Her letter was short but full of meaning: “Today my heart sings with the happiness and joy reflected in my son’s face, the joy of hearing a group of boys stand on my lawn and yell, ‘Hey, Bob, come on out. Do you want to play?’
“How far you have helped us draw Bob out of the shadows of introversion! It is just a beginning, I know, but your services are truly a blessing to a troubled child and his family.”
Personal difficulties, such as the one illustrated by this mother’s letter, and other tragic social problems have become so widespread in our day that few, if any, human lives are totally unaffected. We hear with increasing alarm that more and more people are becoming involved in drug abuse, alcoholism, family breakdown, and consequent mental anguish.
Responsibility for coping with these great obstacles has always been accepted by the Church. As early as 1842 the Prophet Joseph Smith expressed concern for those with special needs when he admonished the sisters of the newly formed Relief Society organization to aid the priesthood in these matters: “You will receive instructions through the order of the Priesthood … this is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy who shall be made to rejoice and pour forth blessings on your heads.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 4:607.)
In response to the growing needs of today, our Church has established a social services department to assist local Church leaders in coping with social problems. In October 1969, under the direction of the First Presidency, the Church social service program was formed by the consolidation of the Indian student placement program, the Relief Society social service program, and the youth guidance program. An advisory committee was appointed, composed of Elder Spencer W. Kimball, Elder Thomas S. Monson, Bishop John H. Vandenberg, and Sister Belle S. Spafford as members. Elder Marion G. Romney is Social Services Department chairman, and Elder Marvin J. Ashton serves as managing director of the program.
The Social Services Department of the Church, working in correlation with the wards and stakes, offers a variety of services, including the following:
1. Special services to ward and stake officers. (a) Consultation: The social service worker meets with the bishop or stake president to identify social-emotional problems of Church members and discusses methods of dealing with these difficulties.
(b) Evaluation: A Church member or family with personal emotional problems counsels with the social service worker upon request of the bishop and with the stake president’s approval to identify specific problems. When the social service worker has a grasp of the problems, he recommends alternatives to the bishop on how to proceed in resolving the conflicts.
(c) Seminars: Stake presidents may request the Social Services Department to provide training seminars for ward and stake leaders in such subjects as understanding human behavior, interviewing and counseling, and handling special needs of the Church members.
(d) Training of volunteer workers: The stake president will call as volunteer social service workers members who are qualified professionally or have special abilities to work with people who have social-emotional problems. The Social Services Department will assist in mobilizing and training these volunteers to function within the Church correlation program.
2. Youth guidance services. (a) Short-term counseling to be given in crisis cases to young people and their parents. When necessary, referrals will be made to an appropriate resource for additional help.
(b) Foster care services, provided to youth when their home situation is such that a good family relationship is not possible. The goal is to have them return home as soon as the problems can be resolved.
(c) Summer day camps, for children ages eight through fourteen who have had serious adjustment problems. It provides them with wholesome experiences in coping with social situations.
3. Indian student placement, a service to offer educational, spiritual, social, and cultural opportunities to Latter-day Saint Indian youth through school-year foster home placements in Latter-day Saint homes.
4. Adoption service, which provides counseling and foster care for unwed parents in a program to aid them in repentance and to offer marriage or adoption as alternatives to a mother’s keeping a child or abortion. It also provides placement services for adoptive parents and adoptive children, through creating a family for barren couples and finding Latter-day Saint homes for children.
5. Services to Church members in prison and to their families. Church programs, including religious services, home teaching, and family home evenings, are used as part of the rehabilitation program for confined members and their families.
6. Services related to drug abuse and alcoholism. The Social Services Department coordinates with national, state, and local agencies in order to complement rather than duplicate services already being offered. An education program for local Church leaders is also being formulated to aid in prevention of these problems.
7. Services to youth away from home. The Social Services Department coordinates between the home ward bishop and the new bishop for fellowshiping, aids with housing and employment, and counsels unmarried youth eighteen to twenty-five years old who leave home for employment.
Any member of the Church experiencing conflicts in his personal life should first seek assistance and support from his family. As additional help is required, he may, with the assistance of his home teacher and quorum leader, consult with his bishop. The bishop endeavors to aid the member on a ward level through utilizing the ward family or other special resources he feels appropriate. If additional help is needed, the bishop counsels with his stake president, who aids through the use of stake or other resources he may select. If additional help is needed beyond this level, the stake president authorizes contact with the Social Services Department, which is able to provide the full range of social services.
An exception to this procedure is provided the unwed parent. To protect confidentiality, the unwed parent may seek direct help from the Social Services Department without prior authorization by the stake president.
Plans are in operation to make available to all members of the Church the full benefits of the social service program. To do this, social service committees consisting of professional and nonprofessional people, as called by the stake president, are to be organized in each stake to be a resource on a volunteer basis to bishops and others in leadership positions in solving social problems. In addition, the Social Services Department is organizing legally licensed agencies to assist in providing services to the wards and stakes of the Church. Currently, licensed agencies are operating in western Canada and in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Church members or leaders desiring additional information about the social services should call on the department office in their locality through their Church leaders. In areas where state agencies do not exist, correspondence may be sent directly to the Social Services Department, 10 East South Temple, Suite 1250, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. These contacts should also be correlated with local Church leadership.