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Social Welfare 220: Introduction to Social Welfare Policy: Getting Started

Defining Social Policy

Social policy may be defined as any formal government enactment that affects the well-being of people, including laws, regulations, executive orders, and court decisions. In the United States, with its federal tradition of shared government, social policies are made by governments at many levels—local, state, and national.

 Social Policy. In Encyclopedia of Social Work. : Oxford University Press.

Public policy has a number of key attributes:

  • Policy is made in response to some sort of issue or problem that requires attention.
  • Policy is what the government chooses to do (actual) or not do (implied) about a particular issue or problem.
  • Policy might take the form of law, or regulation, or the set of all the laws and regulations that govern a particular issue or problem.
  • Policy is made on behalf of the "public."
  • Policy is oriented toward a goal or desired state, such as the solution of a problem.
  • Policy is ultimately made by governments, even if the ideas come from outside government or through the interaction of government and the public.
  • Policymaking is part of an ongoing process that does not always have a clear beginning or end, since decisions about who will benefit from policies and who will bear any burden resulting from the policy are continually reassessed, revisited and revised.

Policy analysis emerged to both better understand the policymaking process and to supply policy decision makers with reliable policy-relevant knowledge about pressing economic and social problems. Handbook of Public Policy Analysis : Theory, Politics, and Methods

Starting Points


Encyclopedia of Social Work from the National Association of Social Workers and Oxford University Press -- a great starting place, policy on many social work topics.

Comprehensive Handbook of Social Work and Social Welfare Contains many sections on Social Policy and Policy Practice.

Oxford Bibliographies: Social Work Great overview of key topics in Social Welfare written by experts in the field.

The Green Book is a key resource for federal programs. It provides updated statistics and information on programs such as Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment Compensation, Foster Care and welfare. Additionally, it includes a discussion of related issues, such as the well-being of the elderly and of children and families.

Congressional Publications contains congressional documents (hearings, committee prints, documents, and legislative histories) which are searchable through this fulltext database. CRS Research Reports are particularly helpful for overviews of federal policies on an array of topics.

Nexis Uni (Formerly LexisNexis AcademicSearch) Fulltext searchable database of law reviews, cases and statutes.

The Think Tank Search from Harvard is another useful search engine.

UC Library Search (short version)

 UC Library Search infographic about what is included

UC Library Search is the University of California's unified discovery and borrowing system.

Access it directly or from the Library homepage to find most UC books, articles, media, archival collections, and more.

See the UC Library Search User Guide and ask for research help 24/7 for more information.

Finding Articles

The Library has hundreds of databases supporting all academic disciplines at Berkeley. You can also search for databases that emphasize formats such as data, newspapers, dissertations, government documents and more. Google Scholar is another good starting point.

Books on Social Welfare Policy