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A Guide to Essential Human Services, 2nd Edition
Frederic G. Reamer
ISBN: 978-0-87101-397-2. 2010. Item #3972. 210 pages.

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A Guide to Essential Human Services, 2nd Edition, begins with a concise overview of human services and ways to think about locating information and resources for people who are in need. Following the introduction, the guide is divided into sections that reflect major categories of needs that may arise during a person's life.

The sections relate to specific problems (such as hunger, homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, and mental illness), challenging time periods (such as adolescence and retirement), and special populations (such as veterans and victims of child abuse or domestic violence).

The newly revised guide is a "must have" for all social workers and human services professionals who provide direct services to individuals and families.

Providing Information and Referrals to People in Need: An Introduction

Income Support Programs

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

  • General Public Assistance

  • Social Security Disability Insurance

  • Supplemental Security Income

  • Retirement Insurance

  • Unemployment Insurance

  • Workers’ Compensation

  • Temporary Disability Insurance

  • Child Support

  • Tax Assistance

    • Federal Earned Income Tax Credit

    • Federal Child Tax Credit

    • Circuit Breaker Programs

Housing Assistance Programs

  • Emergency Shelters

  • Subsidized Housing for Low-Income and Moderate-Income People

    • Public Housing

    • Section 8: Housing Choice Certificates and Vouchers

  • Subsidized Housing for Elderly People

    • Rent Subsidies (Section 8 and Section 202)

  • Reverse Mortgages

  • Subsidized Housing for People with Disabilities

  • Subsidized Rural Housing

  • Continuing Care, Nursing Homes, and Retirement Settings

  • Furniture Banks

Food Assistance Programs

  • Food Banks and Food Rescue Organizations

  • Soup Kitchens

  • Food Subsidy Programs

  • Emergency Food Assistance Programs

  • Meals on Wheels

  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children

  • National School Breakfast Program

  • National School Lunch Program

  • Special Milk Program for Children

  • Child and Adult Care Food Program

  • Summer Food Service Program

Clothing Assistance Programs

  • Clothing Allowances and Vouchers

  • Clothing Closets and Exchanges

Energy Assistance Programs

  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

  • Weatherization Assistance

Transportation Assistance Programs

  • Elderly Transportation

  • Transportation for People with Disabilities

  • Air Transportation for Health Care

Health Care Services

  • Maternal and Child Health

  • Reproductive Health Care

  • Nutrition

  • Developmental Disabilities

  • Physical Disabilities

  • Adult Day Care

  • Home Health Care and Respite Services

  • Assisted Living

  • Services for People with Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Nursing Homes

