Describe how Opportunity Theory explains the emergence of social problems. What kinds of social service programs are
people who believe in opportunity theory likely to implement?
In this chapter, we give students a social context for understanding helping behavior and the human service professions. Factors that influence helping behavior include the values of a society, the historical period, the economic situation, and the socio-political climate. As these factors shift, the human services shift to reflect changing attitudes and situations. These shifts tend to follow a cyclical and dialectical path. Earlier modes of service often reappear in a future century. For example, the current conservative proposal for putting poor children in orphanages signals a return to a 19th century mode of child welfare. Many shelters for the homeless resemble 18th and 19th century almshouses.
We emphasize the difference between theories that tend to blame people themselves for their troubles (victim-blaming), and theories that look at the social system (opportunity theory).
We show how the structure of social welfare programs reflects these opposing theories. For example, means-tested programs that separates the “deserving” from the “undeserving” draw upon victim-blaming theory, while institutional universal programs draw upon opportunity theory.
We give a brief history of the development of social welfare in the U.S. including the 1935
Social Security Act, the War on Poverty, the Welfare Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and the conservative onslaught against social welfare beginning in the 1980s and continuing to the present. We summarize theories of leading conservative policy makers, including Charles Murray, and show how those theories distort the public’s ability to have a clear understanding of such phenomena as teenage pregnancy. We discuss the racist ideology inherent in the TANF program (formerly AFDC) since its beginnings and how it continues in the present. We consider welfare reform as an attack on racial minorities as well as an attack on women.
We illustrate the cyclical nature of helping by showing historical changes in society’s approach to welfare, mental illness, and juvenile justice. We then discuss how behavior becomes defined as a social problem, illustrating this by examples — the drug scare, AIDS, welfare, and family violence.
Finally, we describe the historical development of the social work and human service professions.
© 2012 Pearson Education, Inc. All Rights Reserved.