History of the Department

Three Decades and Three Addresses (1990-2020)

The first-ever Czech university-level facility in the field of social work after 1989, our department became a paragon for other institutions of the same kind in both the Czech and Slovak Republic. Starting in the 1989/1990 academic year, a social work study programme was established at Charles University’s Faculty of Arts thanks to prof. JUDr. Igor Tomeš, doc. PhDr. Pavel Hartl and PhDr. Jiřina Šiklová, CSc. Then, PhDr. Irena Tomešová, Ing. Anežka Červenáková, PhDr. Alžběta Kučerová, doc. PhDr. Zuzana Havrdová, CSc., doc. PhDr. Oldřich Matoušek and PhDr. Eliška Freiová joined the academic staff, soon followed by prof. JUDr. Helena Válková, CSc., MUDr. Olga Dostálová, CSc., Ing. Petr Víšek, Mgr. Jana Klimentová, PhDr. Kazimír Večerka, CSc., PhDr. Olga Havránková, Ph.D., doc. Ing. Dalibor Holda, CSc. JUDr. Hana Nová, PhDr. Martin Mahler, PhDr. Vendula Probstová, CSc. and many others. Originally, the study programme was established under the auspices of the Department of Adult Education (now known as the Department of Adult Education and Personnel Management) as an independent division with a separate study programme geared towards training social workers. It has been working as a separate department in its own right since the 1992/1993 academic year and is currently entering its fourth decade of education and research in the field of social work.

Our department offers a unique focus on social work in criminal justice, the theory of social management, comparative social welfare systems, social economy and management of social services, methods of working with people facing immediate danger and social exclusion as well as with at-risk children, youth and their families. Our lecturers have either authored or collaborated on a number of field-specific textbooks, which accounts for one of the most important objectives of our department.

In the first decade after 1989, there was a pressing need to train professionals who would be able to provide services to people facing social exclusion. Before 1990, these services were administered centrally, their provision was insufficient, with the predominant use of institutional care and disrespect towards the needs and rights of the clients. Non‑governmental organisations did not exist. Having joined the profession, the first graduates of the study programme would often go on to introduce new types of social services and set up new governmental facilities. With the era of rapid development in social work come and gone, it was time to create and cultivate a social work education system. In the 1990s, the department’s academic staff took part in the foundation of the Association of Educators in Social Work and the development of the first learning standards in social work. Next, there was the need to create quality textbooks, which represent (often reprinted in several editions) the main learning material of the study programme.

In this article recounting the department’s history through the eyes of its founders (Historie katedry očima zakladatelů, available only in Czech) you can discover more about the origins of the department. A 1990 interview with the renowned Czech sociologist Jiřina Šiklová (Zeptali jsme se Jiřiny Šiklové, available only in Czech) is available at this link.

The second decade of the department’s existence was largely defined by the development of new areas of study necessary to train professionals who would be able to systematically tackle urgent issues related to social work and welfare. This can be exemplified by the indispensable contribution of both students and the academic staff to the development of a study programme addressing probation and mediation, or rather social work in criminal justice, made through not only the formulation and realisation of its academic content but also the foundation of the Association for Probation and Mediation in Justice. The main objective of this area of study has been to help initiate and develop new methods of preventing crime and dealing with the consequences of criminal activity which take into account the interests of the victim, the perpetrator, and if need be, their social environment.

Just as important are the other areas of study which our department has long been cultivating: social work and disability (particularly working with people with serious mental disabilities), community psychiatry, working with families, children and youth, with a focus on foster family care, crisis intervention, and social welfare. In addition, our department hosts experts on human rights, working with psychiatric patients, field-specific research, social economy, and history of social work.

Thirty years into its existence, the department is mainly focusing on the issue of research in social work with special emphasis on methodological pluralism and specific research instruments. Notably, social work was not considered prestigious in 1948–1989, with the administrative and even punitive aspects of the work outweighing the rest. That is why our department is strongly involved in redefining the programme’s identity by means of enhancing its professional elements, codifying the profession, and introducing higher qualification levels for social workers.

As part of its activities, our department also publishes an academic journal titled Social Work Forum (click here).

In 2016, the department celebrated its 25th anniversary. Conference reports are available at this link. Other material can be found here and here.

Previously based in Charles University’s building at 20 Celetná Street with no more than one lecture room and two tiny administrative offices at its disposal, the Department of Social Work moved to Charles University’s Jinonice campus in the year 2000. The new address was soon followed by a new study programme structure – it was divided into a bachelor’s and master’s degree. During the years 2006–2008, the department saw changes introduced to the system of students’ practical training and the creation of a part-time bachelor’s study programme offered in the years 2009–2019. This was done under the Study Programme Innovation Project realised in collaboration and under the patronage of the Centre for Quality and Standards in Social Services, which is part of the National Training Fund.

In 2020, the department moved once again, this time back to Prague’s city centre, into a brand-new building of the Faculty of Arts on Na Příkopě Street. That same year, the Professionalisation of Social Work project funded by TACR (PROSO-TACR, TL01000146, 2018–2021) was completed as a joint venture among the Department of Social Work under Charles University’s Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work in Brno, and the Department of Christian Social Work of Sts Cyril and Methodius Faculty of Theology at Palacký University Olomouc. Carried out in the form of a survey and based on quantitative data, the project’s main objective was to study the professionalisation of social work in the Czech Republic from a representative sample of social workers. A qualitative addition to this part of the project were findings from focus groups. Another goal of the project was to produce a systematic description of job positions available to social workers on the Czech labour market in the form of job profile diagrams or the so-called professiograms. The research involved currently existing jobs as well as those that will most likely increase in demand in the near future. The professiograms were supported by casuistic studies – the “remarkable real-life cases” regularly published on the Sociální práce (Social Work) magazine’s website. In addition, the research material also involved the career paths of several Faculty of Art’s graduates, who had started the Social Work programme shortly after the Department of Social Work was founded at Charles University. The results of the project brought about a revision of the Minimum Learning Standard, a document regulating the content and form of tertiary education of social workers in the Czech Republic, as well as a set of recommendations for the system of life‑long education of social workers and for programme specialisations.



Texts: archival materials, compilations of papers from the conferences dedicated to the 10th and 18th anniversaries of the department and articles from the Listy sociální práce journal 

Images: studentskyklubceletna.cz, foursquare.com and mapy.cz


The article offering prof. Igor Tomeš’s perspective on social work during the normalization period is available here.


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