  • Services for People with Visual Impairments

  • Services for People with Hearing Impairments

  • Services for People with HIV/AIDS

  • Hospice and Palliative Care

  • Health Insurance

  • Pharmaceutical Assistance

  • Legal Options and Assistance

  • Medical Information

Mental Health Services

  • Community-Based Counseling and Psychotherapy

  • Home-Based Family Intervention

  • Emergency Mental Health Services and Crisis Intervention

  • Intellectual Disability

  • Residential Care

  • Support Groups

  • Bereavement Services


  • Alcoholism

  • Drugs

  • Gambling

  • Food

  • Nicotine

  • Internet and Computer

  • Sex

  • Spending and Shopping

Sexual Orientation

  • Mental Health

  • Schools and Youths

  • Parenting and Families

  • Civil Rights and Hate Crimes

Family Life Education

Children and Adolescents

  • Child Welfare Services

    • Foster Care

    • Adoption

    • Early Intervention

    • Head Start and Early Head Start

    • Independent Living

    • Court-Appointed Special Advocates or Guardians ad litem

  • Crisis Services

    • Missing Children

    • Substance Abuse and Drug Court

    • Truancy and Truancy Court

    • Therapeutic Schools and Programs

  • Educational, Recreational, and Enrichment Services

    • Mentoring

    • After-School Programs

    • Camp Programs

    • Sex Education

    • Bullying Prevention Programs

  • Peer Mediation and Dispute Resolution

Abuse and Neglect: Protective Services

  • Children and Youths

  • People with Disabilities

  • Women

  • Elderly People

Military Personnel and Veterans

  • Military Personnel

    • Department of the Army

    • Department of the Navy

    • Department of the Air Force

    • Coast Guard

  • Veterans

    • Veterans Health Administration

    • Veterans Benefits Administration

Immigrants and Refugees

  • Refugee Resettlement

  • Immigration Services

Education and Literacy

  • Early Childhood Education

  • Special Education

  • Adult Basic Education, General Education Development, and Literacy Programs

  • Upward Bound

  • Vocational Education

  • Distance Education

  • Federal Work-Study Program

Employment Assistance

  • Seeking Employment

  • Job Training

  • Employee Assistance

  • Coping with Unemployment

Aging and Retirement: Financial and Legal Issues

  • Retirement Income

  • Estate Planning

Legal Services and Dispute Resolution

  • Legal Aid

  • Public Defenders

  • Dispute Resolution: Arbitration and Mediation

Crime Victims Services

Disaster Assistance

About the Author
We all need help from time to time. A sudden crisis, such as a tragic automobile accident or a health emergency, can turn our settled world upside down. Within minutes we may move from feeling carefree to feeling overwhelmed. Amid the blur of frantic telephone calls, family meetings, and consultations with professionals, we need to locate emergency resources and find emotional support. Other needs may emerge more slowly and with forewarning: An elderly parent may begin to show subtle signs of dementia; a toddler may begin to manifest signs of a developmental disability; a marriage may begin to show symptoms of stress.

On any given day, diverse groups of professionals, volunteers, and consumers need to locate helpful information and connect people in need with resources and services. Accomplishing this task is no easy matter. The human services field is wide and deep. Well-known and visible services include those provided by hospitals, community mental health centers, and nursing homes. Other services, such as those offered by furniture banks, crisis centers or hotlines for gay or lesbian adolescents, and emergency legal services for political refugees and immigrants, may be relatively invisible and hard to locate.

The primary purpose of A Guide to Essential Human Services is to help professionals, volunteers, and consumers locate helpful information and resources. The guide is divided into several sections. This introduction presents a brief overview of human services and ways to think about locating information and resources. My goal is to ensure that readers understand the full range of information and resources available to people in need and the factors to consider when assisting people in need.

Following the introduction, the guide presents a comprehensive overview of the diverse resources that are available in the United States for people in need. The guide is divided into sections that reflect major categories of needs that may arise during a person’s life. These categories relate to specific problems (such as hunger, homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, and mental illness), challenging time periods (such as adolescence and retirement), and special populations (such as veterans and victims of child abuse or domestic violence). As reflected in the sections, important areas of need are

  • income

  • housing

  • food

  • clothing

  • energy

  • transportation

  • health care

  • mental health

  • addictions

  • sexual orientation

  • family life education

  • children and adolescents

  • abuse and neglect, including protective services

  • military personnel and veterans

  • immigrants and refugees

  • education and literacy

  • employment assistance

  • aging and retirement, including financial and legal issues

  • legal services and dispute resolution.

The Diversity of Human Need

People in need require information and resources in a variety of circumstances. Consider the following real-life examples:

  • Olivia and Donald had been married for about six years. Donald had a serious alcohol problem and sometimes physically beat Olivia and their two young children when he became angry. Olivia was afraid that she and the children would be hurt by Donald during one of his tirades.

    Following an argument one evening, Olivia decided to leave Donald. In the middle of the night, Olivia quickly packed clothes, woke the children, and sneaked out of the house. Olivia and the children spent the night with a family friend. Olivia remembered a social worker at the local hospital who had once been helpful to her during a hospital stay. The next morning, Olivia telephoned the social worker and asked for advice about where she and the children might go for emergency help with shelter, food, money, and other needs.

