- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0067
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0067
Social work has long been concerned with the respective roles of the social work profession and the social welfare system in addressing human needs. Social workers engage in needs assessment together with client systems. They provide and advocate for the needs of clients, as well enabling and empowering clients and communities to address their needs. They also advocate for social welfare benefits and services and overall social policies that take human needs into account. Recognizing the centrality of human needs, the preamble of the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (see National Association of Social Workers 1996 cited under General Overviews) states: “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” However, explicit ethical content was not present in earlier Codes of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Furthermore, until very recently, little published literature in peer-reviewed journals has human needs theories to guide models of social work practice or inform social work research. Universalistic assumptions about human needs have long been found within social work’s literature on human development (see Jani and Reisch 2011, under General Overviews). However, these assumptions were often inexplicit. They did not fully utilize theories of human need, which have long recognized that although human needs may be universal, they are addressed in culturally and environmentally specific manners. Also, in practice, social workers have often conflated human needs with the need for the services or benefits available at any one time. This bibliography will explore the history and evolution of the interdisciplinary body of human needs theory and research on which social work has drawn historically, with special attention to the recent surge in interest in human needs theories. In doing so, the entry will discuss a number of key debates that have arisen regarding needs, including whether they are universal or specific to particular cultures; what the relationship is between human needs, human rights, and social justice; and how to reconcile theories of human needs and of human capabilities.
Common Human Needs (Towle 1945) was the title of one of social work’s foundational books, although the work’s primary focus was on human development rather than human needs. The inclusion of ethics content on human needs was first proposed by a committee chaired by Frederic G. Reamer, who contended elsewhere that human needs concepts reinforced social work’s long-standing practice commitment to meeting basic needs (Reamer 1998). Other than James Ife’s dissertation (Ife 1980) and the extensive early work of David G. Gil (Gil 1992), it was not until the 21st century that literature began to more fully discuss human needs. The first entry on human needs in the Encyclopedia of Social Work relied primarily upon an interdisciplinary literature base (Dover and Joseph 2008). In more recent work, Ife 2013 expanded upon previous recognition of the value of discourse on the relationship of needs and rights (2002). Jani and Reisch 2011, the first peer-reviewed article on human needs to appear in a major social work journal, critiqued implicit universalist assumptions about human needs found in the social work literature. The authors also, however, set the stage for future debates in social work by presenting a model for incorporating critical thinking about human needs into theories of social work practice and human development.
Dover, Michael A., and Barbara Hunter Randall Joseph. 2008. Human needs: Overview. In Encyclopedia of social work, 20th ed. Edited by Terry Mizrahi and Larry E. Davis, 398–406. New York: Oxford Univ. Press and National Association of Social Workers.
The authors provide an overview of needs concepts in social work. They cover theories of human needs that have been used in social work education, practice, and research and in social welfare policy. They discuss the relevance of human needs for social work values and ethics and for social and political action.
Gil, David. 1992. Foreword. In Human rights and social policy in the 21st century. By Joseph Wronka. New York: Univ. Press of America.
Explains that universal human needs are products of biology but also of affect and are affected by cultural and social evolution, ensuring change over time in their nature. Human rights have evolved in response to needs. Human rights are socially constructed and vary among human groups.
Ife, James. 1980. The determination of social need. Australian Journal of Social Issues 15.2: 92–107.
This dissertation-based article contends services are often designed based upon a needs assessment of human needs, with the nature of human needs themselves being relatively undefined and requiring further conceptual development.
Ife, James. 2013. Community development in an uncertain world: Vision, analysis and practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Points out that social justice is often discussed in terms of need, and that this is fundamental for social policy and planning. Presents a new approach to need definition, using normative and descriptive needs statements. Stresses the centrality of discourse on needs for defining and articulating rights.
Jani, Jayshree, and Michael Reisch. 2011. Common human needs, uncommon solutions: Applying a critical framework to perspectives on human behavior. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services 92.1: 13–20.
Notes that Towle’s Common Human Needs (Towle 1945) posited both universal needs and culturally specific social contexts. Contends there have been underlying universalistic assumptions about human needs within human behavior theory. Draws on psychoanalytic and ego psychology to posit six aspects of human need that can inform social work practice.
National Association of Social Workers. 1996. Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.
The primary mission of social work as a profession is to “enhance human well-being” and also to “help meet the basic human needs of all people.”
Reamer, Frederic G. 1998. The evolution of social work ethics. Social Work 43.6: 488–500.
Identifies common human needs as a well-established concept that reinforces social work’s historical commitments to meeting basic needs and enhancing well-being.
Towle, Charlotte. 1945. Common human needs: An interpretation for staff in public assistance agencies. Public Assistance Report 8. Washington, DC: Social Security Board, Federal Security Agency.
This text for public sector human service workers stresses the interrelatedness of various human needs, such as food, clothing, and housing, required for physical health and mental health. Adopts a hierarchical perspective, in which dependency needs vary across the life course and are necessary to achieve independence.
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- Adolescent Depression
- Adolescent Pregnancy
- Adoption Home Study Assessments
- Adult Protective Services in the United States
- African Americans
- Aging, Physical Health and
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse Problems
- Alcohol and Drug Problems, Prevention of Adolescent and Yo...
