From its earliest incarnation in 1908, the Crown Family School has never been simply a place to learn about social work; it has helped create and define the profession of social work and the field of social welfare.
The Crown Family School has a historic role as one of the first schools of social work in the United States, whose founding pioneers left an indelible commitment on the profession to pursue social justice and alleviate human suffering in rigorous and evidence-based ways. In 1924, Edith Abbott not only became the Crown Family School's (then known as the School of Social Service Administration) first dean, but was the first female dean of any graduate school in the United States—trailblazing the way for many social work pioneers and women in academia.
While most early schools of social work concentrated on practical training for caseworkers, the Crown Family School's leaders insisted on the need for a solid foundation in social science and social research as well. In its first decade, The Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy faculty and students were investigating such issues as juvenile delinquency, truancy, vocational training, and housing in the rapidly growing city of Chicago. The decision in 1920 to merge the School and the University of Chicago opened students to contact with the social sciences.
In the decades since then, the emphases on social research and on applying the insights of social science to solving human problems have continued. Crucial to that effort has been the Social Service Review founded in 1927 with the aim of opening "scientific discussions of problems arising in connection with the various aspects of social work." Like the Crown Family School itself, the Social Service Review has not only reflected the social welfare field but helped to shape it. It remains the premier journal in its field.
Early research at the Crown Family School had a distinct public policy cast. Investigations of the status of mothers and children, for example, laid the foundations for the child-related provisions of the nation's Social Security System in the 1930s. Beginning in the 1940s, Crown Family School energies turned to issues in the social work profession itself. Such faculty members as Charlotte Towle and Helen Harris Perlman applied the insights of ego psychology to casework, and developed the generic casework curriculum, which became a model for social work education. Recent contributions to the direct practice tradition have included Laura Epstein's and William Reid's work in designing and testing the task-centered approach. "Task-centered Treatment" was the first theory and research-based social work model of treatment and this approach is one of the foundations for evidence-based practice. The School is thus in the unique position of having been a pioneer both in policy research and in the development of innovative methods of social work practice.
Crown Family School today continues to establish the connections between the social and behavioral sciences, research, and the real world of policy and practice. The faculty is drawn from the fields of social work, psychology, sociology, political science, public policy, public health, economics, and anthropology. Research at the School reflects this diversity. Our faculty collaborate within the University and throughout academia to forge tangible solutions to real-world problems.
Crown Family School faculty have been honored as White House Fellows, Fulbright Fellows, and Kellogg Fellows. They have strong ties both to public and private welfare agencies and to local, state, and national governments. Among them, for example, is a former division chief of the Bureau of the Budget, a former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and a former interim chief education officer for the Chicago Public Schools. Faculty members have contributed their expertise to long lists of national and state commissions on such topics as juvenile justice, mental health, aging, and child welfare.
The School has evolved rapidly in recent years:
- In July 2019, the Crown Family School became the academic home of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute (UEI), a research institute focused on addressing issues of education inequality to inform policy and practice.
- In January 2021, the School received a $75 million gift from James and Paula Crown and the Crown family—the largest ever in support of a school of social work. In recognition of this significant gift, the School, long known as the School of Social Service Administration, was renamed the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.
- In February 2021, the Crown Family School announced a $25 million gift from the Kiphart Family Foundation to establish the Susan and Richard Kiphart Center for Global Health and Social Development, led in partnership with the Biological Sciences Division. It formally opened in May 2022, hosting a day-long event that featured welcome remarks from University administration, a multidisciplinary faculty panel, a conversation with Ertharin Cousin (Distinguished Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Visiting Scholar, Freeman Spogli Institute at the Center on Food Security and Environment, Stanford University), and a reception. The Kiphart Center will serve as the University’s gateway in bringing together teams from around the University and partner communities to address social determinants of health and improve infrastructure to promote community health and well-being around the world. It will support the implementation of interventions by providing funding, on a competitive basis, to UChicago faculty and local partners on the ground through the Kiphart Global Health and Social Development Innovation Incubator Fund.
Crown Family School faculty and alumni have been and continue to be nationally and internationally recognized as among the most influential and talented leaders tackling the major social problems of our time.