  • Pedro and Maria had recently immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. The couple had great difficulty reading and speaking English and had a hard time finding affordable housing and employment. They were living temporarily with a cousin, who referred Pedro and Maria to her minister for advice about housing options, employment, and a variety of legal issues related to their immigration. The minister had difficulty communicating with the couple in Spanish and knew little about specific social and legal services available to recent immigrants.

  • Alma, age 78, and Harris, age 81, had been married for nearly 54 years when Alma began showing symptoms of dementia. Two years later, Harris was finding it more and more difficult to care for his wife. According to Harris, Alma was becoming increasingly disoriented, agitated, and hard to manage.

    Larry, their son, was very concerned about his parents and, in particular, his father’s ability to care for Alma. Larry was eager to find out whether any local agencies could provide his parents with home-based services to enable them to continue living together in their apartment.

  • Sandra, the owner of a local convenience store, noticed that a relatively new customer often spoke to himself in a loud voice while he wandered around the store. Sandra tried to engage the man in conversation, but the man ignored Sandra and continued to mutter to himself. The man was very disheveled and unshaven, and he reeked of body odor.

    Sandra shared her concerns with a police officer who patrolled the neighborhood and occasionally came into the store. The police officer interviewed the man and quickly determined that he had been discharged recently from the psychiatric unit of a local hospital. The police officer was eager to contact mental health professionals who would be in a position to help the man.

Human Services: An Overview

Many different kinds of organizations provide human services for people in need. Some services are provided directly by government (public-sector) agencies. At the federal level, for example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sponsors a variety of housing assistance programs for low-and moderate-income people; the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sponsors programs for at-risk adolescents and people on probation who struggle with substance abuse; and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sponsors a number of programs for people who struggle with poverty, domestic violence, and mental illness.

Every state also has human services departments that sponsor programs. The specific names of the departments vary, but every state has a child welfare department, a mental health department, and departments that provide services to elders who have difficulty caring for themselves, people who are deaf or blind, and people who are very ill and have no health insurance.

Many cities and towns also sponsor human services programs. For example, some cities sponsor after-school recreation programs for children, health clinics for low-income residents, and emergency assistance for domestic violence victims.

Many additional human services programs operate in the private sector, often through nonprofit agencies, such as community action programs, community mental health centers, family service agencies, emergency shelters, legal aid offices, home health care programs, and furniture banks. Some private-sector programs are run by for-profit organizations. Examples include for-profit agencies that operate nursing homes and rehabilitation clinics, substance abuse treatment programs, psychiatric facilities, and employee assistance programs.

Human services programs obtain funding from various sources. Many programs receive all or part of their funding from federal, state, and local government agencies. For example, the federal Department of Education may provide funding for special education programs, a state child welfare agency may fund foster care services, and a local city or town may fund summer recreation programs. Federal, state, and local government agencies often will contract with private agencies to deliver human services. Also, federal agencies may fund programs indirectly through state and local government agencies, and state agencies may fund programs administered by local public agencies.

Many private-sector programs rely on a combination of funding sources, including government agency funds, United Way or other federation grants, insurance fees, foundation grants, and client fees. For example, a shelter for victims of domestic violence may obtain funds from multiple sources, including a foundation grant, a United Way allocation, and a contract with a state or local public agency or women’s commission.

Human services provided by public-sector and private-sector agencies take many forms. Some services are provided in residential settings, such as nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, emergency shelters, foster and group homes, substance abuse treatment programs, and psychiatric hospitals. Many services are provided in so-called outpatient settings, such as family service agencies, community mental health centers, soup kitchens, government agency offices, lawyers’ offices, courts, and private counseling offices. Increasingly, human services such as respite care, family intervention, hospice services, and home health care are provided in consumers’ homes.

Many different types of personnel provide human services. Many service providers have formal education and training in one of the human services professions. The most prominent human services professions are

  • social work

  • psychology

  • psychiatry

  • marriage and family counseling

  • counseling

  • rehabilitation

  • psychiatric nursing.

Other service providers have formal education and training in a field other than human services. For example, lawyers employed by a legal aid clinic may provide legal assistance to low-income people, and clergy may provide important supportive counseling. Many agencies also recruit and train volunteers to provide an impressive array of human services.

