Originally founded in 1945 as the Special Service Unit of the Los Angeles Youth Project, Special Service for Groups was incorporated in March 1952 on the recommendation of the Welfare Planning Council of Metropolitan Los Angeles. Its purpose was to provide direct leadership of professional social workers working with teenage gangs and delinquent youth.
In 1943, the Los Angeles "Zoot Suit Riots" called attention to the need for more adequate service to youth in the city's growing urban areas. Eleven agencies approached the Welfare Planning Council seeking funds that would allow for the hiring of additional workers to provide more adequate services to these areas, where teenage delinquency was rampant. Out of this initial request grew the Los Angeles Youth Project. Initial priorities were established, including intensified work with "pre-delinquents" and delinquent youth. Early efforts were not entirely successful, and in 1945 a special Delinquency Committee was appointed, with members coming from a wide variety of agencies. The Committee directed its attention to neighborhoods in which agencies were not making progress and in which they saw the greatest need for specialized social workers. The Commitee's first recommendation was the establishment of a Special Service Unit to be set up within the Youth Project. Its primary function would be the development of a group work program for gangs and delinquent youth, and to consult with agencies in the development of these programs. By 1952, it was recognized that the Unit had demonstrated its effectiveness and thus should become a separate agency. The name was changed to Special Service for Groups, and a board of Directors elected.