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Forty Years in Social Work
Reflections on Practice and Theory
Christopher Rhoades Dÿkema
ISBN: 978-0-87101-443-6. 2013. Item #4436. 192 pages.
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Forty Years in Social Work is a personal memoir that blends a recounting of Christopher Rhoades Dÿkema's experience with the search for a theory of social work that helps to explain the social and psychological context of his practice. This professional work reveals many facets of Dÿkema's life as a social worker from the 1960s into the first decade of the 21st century. It is a testament to his commitment to the profession's need for theory building; it presents a history of social welfare over 40 years; and it links accounts of his interaction with clients to an effort to place his practice experience in the broadest possible context. The stories are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and sometimes poignant, but they are always distinguished by Dÿkema's pursuit of the theory or theories that would best explain what he experienced.

Forty Years in Social Work offers practitioners and students an opportunity to reflect on their practice; to think about the development of social work theory; to review the history of social work from 1968 to 2008; and to reflect on how the enormous changes in the political, economic, and social environment have affected what social workers do. It touches on many contemporary practice issues, including child sexual abuse, social work with immigrants, changes in health care, and hospital social work. A useful guide for those entering the social work profession, Forty Years in Social Work offers an opportunity to reflect on what social work was, is, and might become.
Introduction: Christopher Dÿkema: A Short Biography, by Joel Blau

Chapter 1: Becoming a Social Worker (1966-1970)

Chapter 2: Starting in Child Welfare (1970-1975)

Chapter 3: The Search for Theory in Social Work: Graduate School (1975-1977)

Chapter 4: A Group Home in the Bronx (1977-1979)

Chapter 5: On (Not) Getting a Doctorate (1979-1984)

Chapter 6: Beyond Ethnicity: A Hospital Social Worker Tries to Understand His Clients (1984-1988)

Chapter 7: Changes in the Emergency Room: Toward Better Psychosocial Assessments (1989-1999)

Chapter 8: A Theory for Social Work Practice? (1999-2007)

Afterword: Social Work: Forty Years of Change, by Joel Blau
Christopher Dÿkema was probably not supposed to become a social worker. Christopher’s parents were both academics at Youngstown University; Christopher had gone to high school in nearby Canfield, topped off by a year of prep school in Switzerland, and then enrolled at Columbia University, from which he graduated in 1966. His family expected him to return to Ohio, where he was supposed to select an appropriate graduate school and launch an academic career. Instead, he declined an offer to study Japanese at Harvard to become a caseworker at the New York City Department of Social Services.

Rural Ohio in the 1950s was not a very hospitable place for the son of local academics: most high school students prized sports and venerated football. Christopher not only excelled in class and disliked football, but grew up in a home where, from an early age, an interest in language, culture, and ideas was assumed. For Christopher, the legacy of this experience was a lifelong sense of himself as an outsider. At the same time, however, it also imbued him with a passionate interest in the differences among and between diverse groups of people. As a matter of both experience and sensibility, he was an observer, but as his work shifted from casework to child protective services and, ultimately, to pediatric social work in the Bronx’s Montefiore Hospital emergency room, his observations acquired an increasingly coherent purpose: they would be put in the service of his effort to blend the psychosocial and the political/economic into a more comprehensive social work theory.

This professional memoir, then, links accounts of his interaction with clients to a wide-ranging effort to place his practice experience in the broadest possible context. The stories are funny, tragic, and poignant, but they are always distinguished by Christopher Dÿkema’s pursuit of the theory or theories that would best explain what he had just experienced. The result is a book of many facets: it is a record of one man’s career in social work, a testament to his commitment to the profession’s need for theory building, and a history of social welfare over the past 40 years.

Of course, none of these achievements would have been possible without the love and support of a family he cherished dearly: his wife Ellen, also a social worker, to whom he was married for 33 years and with whom he often discussed the theories in this book, and his two sons, Michael and Daniel, who share their father’s engagement with ideas and his concern for social justice. Christopher’s family both grounded and sustained him. When he died in 2008, he left an admirable legacy: his family and this professional memoir.
This book is a rare treat. Ranging over four decades of social work with welfare clients, child protective work, group home residents, hospital patients, the emergency room, and experience in a master’s and doctoral program in social work, not only does the book provide us with a sharp review of how social work and its clients have changed, but it does so through the lens of a social work intellectual of rare caliber. Dÿkema able to combine profound insights into his clients with philosophical, sociological, psychological, and other theory, which he had easy command of. Though no doubt there will be many disagreements, few have grappled so profoundly with the problems people (both social workers and clients) confront daily.

David Wagner
Professor of Social Work and Sociology
University of Southern Maine