At the beginning of the 21st century, human services play a crucial role in social support activities. Human service professions have been shaped by a broader ideology of service delivery involving specialized professional experts. Many services in industrialized countries have undergone formalization. During the past century, the society has turned increasingly to highly trained experts, not just to administer justice, cure disease, write contracts, and educate us, but also to provide protection from crime, to fix the machines that transport and those that entertain, to plan neighborhoods, to advise on what to do in difficult life situations. Human services are mandated or sponsored by governmental bodies, including private professional services that are controlled through regulation or reimbursement and the services of voluntary organizations that receive direct or indirect funding. Such services are marked by bureaucratic organization, specialization of function, formal rules of procedure, explicit categories for assessing need or eligibility, and standardized procedures, among other features. In contrast, informal aid networks are highly pluralistic.
The history of human services goes back to the middle of 19th century when the first homes and social programs for the poor were introduced. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was growing concern about the distribution and nature of services. In particular, dominant modes of psychotherapy seemed inaccessible, inadequate, or inappropriate to the needs of many Americans, including the poor, ethnic minorities, women, homosexuals, and many other groups. Many viewed the mental health system as participating in the sexism, racism, ageism, and other prejudices of the larger society. It became increasingly evident that the typical mental health professional was ill-equipped by either personal background or training to treat the mental health problems faced by many Americans. Recognition and utilization of helpers within the client's culture was seen by some as a way to bridge this gap (Burger and Youkeles 2003).
Since 1960s, Medicare and Medicaid changed life of millions of Americans. Nursing homes and psychological counseling become a part of everyday practice. Delivery of mental health services through lay workers promised to resolve a number of problems. Service could be provided to many more clients because a single professional could supervise many lay workers. Costs per client would be reduced considerably because it was assumed that lay workers would work for less than professionals and that some might even volunteer their services. Last but not of least importance, indigenous helpers were at a cultural advantage. Compared to the professional, they would have a greater understanding of the life situation of many clients, including the nature of their problems, their assets, their liabilities, and their options for change. Most important, they could speak the client's language (figuratively and often literally) in a way that was beyond the typical clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. Utilizing nonprofessional workers became an integral part of community mental health and community psychology (Harris et al 2003).
Since the 1970s-1980s, intervention strategies were used as the main tool of human services which help researchers to identify needs and problems of the target audience. The increasing complexity of everyday life, of relevant information and technique, accounts for much of this formalization. Further, the trend to formalization seems inevitable. The field of social support overlaps all three domains, and it is the professional interested in social support interventions who will feel these challenges most acutely. the public health or epidemiological model provides a favorable climate for social support interventions. This model favors attention to the social context of individual disorder and well-being, encourages a population perspective, and endorses preventive efforts (Harris et al 2003). A wide variety of interventions might thrive in this climate, ranging from those contrived to mirror professional expertise to those involving the most cautious cultivation of natural support systems. Which of these many options will thrive depends on how professionals accommodate themselves to the new and demanding roles involved. Specifically, emphasis is likely to be placed on professional knowledge and technique at the expense of their lay equivalents. Programs are designed around objectives such as creating support groups under professional supervision, promoting links to the formal care system, identifying community caregivers to perform a referral role, and training paraprofessionals in established formal techniques. As a general rule, the thematic goal of professionally oriented programs would be the extension or replication of professional services (Woodside and McClam 2008).
Ethical consideration involves moral principles and general rules of ethics such as professionalism, fair treatment of clients, strong personal and moral values of human service professionals. Ethical principles and support are seen as embedded in existing networks of relationships (including those with professionals). The ability of individuals to help one another is emphasized, and professional services are seen as a technical supplement, not a replacement, for ongoing aid. Indeed, natural support networks may be seen as a precious resource, to be protected against encroaching professionalism and formal services. Professional knowledge and techniques may be shared with laypersons, but in the context of empowering them rather than cloning professionals. The primary goal from an ecological perspective is the enhancement of support system functioning and the enrichment of support resources (Woodside and McClam 2008).
In sum, different modes of support are provided in the context of diverse relationships, and the provision of aid is flexible and responsive to changing individual needs. In light of these contrasts in character, it is not surprising that formal and informal service systems have not melded and developed in harmony. The body of contemporary knowledge is so vast and changes so fast that it is beyond any ordinary person's capacity to maintain even a nodding acquaintance with it. Institutional and cultural norms have developed that entitle professionals to set the ground rules for service and to make decisions unilaterally with the justification that the full and passive cooperation of clients is a prerequisite to effective use of their specialized technical procedures. As a result, many informal service systems have atrophied rather than developed, informal practitioners have clung to outmoded techniques or adopted bizarre ones because technical and professional knowledge was not shared, and perhaps self-interested individuals have been only too eager to hand difficult obligations over to impersonal public agencies. As a society modern people face a difficult set of challenges: to retain the advantages of formalized, specialized professional and technical care, without usurping the rights of consumers or undermining their sense of responsibility and competence; to promote self-help groups that fulfill unmet needs and serve as detectors of institutional failings.