QUESTION: Discuss in detail the strengths and limitations of ONE social work method in relation to a specific service user group. In discussing the strengths and limitations of one method you should draw upon relevant theory, identify the main features, utilise research evidence and make reference to anti racist and anti oppressive practice. You should support your argument with practice examples. Use an appropriate reference style and do not exceed 14 pages of 275 words per page.
SOCIAL WORK METHOD
Of late, social casework has witnessed substantial practical success. Theoretically, when subjected to intellectual evaluation and criticism, it passes the test of the crucible as a feasible and viable social work method. In execution, however, through corruption of its acclaimed theoretical matrix or through a lapse in the implementation of its theory, there have been omissions now and then, a falling short of expectations.
Social casework is primarily the restorative application of theories to specific cases of individual or collective social displacement—in the life of an individual, in the running of a family or in the operation of an organisation. This definition bears a common denominator to most definitions of social casework, definitions which, given by sociologists, do not derive from any traditional social construction, but from a methodology formulated for the sole purpose of reinstating the social situations of particular groups or individuals. In a statement by Periman: “Casework begins with a study phase to clarify the facts of the problem, followed by a diagnosis during which the practitioner analyzes the facts; casework finishes with treatment, during which the practitioner and client attempt to resolve the problem.”
This exposition will dwell on the practical application of the social casework concept to the individual. Specifically, the case of a maltreated and abused eleven-year-old male child will be examined; subjected to by his disciplinary parents, developed conspicuous psychological illness.
Complementing the successful application of social casework skills to the reinstatement of the individual is another valuable social work method: social groupwork. Social groupwork is a designation for an organised and systematic way of working with peoples or group. Though probably contested and sometimes socially constructed to mean “the working of group”, the designation is consistent with the goal and the actual practice of educating and training the individual within a collectivity to work harmoniously and co-operatively with other individuals in the group towards a resultant systemic structure that facilitates the growth in personality and in skill of the individuals for the strengthening of the collectivity.
2.0. SOCIAL CASEWORK AND SOCIAL GROUPWORK
The objectives of social groupwork coincide with that of social casework as defined by Swithun Bowers: “an art in which knowledge of the science of human relations and skill in relationships are used to mobilise capacities in the individual and resources in the community appropriate for better adjustment between the client and all or any part of his total environment”. (Here “ his total environment” is the group, while the “better environment” corresponds to the
development of an “organised, systematic way of working with peoples or groups”.)
Two theories are especially relevant to the social caseworker in the expert discharge
of his duties: the cognitive theory and the psychoanalytic theory.
The cognitive theory, also called Social Cognitive Theory (or SCT), is used as an
illumination on behaviour, for a systematic appreciation of the whys of
human behaviour. It reckons with such factors as have been scientifically established as
determining human behaviour. Against the backdrop of his knowledge of such factors,
the employer of the cognitive theory can predict the behaviour of an individual or a
group, recommend steps towards improvement in behaviour, and help for the
upliftment of body and personality. The purpose of SCT is to help the applicator “to
understand and predict individual and group behaviour; to identify methods in which
behaviour can be modified or changed; [for] interventions used at personality
development, behaviour pathology, and health promotion.” ( Danice Stone, 1998).
According to SCT, behaviour derives from the triad of personality, environment, and
consequences of previous behaviour. The personality determines the pace and nature of
cognitive processes, the environment –i.e. the surrounding animate and inanimate
influences— provides the stimulus for action, cognition and behaviour, while the
consequences of previous behaviour, cautioning or encouraging, defines or broadens the scope of
responses to environmental stimuli. Danice Stone again provides support for this fact when she
“…the SCT … contends that behaviour is largely regulated antecedently through
cognitive processes. Therefore, response consequences of behaviour are used to form
expectations of behavioural outcomes. It is the ability to form these expectations that give
humans the capability to predict the outcomes of their behaviour, before the behaviour is
“The SCT ‘s strong emphasis on one’s cognitions suggests that the mind is an active force
that constructs one’s reality… and imposes structure on its own actions.”
The cognitive theory is thus a psychological reference for understanding behaviour.
The psychoanalytic theory, on the other hand, is generally supposed to be a theory
relating behaviour to only physical instincts and fleshly desires. However, there are
schools of thought that make more of the postulations of the psychoanalytic theory and
seek to apply them more comprehensively towards a practical and beneficial diagnosis of
The postulation of this theory is that the human personality is composed of three parts:
the id, the ego and the super-ego. The id is presented as the benighted, pleasure and
comfort -seeking component whose urges consist solely in the gratification of fleshly
desires . “The id is considered as mostly biological or physical in function — unfettered, compelling and lacking morality, selfish and intolerant of tension. It functions on the principle of pleasure before anything else.” (The Psychoanalytic Theory).
