officers, 1957-1968 (MSS.378/SMWO)

The Society was formed in 1954 by the merger of the National Association of Authorised Officers and the Mental Health Workers’ Association. Its aim was to bring about improvements in services and training. Its formation followed the assumption by local authorities of extensive mental health responsibilities under the National Health Service Act of 1946 and the appointment of a Royal Commission on the law relating to mental illness and deficiency. The archive of the SMWO is smaller than those of the other six bodies which merged to form the British Association of Social Workers in 1970. Since the archive does not include any minutes of meetings, probably the best picture of the society’s work can be derived from its journal, 27 editions of which survive from the period 1957-1968. The archive also includes publications of the National Association of Mental Health and the Federation of Associations of Mental Health Workers, 1954-1972.


National Association of Social Workers in Education, 1897-1980 (MSS.71 & MSS.122)

The Association was founded as the School Attendance Officers' National Association in 1884. In 1930 its name was changed to the School Attendance and Investigation Officers' National Association. In 1940 its name was changed again to the Education Welfare Officers' National Association and in 1977 the title of National Association of Social Workers in Education was adopted. In 1939 the union decided to apply for registration as a trade union but not to affiliate to the Trades Union Congress. Since 1947 it has worked closely with NALGO/UNISON with regard to industrial relations and office services. It also has a good working relationship with the National Association of Chief Education Welfare Officers and together they set up the joint National Development Committee for Social Work in Education. Its archive includes: minutes, 1897-1976; minutes of some branches, 1901-22, 1936-59; accounts, 1922-79; some correspondence and subject files, 1956-80; Education Welfare Officer, 1946-76; rulebooks, 1965-73.