Essay: Human Development the Profession of Social Work

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¶ … Human Development

The profession of social work has a complex relationship with psychological and sociological perspectives. If a social work professional is to provide the assistance needed by his or her clients, it is necessary to use the appropriate perspectives to understand and analyze the situations in question. This is particularly important when working with children, in which case life course development could provide a large amount of perspective regarding the individual's genetics, history, psychology, and interactions with others (Crawford and Walker 2010: 2). It is also, however, important to understand that no single theory can be used to the exclusion of others in order to fully understand a situation a child might face. The optimal approach, therefore, is to begin with the theory or theories that seem to best describe the situation at hand, and then, with time, using these to lead to additional theories that might give a more in-depth perspective. The case to be examined concerns a 6-year-old little girl, Lilly Jones. The initial psychological theory to describe her situation will be attachment theory, as described by Howe (2011), while the sociological perspective to supplement this will be the social constructivist perspective, as addressed by Hutchison and Charlesworth.

Howe (2011: 6) describes attachment theory as having roots in ancient human survival tactics, where primary caregivers in ancient societies were often also those upon whom children relied for their safety and survival. Even today, a child who feels distressed or in danger will run to the person he or she feels most close too. Most often, this will be the mother. Howe demonstrates this with a poignant example of a little boy playing boisterously with his uncle, but running to his mother as soon as he falls and is hurt, despite the obviously enjoyment derived from the play process with the uncle.

Howe uses this example to demonstrate that, as human beings, it is our nature to seek social support when we are threatened or under stress. Particularly, human beings seek out the protection and support of those in the same situation or those whose emotional support we know we can rely on. Howe further points out that, for young children and babies, social exclusion can be not only particularly painful, but also frightening. This appears to be the case for little Lilly Jones.

At six years old, Lilly's recent social and family problems appear to have created significant attachment challenges. When the family is examined, Lilly's statement that her mother was admitted to hospital "with bruises" appears to indicate that the mother was physically abused. This has removed the little girl's primary source of attachment and support from the family, also leading to her tendency towards crying episodes. Furthermore, this could also be the reason why she appears to be socially excluded at her school. Clearly, the lack of attachment and support have led to her social and school performance problems.

When examining the mother's situation, it appears that her own emotional problems and tendency to engage in abusive relationships has created a lack of emotional attachment to and care for her children. The fact that she worries about her children is, however, a good sign and this might have given Lilly a sense of attachment before her mother was admitted to hospital. For Lilly, it appears that the physical presence of her mother, regardless of emotional distance, has given her the necessary support to not only care for her younger sister, but also to remain relatively constant in her school work and emotional stability. The fact that her physical appearance, social attachments and clothing have suffered visible and significant effects since her mother's hospitalization indicates a lack of the attachment she values in her mother's presence at home.

As for the rest of the family, it is clear that Lilly's elder siblings have not cultivated a sense of caring or emotional attachment that could serve as a substitute for her mother's presence in the home. Instead, they are coping with their own situations, including teenage pregnancy and juvenile delinquency, which preclude providing the nurture and sense of attachment that Lilly needs. Lilly, on the other hand, has taken it upon herself to be a substitute primary carer for her younger sister in the absence of adequate care from her mother.

From the information provided, it appears that Lilly has suffered severely from the physical absence of her mother and from the absence of an adult to help her cope with duties such as dressing herself and attending school. The social worker assigned to the case will have to understand what a very frightening experience this is for such a young child, who is also burdened with the care of her younger sister, who is starting to show signs of needing special care. At six, one can hardly expect her to be mature enough to handle such responsibility, even with her home attachments intact.

Howe also notes that caregivers generally have two basic protection strategies they use for their children. First, they can remove hazards and anticipate danger, maintaining an unaffected emotional state in the child. Second, when the child does experience fear or distress, even from danger that is not actual but only perceived, the caregiver provides comfort and protection. This is the kind of protection that Lilly has lacked since the hospitalization of her mother. It appears that merely the physical presence of her mother has provided Lilly with some comfort in terms of a buffer against the fears and dangers of the world, despite the emotional detachment. It does appear, however, that Lilly's mother has provided some protection against physical abuse of the children by her partners. However, being exposed as witnesses to abuse between their caregivers would certainly have had detrimental effects, and may have also affected Lilly's drive to take a primary carer role towards her younger sister.

Despite this situation, Lilly appears to be devoted and loyal not only towards all her siblings, but also towards her parents. This signifies a deep-seated need in Lilly to form emotional attachments with those who share her home, regardless of the detachments displayed towards her.

To handle this, a social worker might engage in strategies such as the narrative of biographical approach, which entails offering the individual an opportunity to provide a first-hand account of her life and experiences. For Lilly, this should focus especially on the period of time during which her mother was hospitalized. By helping Lilly verbalise her concerns and fears, the social worker can also help her to work on strategies for coping with her attachment issues.

Since the mother seems to be at the heart of Lilly's emotional and educational problems, the social worker should also find ways to help her to work on a greater sense of emotional attachment, especially to the two youngest children.

Green (2010: 221) provides an interesting perspective on young children, their need for nurture, and the development of their coping strategies. The author claims, for example, that an overly developed parental need to protect their children from danger and emotional distress has tended to cripple the ability of these children to in fact cope with the world they face in a wider social context. This view, however, should be carefully collated with life span development.

A child like Lilly, for example, is far too young to cope by herself in duties such as dressing herself, attending school regularly, and caring for her younger sister. Clearly, in her case, there is a need for an adult who can take care of the duties and mechanisms that Lilly is yet not mature enough to handle herself.

On the other hand, it is also interesting how Lilly has in fact devised strategies for coping with the emotional absence of her mother. Indeed, she has used her physical presence in the home as a basis for taking upon herself responsibilities that are far beyond those expected of her peer group. She has cultivated a deep sense of loyalty to her entire family, for example. In addition to taking responsibility for her younger sister, she has also taken responsibility for her own emotional stability. She has only broken down in this with the physical absence of her mother.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Lilly is in dire need of emotional and psychological support, along with her other siblings. The environment in which she was raised is greatly toxic and not conducive to her healthy future development.

In addition to her psychological challenges, it is clear that Lilly is also influenced by her social environment, and especially by her relationships to those around her.

According to Ingleby (2010: 5), behaviourism is a theory that focuses on the influence of external factors on the individual and his or her sense of well-being. Lilly has clearly been influenced by her home situation, leading to her social exclusion from close attachments to her peers at school. Witnessing the abuse between her parents would also have influenced her sense of safety… [END OF PREVIEW]

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