The “ego”, on the other hand, is rational, and subjects the urges of the “id” to intellectual consideration, weighing their practicality, viability, tolerability or intolerability. It modifies the impulses of the id with a filter of reason, and comes up with a rationalised version of the amoral “id” urges. “The ego is the rationally functioning element of human personality. It exerts conscious control, trying always to be the mediator between the id and the superego. Though the id seeks pleasure blindly, based on the pleasure principle, the ego seeks pleasure using rationality instead of irrationality. Its main quirk is rationality, and is always conscious.” (Ibid).
The third part, the superego, is the morally discriminating component of the human personality, the part which, according to a set of imbibed moral principles, assesses the propriety of the urges sifted off the sensual medley of rational and irrational desires of the id, and decides whether or not to permit their execution. “The superego represents our moral system. It strives to put a right or wrong tag on our behavior, often triggering conflict among the three divisions. Its main quirk is morality. The ego is that aspect we present to the “outside”.” (Ibid).
Most psychoanalysts, however, consider humanity as dominantly “idic”, unreasoning, carnal and mechanical, thus without a substantial moral self. “Psychoanalysts treat humanity as a dismal breed — irrational, materialistic and mechanistic.” (Ibid). Consequently, they tend to explain their actions and behaviour in terms of irrational sensual motivations.
But the small school of thought, by whose principles competent social workers abide, does find beneficial practical application for the three components of the psychoanalytic human personality. Thus in trying to case-study groups or individuals, social workers reckon with such realistic factors as the rationality of the human intellect, the human conscience, moral and cultural backgrounds as well as those of the upbringing. Considerations in diagnosing human behaviour fully embrace the psychoanalytic triad and practicalise it with respect to the case in question.
3.0. SOCIAL CASEWORK IN A POLICY/AGENCY CONTEXT
One policy that has of late impacted significantly on the implementation of casework services is the Care Management policy. The Care Management policy has enhanced the performance of social workers, for it recommends partnership and inter-professional practices. Thus, it affords social workers the opportunity for a broader, more inclusive application of skills for the benefit of the society. For instance, the collaboration of social workers with physicians, psychiatrists and psychologist proved immensely beneficial to the World-War service men and their families in need for social re-adjustment.
“World War I provided unique opportunities for social caseworkers to prove the utility of their skills on non-poverty populations. Social work’s prestige was raised through work in war-related activities such as the Red Cross’s Home Service. Caseworkers with the home service ,led by Mary Richmond, applied their skills to problems faced by service men and their families. Physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists working with emotionally disturbed soldiers saw the social worker as a natural ally. They began using caseworkers as specialists in social adjustment. .” (Social Work History).
4.0. THE MECHANICS OF SOCIAL CASEWORK
The first step in offering casework services is the clarification and ascertainment of the facts of the problem. Following is a diagnosis of the problem—ideally with the principles of such theories as cognitive and psychoanalytic theories (It is noteworthy here that, given the influence and stipulation of the case management policy, the implementation of these principles do not always fall to the lot of the social caseworker. Collaboration with a psychoanalyst or psychologist, for instance, might be called for.). The final step is the treatment phase “during which the practitioner and client attempt to resolve the problem.” (Perlman, 1957).
5.0. THE CASE STUDY OF AN ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD CHILD
Eleven-year-old Daniel Kelly’s formative and early childhood years were periods of parental mollycoddling and indulgence. The only child of his parents for six years, he enjoyed their entire attention and solicitude, got the best of dishes, of recreation and schooling. During those years, his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Kelly, were easy-going liberals, without moral strictures or straightjackets—free-thinkers or pagans for all practical purposes, with no real religious affiliations.
Daniel’s seventh year, however, saw not only the arrival of his sister, Esther, but a new life –orientation for his parents who became churchly and near-fanatical Christian converts. Strict adherence to churchly tenets of self-denial and offspring discipline became their watchwords. Above these, they experienced a turn-around in fortune which flung them from their well-to-do status to near-indigence.
In the course of the years, not only did the bulk of their attention and love shift to little Esther, Daniel’s personal inferiority and weakness of character came to the fore. Therefore, no more indulgences, but only strict demands for obedience to orders and for compliance with instructions, frequently accompanied with unsympathetic whips and lashes. All overnight.
Consequent to this sudden harassment from both parents, Daniel’s uncharacteristic harrowed and shadowy looks drew the attention of school teachers and friends.
A social caseworker, Mrs. A.A. Ngozi, has been invited to intervene. She summoned Daniel to her office, a male and female psychologist on her left and right respectively. The three attend to him with interrogations as follows:
Mrs Ngozi: Now, tell me, Daniel, what is the trouble you are always in at home?
