Acknowledgments: Gidraph Gachunga Wairire, Associate Professor, University of Nairobi

“Social work in the Kenyan situation existed even before the country got independence from the British in the year 1963. However, the type of social work that was there prior to independence is not what we call professional social work per se. The kind of social work that was that of many disciplines but it was geared towards orienting individuals, and building their capacity so that they can actually come and work for people who are in need but of course with the interests of serving the colonisers who were there at that time”, (Wairire, 2021).

  • Kenyan social work started with household heads, village elders and rika (age mentors): Since time immemorial, Kenyan society had ways to ensure social functioning, and these exist today although they were impacted by colonisation. Commenting on the traditional version of social work in Kenya, Wairire (2014, p. 94) said “In pre-colonial times, social support mechanisms in Kenya were embedded in the sociocultural practices of different communities. Social responsibilities were clearly defined for different community members through traditional socialisation. Individuals with different needs requiring social interventions were, therefore, helped at the community and individual levels. … household heads and village elders served many of the roles which modern social workers play today, particularly with regard to the enhancement of the social functioning of individuals in the society. Heads and mentors of age groups locally known as rika equally played significant roles that helped an individual or group to manage problems of living”.
  • Missionary organisations or charities created by  colonial settlers or educated local people joined families and communities in providing social work. One of these was the Jeanes School in Kabete established in 1925  to train village guides.
  • The colonial government joined the provision of social services focusing on problems that were prevalent in white communities, and those that could help maintain social worder such as juvenile delinquency, destitution and other urban problems. Government employed people from different disciplines to do welfare related work.
  • 1946 – The Jeanes School in Kabete trained social welfare workers (SWWs), later to become community development assistants – CDAs. The School also trained  farming, leadership, crafts and domestic work.
  • 1960 – Kenya National Association of Social Workers (KNASW) was formed for policy influencing, advocacy and capacity building
  • 1962 – Professional social work started in 1962, and this happened through the establishment of the Kenya-Israel School of Social Work. The Kenyan government was given funding by the government of Israel to build workforce within the social development sector to meet the social welfare needs of independent Kenya were adequately met.
  • Lates 60s to early 1970s – training relocated to a government institution called the Kenya Institute of Public Administration in Kabete that offered training at diploma level. Professional started at this time. Professional social work means a (1) sound knowledge base, (2) well trained, (3) well defined code of ethics, and a (4) well-defined area of social responsibility.
  • 1976 – first training at degree level at University of Nairobi (UoN), a bachelor of social work. The graduates did wonders in the social services sector and training continued. Universities and training institutions increased.
  • 1990s – A diploma in social work and social development was introduced at UoN
  • 2019 – social work educators have formed an association for Association of Social Work  Educators in Kenya to support promote education, research and publish and networking in Kenya, east Africa and Africa.
  • Growth of postgraduate education has been slow but there are now two universities offering postgraduate training including PHD. Growth has been impacted by bureaucracy of training institutions among other factors.

“Professional social work means a people with a  sound knowledge base, people who are well trained both in practice and theory, people who have a well-defined code of ethics, and people with a well-defined area of social responsibility”, (Wairire, 2021).

  • Social Work Educationl Institutions (SWEIS)
    • University of Nairobi
    • Moi University
    • Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology
    • South Eastern Kenya University
    • Maasai Mara University
    • Kibabii University College
    • St. Pauls University
    • Catholic University of Eastern Africa (private)
    • Daystar University (private)
    • Government Training Institute in Embu (diploma)
    • Kobujoi Development Training Institute (diploma)
    • Several private institutions offering diplomas


Wairire, G. G. (2021). Biography of African social work. Interview, 22 March 2021. African Social Work Network (ASWN), Available at

Wairire, G. G. (2014). The State of Social Work Education and Practice in Kenya. In Helmut Spitzer, Janestic M. Twikirize and Gidraph G. Wairire (Editors), Professional Social Work in East Africa Towards Social Development, Poverty Reduction and Gender Equality, 93 – 107. Kampala: Fountain Publishers.

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