Providing Information and Referrals

Professionals and volunteers who are in a position to help people in need can use this pocket guide to acquaint themselves and consumers with the range of available information and resources. This guide provides a broad overview of the types of information and services available in many communities.

Professionals and volunteers who are advising people in need should consider four important questions:

  1. What information, resources, and services do the individual or family need? People sometimes need

    • concrete resources, such as money, food, clothing, furniture, heat, transportation, emergency shelter, affordable housing, residential treatment, nursing home care, and employment;

    • supportive services, such as health care, homemaker services, respite care, foster care, adoption services, protective services, tutoring, literacy services, recreational services, financial planning, translation, interpreter services, and employment advice;

    • emotional support, such as crisis intervention, individual counseling, couples counseling, family counseling, group counseling, mediation, and mentoring;

    • information about various topics, such as health benefits, family and medical leave, welfare benefits, parenting, legal, health, insurance, employment, addiction, and sex education.

  2. What information can you collect about the people who are asking for help or who are in need? Professionals and volunteers should gather as much relevant information as possible about consumers’ backgrounds and current circumstances. Typical assessment information involves

    • historical information, including family and relationship history, medical history, psychological history, educational history, occupational history, substance abuse history, and violence or abuse history;

    • living arrangements and circumstances, including location, quality, and stability of housing and household composition;

    • community-based supports, such as significant relationships (family and friends) and involvement in social, religious, and community organizations and activities;

    • physical and medical condition, including health status; health risks; and access to health care, nutrition, and medication;

    • behavior and behavioral challenges, including any evidence of violence;

    • emotional status, including mood and affect;

    • cognitive status, including an assessment of competence and any evidence of cognitive impairment, suicidal ideation, violent or homicidal ideation, or psychosis;

    • educational issues, including evidence of intellectual functioning, learning needs, and disabilities;

    • occupational issues, including employment challenges, special needs, and any disabilities;

    • financial issues, including both acute and chronic challenges;

    • legal issues, including domestic, civil, and criminal issues;

    • a global assessment of the person’s level of functioning.

  3. In light of the information you have gathered about the individual's
    or family’s needs, status and circumstances, capacities, strengths, and challenges, what resources are available that might assist them? Various ways exist to identify local human service resources. Many state and county departments of human services, as well as local chapters of the United Way, maintain up-to-date directories of services and programs. Such directories may be available both in print and on the Internet. Many states and communities also participate in the "2-1-1" information and referral service, which offers people in need the option of making a toll-free call to a comprehensive, professionally staffed information and referral program. Local United Way and Red Cross chapters or departments of human services may sponsor the 2-1-1 service.

  4. What steps must be taken to connect the individual or family with the available resources? Keep in mind factors such as location, eligibility criteria, funding possibilities, and ways to facilitate access.

    Some regions and communities offer a richer collection of human services programs than others do. In general, major metropolitan areas tend to have more options than smaller, more remote communities.

    • Most programs require individuals and families to meet eligibility criteria to receive services. These criteria may relate to the nature of the presenting problem or need, mental health, physical disability, developmental disability, health status, current medications, income, financial assets, employment status and history, educational status and history, insurance coverage, legal residence, history of victimization, social service history, substance abuse history, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, age, gender, family composition, immigration status, and citizenship.

    • Some agencies and programs can provide services to people who have little or no ability to pay for services. Such agencies and programs usually have funding contracts or grants from other government agencies, private companies, or foundations. Some programs rely at least partially on clients’ ability to pay for services out of pocket or with insurance benefits.

    • Simply handing someone in need the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of potential service providers often will not be enough to facilitate access. A common problem with this approach is that the person in need may feel so overwhelmed by the challenges he or she is facing that the person may have difficulty following through with the referral. Another common problem is that service providers may face such overwhelming demand that they turn potential consumers away or place new applicants on lengthy waiting lists. Professionals and volunteers can increase the likelihood that people in need will receive services if they take several concrete steps, including contacting service providers personally to facilitate the referral, arranging specific appointments for people in need, and following up with people in need to see whether they have contacted service providers.

