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Charity Organisation Society

Founded in 1887, the Charity Organisation Society (COS) borrowed from its British parent both a name and founding beliefs: that poverty could be solved by reforming poor people, and that the efforts of charitable bodies lacked effective co-ordination. In order to overcome what it saw as 'indiscriminate giving', the COS offered detailed investigations of each case and a centralised record system to ensure that only 'deserving types' received aid. The severe 1890s depression revealed the limits of COS influence and resources. The respect it earned by convening two Australasian charity conferences was quickly lost when, in 1893, its president, Professor E.E. Morris, sent a 'begging letter' to London highlighting the city's desperate economic plight.

The society enjoyed a revival in the 1920s, under new secretary S. Greig Smith, who co-ordinated regular case conferences at the new Exhibition Street headquarters, helping to pioneer 'case-work' and lay the foundations for the profession of social work. Its major function, however, was still assessing whether people who approached Melbourne's charities were 'truly' deserving. During the 1930s depression, the COS took a leading role in the distribution of unemployment relief, only to be overcome by the sheer weight of need (its four or five investigators dealt with thousands of cases each year) and a lack of co-operation from competing organisations.

A change of name to the Citizens' Welfare Service (CWS) in 1946 signalled a shift in emphasis as it moved towards employing only professionally trained social workers who used psychological insights in their interviewing and casework. Expanding its range, the CWS sought new client groups and followed Melbourne's poor out into the northern and western suburbs. Well into the 1960s, however, the organisation retained its emphasis on deserving and undeserving 'types' and on changing individual behaviour. While the social work profession moved into community development, empowerment, 'welfare rights' and an examination of the structural causes of poverty, CWS remained focused on individual psychotherapy, developing its expertise in such areas as marriage guidance and family therapy. Now known as the Drummond Street Relationship Centre, the agency provides counselling services and training in psychotherapy from its Carlton offices.

Mark Peel