Kadushin called social work giant

Alfred KadushinNASW Social Work Pioneer® Alfred Kadushin was a giant in social work, said NASW-Wisconsin Executive Director Marc Herstand. Kadushin was soft-spoken and gentle, Herstand said, but his impact on the social work profession was — and continues to be — enormous.

Kadushin died on Feb. 5 at the age of 97. He was a Julia C. Lathrop Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work, where he worked from 1950 to 1990. The university called him one of the nation’s leading scholars in child welfare services and social work.

He wrote six books on the subject: Child Welfare Services; The Social Work Interview; Supervision in Social Work; Social Work Consultation; Adopting Older Children; and Child Abuse. Kadushin also wrote 66 journal articles.

“He has written major textbooks on social work supervision and child welfare, and his book “Child Welfare Services” became a huge influence for the Child Welfare Act of 1980,” Herstand said. “Most social workers have at least one of his textbooks, and social work students study his material today.”

Kadushin’s daughter, Goldie, co-authored new editions of The Social Work Interview with her father. She is a social work professor at the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, department of social work, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

She said Kadushin was a philosophical man who took an interest in what was going on in the world around him. Growing up in New York City’s lower east side and later moving to the Bronx, he came from a background of intense intellectualism, and Kadushin’s Polish father was adamant about his son getting an education.

“He was a child of the Depression and grew up poor,” said Goldie, who is an NASW member. “He wanted to be in a profession where there was an opportunity to move up and have a secure career.”

Kadushin worked to put himself through school, and once held a job as a letter carrier in Harlem. It was a job Goldie said he loved, because it allowed him to interact with a lot of people.

“He really loved people and he was interested in them,” she said. “He got to know all the people on his route well and would talk to them every day about what was going on.”

Kadushin received his Ph.D. from NYU and moved to Madison, Wis., in 1950, where he began as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work. Mel Morgenbesser, a retired faculty member and former director at the university’s school of social work, knew Kadushin first as a student, and later as a colleague. He said Kadushin was always prepared and excited to share his knowledge with his students, and he was never seen without two full briefcases stuffed with articles and books to back his teachings.

“He was extremely up to date on current events and current issues, and he stayed that way after he retired on up until he was 97,” Morgenbesser said. “He never stopped doing social work.”

He said those who knew Kadushin knew he had a great sense of humor, he loved books, and he loved what he did.

“He wasn’t just funny, but he wove humor and warmth in his teachings and talked how one might use humor when working with clients,” Morgenbesser said. “He had a presence; he would stand in front of a class and have a great command of a subject. Alumni and faculty alike had a great respect and fondness for him.”

Child welfare and the professionalism of social work were important areas for Kadushin, he said, as well as encouraging the creation of a database of core social work areas for social workers to access.

“He was deeply concerned with helping the profession establish a solid knowledge base across areas such as child welfare and child abuse and neglect,” Morgenbesser said.

Goldie said her father would want to be remembered as someone who believed in his work, and as someone who worked toward making social work a solid profession to be in — now and in the future.

“He will be remembered most for his textbooks, his writings and his teachings,” she said. “I remember him for all this and also as an adventurous, generous and funny man who cared deeply for his family and always supported them, even long after my brother and I grew up.”

A True Pioneer

Kadushin played significant pioneering roles in the development of the knowledge base for social work and child welfare practice, policy, education and research, and in its worldwide dissemination, the NASW Foundation said. Kadushin taught at colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, Israel, The Netherlands and Australia. His many nominations and awards include:

  • First faculty member of the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to be awarded a distinguished professorship by the regents of the university — the Julia C. Lathrop Distinguished Professorship (1979)
  • Elected in 1983 as a Distinguished Scientist Associate in Social Work to the National Academies of Practice, the counterpart of the National Academy of Science established by Congress for the professions.
  • Recipient of NASW’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.
  • One of 51 social workers in 2003 selected nationally for inclusion by the Council on Social Work Education in its monograph Celebrating Social Work: Faces and Voices of the Formative Years.