Daniel (First in tears, he is soothed and re-assured by the female psychologist): Mummy and
Daddy have hated me since Esther was born. They have hated me, I have been
suffering ! All parental care and love have gone to Esther! They are always
scolding and flogging me and beating me!
Female Psychologist( Gazing into his eyes): Do you do anything to offend daddy or
mummy, or both daddy and mummy?
Daniel has over the last few years developed this mental complex of association which makes his tremble, stutter and stammer whenever he is interrogated in a way evocative of his parents’ sinister manners. The gaze of the psychologist and her tone remind him of his mother, and he sinks into these nervous mannerisms (trembling, stuttering and stammering). The male psychologist can, from personal and professional hindsight, envisage not only the depths of Daniel’s agony but, conversing with Mrs Ngozi over the relevance of SCT to Daniel’s circumstance, also the possible environmental influences, responses from his parents to his now unwelcome behaviour ( which have made him liable to this display of psychological complex), as well as his personality whose id –drawing from the principles of psychoanalytic theory, again on Mrs Ngozi’s recommendation—has been subjected to a drastic denial of habitual indulgences and to such relative brutality to which his superego is yet to come to terms. The male psychologist recommends an interview with Daniel’s parents next day.
The interview confirms Mrs Ngozi’s and his suspicion, and the three came up with the following remedies:
- Daniel will be separated from his parents for a period of six months, and placed under Childcare Social Welfare services in a welfare home.
- Daniel’s whims will for a few months be indulged as before.
- Then he will gradually be led out of the mollycoddling and pampering into an appreciation of reality.
- The parents will be counselled to moderate their over-disciplinarian approaches to child upbringing.
- The parents will be monitored over their upbringing of Esther.
6.0. STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS OF SOCIAL CASEWORK
IN ITS GENERAL PRACTICES
From the mechanics of social casework and the case study above, it is obvious that social casework service is devoutly involved in the social welfare of the individual as well as of a group. Instituted policies give it consolidation (as in the care- management policy stipulation of inter-professional collaborative practices), and add to its range of application and its flexibility. Also enhancing its utility is the effect of social groupwork service, which goes hand in hand with it. The relevance of social groupwork service in the above case study can be seen in the attention given the parents and Esther in an apparent bid to restore the unity and harmony of the family group.
7.0. STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS OF SOCIAL CASEWORK IN ITS
From the above, the following can be defensibly inferred as strengths of social casework anti-oppressive practices:
- Social casework’s AOP allows the oppressed the expression of their hidden wishes towards justice and restoration of the oppressed.
- It gives them the opportunity to challenge oppressive and unfairly discriminating social stereotypes.
- Since social casework is biopsychosocial (caring for the physical, psychological and social wellbeing of individuals or groups), its AOP works against the social discrimination against the physically or mentally handicapped.
One fundamental drawback of social casework practices is the unilateral application of its anti-oppressive principles (AOP). It seems to compromise its principle of restoring the individual or group to social respectability and welfare. The proper application of AOP in the employment of social casework would oblige not only a psychoanalytic diagnosis of Dr. and Mrs. Kelly, since the oppression derives from their new mentality, but also a move to moderate dogmatic churchism in its evidently adverse dimensions.
8.0. STRENGHTS AND LIMITATIONS OF SOCIAL WORK PRACTICES IN ITS
ANTI- RACIST PRACTICES
From the theoretical bases of Social casework practices, the following can de deduced 8.1.STRENGHTS
- Social casework seeks to establish the inevitable interdependability of the races
- It seeks justice for the minority who are oppressed on grounds of racism.
- Social workers at times inadvertently adjust to or neglect cultural and societal structures,
thus working within the limits of the practices of racism.
Social casework in unison with social group work services have proven beneficial not just for the individual but also for the collectivity. However, its laid-down principles bear closer practicalisation; they need to be articulated and interpreted to fit into every matter of social deprivation, inequity and injustice.
Adams, R., Dominelli, L and Payne, M (eds) (2002) Critical Practice in Social Work, Palgrave
Dorren Elliot, Nazneen S. Mayadas, Thomas D. Watts (1997) International Handbook on Social Work Theory and Practice. Greenwood Press. P.17
Roberta R. Greene, Aldine de Gruyter (1997)Human Behaviour Theory and Social Work Practice. Greenwood Press. PP15-17
Social Cognitive theory overview. Social Cognitive Theory http://www.med.usf.edu/~kmbrown/Social_Cognitive_Theory_Overview.htm. 5th July.2008
Stepney, P and Ford D (2000,) Social Work Models, Methods and Theories: a framework for practice, Russell House Publishing