New Social Work Program To Focus on Churches

March 2, 1998

The reduction of government subsistence programs has presented churches an opportunity to help struggling people in society. An innovative program at Baylor will help provide churches the leadership to assist those in need.

In 1999, the Baylor social work division will launch a master's in social work (MSW) program. This initiative will represent the only accredited MSW program of its kind in the country. The program will emphasize church social work with concentrations in child and family services, gerontology, and international and cross¡culture practice. Baylor MSW graduates will serve on church staffs, church and denominational agencies, as well as in other professional social work settings.

Dr. Diana Garland, professor of social work and director of the program, said students will learn new ways to integrate faith into the practice of social work.

"Baylor will prepare social workers with a Christian world view," Dr. Garland said. "Social workers need to see people as spiritual as well as psychological, social and cultural beings."

Dr. Garland said the idea of churches providing social services is not a new idea.

"Most of the child welfare programs, like children's homes, developed in churches," she said. "In the early part of the century, social work became professional and congregations began to give financial support, but were less involved." Professional development within churches represents a vital component for the church to effectively increase its involvement in social efforts, Dr. Garland said.

"We desperately need social workers who can provide professional social work services and see their roles as church leaders and church representatives as they provide those services," she said.

The Baylor undergraduate social work program has produced more than 1,000 graduates since its inception in 1969. Dr. Garland said about 70 percent of Baylor social work undergraduates have gone to other schools to pursue graduate degrees in social work. These students will now have the option of staying at Baylor for an advanced social work degree within Baylor's Christian community.

Dr. Garland said she envisions MSW graduates serving in churches, but she sees these churches playing a different role than traditional government assistance.

"I certainly think that the church should address the needs of people, but the role of the church is not to fill in government gaps," Dr. Garland said. "The role of the church is to serve in the name of Christ. What the church does least well is fund expensive programs because nobody else will fund them. What the church does best is provide community."

Dr. Garland is one of the country's leading experts on the subject because of her experience developing this type of program. She served as dean of the Carver School of Church Social Work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the Gheens Center for Christian Family Ministry at Southern before coming to Baylor in 1997.

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