- Alcohol Problems: Practice Interventions
- Alcohol Use Disorder
- Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias
- Anti-Oppressive Practice
- Asian Americans
- Asian-American Youth
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Baccalaureate Social Workers
- Behavioral Health
- Behavioral Social Work Practice
- Bereavement Practice
- Brief Therapies in Social Work: Task-Centered Model and So...
- Bullying and Social Work Intervention
- Canadian Social Welfare, History of
- Case Management in Mental Health in the United States
- Child Poverty
- Child Welfare
- Child Welfare and Child Protection in Europe, History of
- Children of Incarcerated Parents
- Chronic Illness
- Clinical Social Work Practice with Adult Lesbians
- Cognitive Behavior Therapies with Diverse and Stressed Pop...
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Community Development
- Community Policing
- Community-Based Participatory Research
- Community-Needs Assessment
- Comparative Social Work
- Conflict Resolution
- Council on Social Work Education
- Counseling Female Offenders
- Criminal Justice
- Crisis Interventions
- Cultural Competence and Ethnic Sensitive Practice
- Culture, Ethnicity, Substance Use, and Substance Use Disor...
- Dementia Care, Ethical Aspects of
- Depression and Cancer
- Development and Infancy (Birth to Age Three)
- Direct Practice in Social Work
- Domestic Violence Among Immigrants
- Eating Disorders
- Ecological Framework
- Economic Evaluation
- Elder Mistreatment
- End-of-Life Decisions
- Epigenetics for Social Workers
- Ethics and Values in Social Work
- Evidence-based Social Work Practice
- Evidence-based Social Work Practice: Finding Evidence
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- Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs
- Families with Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Parents
- Family Caregiving
- Family Group Conferencing
- Family Policy
- Family Services
- Family Therapy
- Family Violence
- Fathering Among Families Served By Child Welfare
- Field Education
- Financing Health-Care Delivery in the United States
- Forensic Social Work
- Foster Care
- Gay Men
- Generalist Practice and Advanced Generalist Practice
- Group Work
- Group Work across Populations, Challenges, and Settings
- Group Work, Research, Best Practices, and Evidence-based
- Harm Reduction
- Health Care Reform
- Health Disparities
- Health Social Work
- History of Social Work and Social Welfare, 1950-1980
- History of Social Work from 1980-2014
- History of Social Work in China
- History of Social Work in Northern Ireland
- History of Social Work in the Republic of Ireland
- History of Social Work in the United Kingdom
- HIV/AIDS Prevention with Adolescents
- Homelessness Outside the United States
- Human Needs
- Human Trafficking, Victims of
- Immigrant Policy in the United States
- Immigrants and Refugees
- Immigrants and Refugees: Evidence-based Social Work Practi...
- Impaired Professionals
- Implementation Science and Practice
- Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Supported Employmen...
- International Social Welfare
- International Social Work
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- International Social Work and Social Welfare in Southern A...
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy
- Intervention with Traumatized Populations
- Intimate Partner Violence
- Juvenile Justice
- Korean Americans
- Latinos and Latinas
- Law, Social Work and the
- Life Span
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Management and Administration in Social Work
- Maternal Mental Health
- Measurement, Scales, and Indices
- Medical Illness
- Men: Health and Mental Health Care
- Mental Health
- Mental Health Diagnosis and the Addictive Substance Disord...
- Mental Health Needs of Older People, Assessing the
- Mental Illness: Children
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- Military Social Work
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- Neighborhood Social Cohesion
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- Nicotine Dependence
- Occupational Social Work
- Organizational Development and Change
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- Palliative Care
- Parent Training
- Philosophy of Science and Social Work
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- Positive Youth Development
- Postmodernism and Social Work
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Practice Interventions and Aging
- Practice Interventions with Adolescents
- Practice Research
- Productive Engagement of Older Adults
- Profession, Social Work
- Psychiatric Rehabilitation
- Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Theory
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- Psychopharmacology and Social Work Practice
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- Qualitative Research
- Race and Racism
- Religiously Affiliated Agencies
- Reproductive Health
- Research Ethics
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- Risk Assessment in Child Protection Services
- Risk Management in Social Work
- Rural Social Work Practice
- School Social Work
- School Violence
- School-Based Delinquency Prevention
- Services and Programs for Pregnant and Parenting Youth
- Severe and Persistent Mental Illness: Adults
- Sexual Assault
- Single-System Research Designs
- Social Development
- Social Insurance and Social Justice
- Social Justice and Social Work
- Social Movements
- Social Planning
- Social Policy
- Social Security in the United States (OASDHI)
- Social Work Education and Research
- Social Work Regulation
- Social Work Research Methods
- Solution-Focused Therapy
- Strategic Planning
- Strengths Perspective
- Strengths-Based Models in Social Work
- Survey Research
- Systematic Review Methods
- Task-Centered Practice
- Transdisciplinary Science
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- United States, History of Social Welfare in the
- Veteran Services
- Victim Services
- Welfare State Reform in France
- Welfare State Theory
- Women and Macro Social Work Practice
- Women's Health Care
- Work and Family in the German Welfare State
- Working with Non-Voluntary and Mandated Clients
- Young and Adolescent Lesbians
- Youth at Risk
- Youth Services