When the School of Social Work was created by an act of the New Jersey State Legislature, the law also provided mandates for programs to include research and part-time professional instruction. The three statues are outlined below:
- 18A:65-56. The Corporation shall maintain in the university a graduate school of social work to be known as the graduate school of social work.
- 18A:65-57. The school of social work shall offer courses of instruction in accordance with professional standards in the field of social work for persons preparing to enter this profession. It shall also provide part-time instruction for the benefit of persons already employed as social workers. Its instruction shall be conducted with particular reference to the training of personnel for the public and private social agencies located within the state of New Jersey and serving the people of this state.
- 18A:65-59. The school of social work shall establish programs of research in the field of social work to aid in carrying on its program of instruction and to improve the standards of social service in New Jersey.
With these legislative mandates, the first related organization created at Rutgers University was the Bureau of Community Services. In a January 25, 1965 letter to Dr. Mason W. Gross, President of the University, Dr. Ernest E. McMahon, Dean of the University Extension Division, stated that "every indication points to the fact that Rutgers will be called upon to provide a wider range of educational services than ever before in its history. Communities in New Jersey, in particular, will have great need for such services because they must meet the impact of enormous urban change."
In the early 1970s, the Bureau of Community Services changed its name to the Center for Community Education.
In 1993 the Center adopted its new name, the Center for Social and Community Development. Faculty and staff felt that this name better described the focus of the Center which was to combine the community development process with social problem solving by increasing citizen participation and engaging all sectors of a community in the development of solutions to the targeted population. A vital role played by the Center was the linking of University resources with organizations that promote the early identification and eradication of pressing social issues.
In 2005, the Center became independent of the School of Social Work under its new name, the Center for Children and Families. The Center continued many of the Programs previously held under the Center for Social and Community Development while adding new programs.
In 2006, under new administration at the School of Social Work, the Center was brought back under the auspices of the School and was given the interim title of Office of Professional Development and Research. Under this new office, additional programs were founded.
In July of 2007, the Institute for Families was officially created under Dean Richard L. Edwards of the School of Social Work. Dr. Allison Blake was hired as IFF's first Director. At this time three faculty-led research centers, The Center on Violence against Women and Children, the Center for International Social Work, and the Center for Gambling Studies were created under the Institute. All programs and services under the Office of Professional Development and Research were also retained in the new Institute. In the following year, a fourth faculty-led entity was added, the Center for Nonprofit Management and Governance.
In 2010, Dr. Allison Blake was appointed Commissioner of the NJ Department of Children and Families by Governor Chris Christie. With Dr. Blake's departure, the four faculty-led research centers were made independent of IFF.
In 2011, executive director Andy Germak was hired to replace Dr. Blake. Under Mr. Germak's leadership, IFF expanded into social entrepreneurship projects and developed international training programs in India and China.
In 2014, Sara Munson was appointed executive director by Dean Cathryn Potter. The Office of Continuing Education and international projects were restructured into the School of Social Work so that IFF could more closely concentrate on its specialization with child welfare and family-centered programs. At present, the Institute for Families employs over 60 employees, 7 faculty members, 20 part time employees, 3 PhD students, and several hundred external consultants.