Useful Resources

Human services professionals, volunteers, and consumers may obtain additional helpful information from a variety of sources. For your convenience, the balance of this introduction lists some of the most prominent information sources.

The Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) was incorporated in 1973 to enhance access to human services by providing information and referrals through publications, international training conferences, and an information and referral clearinghouse. AIRS offers a professional umbrella for information and referral providers in public and private organizations throughout the United States. AIRS promotes the professional development of information and referral specialists, who assess callers’ needs, determine their options and best course of action, direct them to appropriate programs or services, provide culturally appropriate support, intervene in crisis situations, and advocate for the caller as needed. Contact AIRS at 703-218-AIRS (2477) and

The United Way of America (UWA) is the national organization of approximately 1,400 community-based United Way chapters throughout the United States. Each year the United Way raises funds through a capital campaign (donations) and other gifts such as planned giving, gifts to specific initiatives, corporate sponsorships, and government grants. Each local United Way is independent, separately incorporated, and governed by local volunteers. Many United Way chapters provide information and referral services. Contact UWA at 703-836-7112 and

The American Red Cross sponsors a variety of critical services in local communities throughout the United States. Disaster services are offered in response to fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous material spills, transportation accidents, and explosions; biomedical services include blood services, tissue services for transplantation, and plasma services; services to military members and families include emergency services, counseling, financial assistance, and telecommunications; health and safety services include lifesaving training and health education; international services center on emergency relief to disaster victims and humanitarian aid; and community services range from home-delivered meals, food pantries, rides to medical appointments, homeless shelters, transitional housing, caregiver education, support groups, and nursing home and hospital volunteers to friendly visiting, latchkey programs, fuel assistance, and language banks. Contact the American Red Cross at 202-303-4498 and

Several federal agencies offer human services. The most prominent federal agencies and important human services providers within them include

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

    • Administration for Children and Families (ACF)

    • Administration on Aging (AoA)

    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

    • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)

    • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

    • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

    • Indian Health Service (IHS)

    • National Institutes of Health (NIH)

    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

    • Office of Community Planning and Development

    • Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae)

    • Multifamily housing support programs

    • Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity

    • Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight

    • Office of Health Homes and Lead Hazard Control

    • Office of Housing

    • Office of Public and Indian Housing

  • U.S. Department of Education

    • Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs

    • Office for Civil Rights

    • Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

    • Office of Postsecondary Education

    • Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

    • Office of Student Financial Assistance

    • Office of Vocational and Adult Education

  • U.S. Department of Justice

    • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

    • Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

    • Drug Enforcement Administration

    • Executive Office for Immigration Review

    • Federal Bureau of Prisons

    • Office of Justice Programs

      • Bureau of Justice Assistance

      • Bureau of Justice Statistics

      • National Institute of Justice

      • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

      • Office for Victims of Crime

  • U.S. Department of Labor

    • Employee Benefits Security Administration

    • Employment and Training Administration

    • Office of Disability Employment Policy

    • Occupational Safety and Health Administration

    • Veterans’ Employment and Training Service

    • Women’s Bureau

  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

    • Veterans Health Administration

      • Blind Rehabilitation Service

      • Center for Women Veterans

      • Readjustment Counseling Service (provides services related to bereavement and posttraumatic stress)

      • Homeless veterans’ services

      • Services for HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, eldercare, and mental health care

    • Veterans Benefits Administration

      • programs and services related to compensation and pension, education, vocational rehabilitation and employment, survivors’ and dependents’ benefits, burial services, and medical services

  • U.S. Department of Defense

    • U.S. Army programs and services, including Army OneSource; a 24-hour counseling hotline; the Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine; the Center for Substance Abuse programs; child and youth services; the Community and Family Support Center emergency relief; programs for families, including Families Online and the Army Family Action Plan; the Medical Department; and programs addressing health care, housing, legal services, and retirement services;

    • U.S. Navy programs and services, including Navy OneSource, benefits, emergency services, family assistance, and housing;

    • U.S. Air Force programs and services, including casualty and loss, education, elder care, family separations, financial information, parenting, a spouse network, suicide prevention, and programs for teenagers and youths

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture

    • Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services

      • Women, Infants, and Children

      • Food Stamp Program

      • School Meals

      • Summer Food Service Program

      • Child and Adult Care Food Program

      • Food Assistance for Disaster Relief

      • Food Distribution (Schools/Child Nutrition Commodity Program, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, Nutrition Services Incentive Program, Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Emergency Food Assistance Program).

