Defining human services

The terms human services and social services are often used interchangeably. No consistent, agreed upon distinctions exists between the two terms.

Human services facilitate daily living by enabling individuals, families, and other primary groups to function, to cope, and to contribute. Human services address the problems that people individually or collectively have with

  • Themselves, for example, emotional and mental difficulties
  • Primary groups, for example, family conflict, divorce, child abuse
  • Other nonrelated individuals, for example, crime
  • Organizations, for example, unemployment, poverty; and
  • Communities and the larger society, for example, deviance.

Kahn (1977) studied many countries to try to define social or human services and stated that there are 6 categories of human services: (1) education, (2) income transfer, (3) health, (4) housing, (5) employment-training, and (6) personal social services.

The personal social services, which are often referred to as human services, are the ones that social workers dominate. Their definition is still emerging. They include services like child and adult protective services, counseling, day care, home helpers, congregate and home delivered meals, residential programs for adolescents, etc. Personal social services strive to contribute to daily living, to enable individuals, families, and other primary groups to develop, to cope, to function, and to contribute. These programs contribute to socialization and development, disseminate information about services, assure a basic level of social care, provide institutional care for youth whose parents are not able to fulfill this role, provide help to families experiencing problems, overcome problems in community living, and control deviance.

Human services are provided by a delivery system consisting of consumers, laws, regulations, resources, organizational structures, and professionals. A typical way to classify human service professionals is by their function or position in the multi-tiered service delivery system. These positions are policy planner, community practitioner, top-level managers, mid-level managers, administrative support staff, and direct service practitioners. The direct practice level can be divided into professional practice and paraprofessional practice. Professional direct practitioners usually have an advanced degree or certification in a human service field, for example, psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers. Paraprofessionals are those who receive their expertise through on- the-job training, such as psychiatric attendants and welfare eligibility determination workers. Professional practitioners are more skilled and more highly paid than are nonprofessionals.

  1. Sensing the situation, engaging the client, establish relationships
  2. Conducting an assessment (determine patterns, collecting baseline data)
  3. Intervention planning (developing mutually agreed upon goals, objectives and outcomes)
  4. Contracting for agreed upon interventions
  5. Intervention according to the intervention plan
  6. Using baseline and evaluative information to monitor and evaluate whether the outcomes are achieved/goals are met
  7. Termination of intervention, separation

Adopted by Dick Schoech from Kahn, Alfred J. (1977).  Social services in international perspective: the emergence of the sixth system. CA: University of California Libraries (reprint).