    • Rural Development Housing Program.

Independent and quasi-official federal agencies and corporations also offer numerous programs and services. These include

  • Commission on Civil Rights

  • Corporation for National and Community Service

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

  • National Council on Disability

  • Social Security Administration

  • Legal Services Corporation.

State governments typically have independent departments and divisions responsible for human services, child welfare, elderly affairs, education, health, mental health, intellectual disability, disabilities, rehabilitation services, housing, veterans affairs, transportation, labor, emergency management, corrections, law enforcement, and professional licensure.

Local agencies may be public or private. Cities and towns often have local public offices that address issues related to human services, poverty, child welfare, elderly affairs, education, health, mental health, intellectual disability, disabilities, rehabilitation services, housing, veterans affairs, transportation, labor, emergency management, corrections, and law enforcement. Many communities also are served by privately run community mental health centers, family service agencies, and community action programs that provide a broad, comprehensive array of human services. Many private agencies specialize in delivering services related to poverty, child welfare, elderly affairs, education, health, mental health, intellectual disability, disabilities, rehabilitation services, addictions, reproductive rights, housing, veterans affairs, transportation, employment, immigration, and crisis intervention.

How to Use the Guide

The remaining sections of this guide are organized on the basis of critically important areas of need. Each section includes a brief summary of important information related to

  • services and benefits

  • eligibility criteria

  • contact information

  • useful tips and sources of information.

Frederic G. Reamer, PhD, is a professor in the graduate program of the School of Social Work, Rhode Island College. His research and teaching have addressed a wide range of human service issues, including mental health, health care, criminal justice, struggling teens, and professional ethics. Dr. Reamer has served as a social worker in correctional and mental health settings and has lectured extensively nationally and internationally on the subjects of professional ethics and professional malpractice and liability. Dr. Reamer received the Presidential Award from the National Association of Social Workers and the Distinguished Contributions to Social Work Education award from the Council on Social Work Education.

Dr. Reamer’s books include Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences (Columbia University Press); Pocket Guide to Essential Human Services (NASW Press); Criminal Lessons: Case Studies and Commentary on Crime and Justice (Columbia University Press); Social Work Values and Ethics (Columbia University Press); Tangled Relationships: Managing Boundary Issues in the Human Services (Columbia University Press); ⠀Ethical Standards in Social Work: A Review of the NASW Code of Ethics (NASW Press); The Social Work Ethics Audit: A Risk Management Tool (NASW Press); Ethics Education in Social Work (Council on Social Work Education); The Foundations of Social Work Knowledge (Columbia University Press; editor and contributor); Social Work Malpractice and Liability (Columbia University Press); Social Work Research and Evaluation Skills (Columbia University Press); The Philosophical Foundations of Social Work (Columbia University Press); AIDS and Ethics (Columbia University Press; editor and contributor); Ethical Dilemmas in Social Service (Columbia University Press); Rehabilitating Juvenile Justice (Columbia University Press; coauthor, Charles H. Shireman); The Teaching of Social Work Ethics (The Hastings Center; coauthor, Marcia Abramson); Finding Help for Struggling Teens: A Guide for Parents and the Professionals Who Work with Them (NASW Press; coauthor, Deborah H. Siegel); Teens in Crisis: How the Industry Serving Struggling Teens Helps and Hurts Our Kids (Columbia University Press; coauthor, Deborah H. Siegel); and The Social Work Ethics Casebook - Cases and Commentary (NASW Press).