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Case Study on Social Work

Case Study on Social Work

A responsibility of social work is to provide for people in society who are in positions of weakness, stress or vulnerability. Social work is a service that operates in response to human need. To perpetuate change on a large scale a social workers capacity for accurate communication and empathy have to be allied to a broader appreciation of the way that environments impact on different individuals and groups (Blackburn 1992). Social workers can make an important contribution to developing and understanding the balances that exist between stressful and supportive elements at individual, local and structural levels.

Social work can play an important role in developing policies to combat social problems. After giving a brief explanation of the three terms local, “individual, locality and structural” I will examine a number of areas within the case scenario; these are the problems of unemployment, delinquency, and the general lack of a positive environment. I will present the policies, generally linked to the field of social work, suggested by each of the terms in relation to these problems. To gain a better perspective of the important issues I will attempt to identify the strengths and weaknesses of these explanations in relation to the case scenario. Social work at a individual level in broad terms is concerned with response to a social problems on a one to one basis, that is one worker working with an individual or family, this is recognised as the most common social work method used when working with families.

At a local level social work is primarily focused on group work, one or more workers working with a group of clients or people from the neighbourhood with the emphasis usually on sharing and co-operation between group members working toward common goals. The structural level, which one might also define as community development, involves practitioners encouraging people to define their own needs and join together to bring about changes in service provision or in their social circumstances.

At this level campaigning also can go on to a national arena to change laws an example of this is the abolition of the poll tax in 1998. A key feature of this method is the fact that it involves a collective approach: individuals joining together to collective action and engineer social change (Blackburn 1992). Within the Flatsville scenario there are a number of social problems. Unemployment is one problem; it is linked to relative poverty and is a particularly pertinent issue in the area. By absolute poverty we generally mean people living below a defined poverty line relative poverty however is seen as being poor in comparison to others living at the same time and in the same country or area.

In the early 1990├втВмтДвs nearly two-thirds of lone parent families in the U.K were in poverty according to one calculation which took into account both supplementary benefit levels and the relative position of the poor (Cochrane in Dallos and McLaughlin, 1993). At an individual level, Mrs White, the mother in this study, is an unemployed depressed lone parent living on benefits, at a local level it is a problem that effects many people in the Flatsville area.

With the unemployment figure of 20% in the area, which is high in comparison to the rest of the city, and with many households surviving on benefits alone the problem can also be defined as a structural one. In this situation an individual approach could be used to help to alleviate the problem. Area policies would suggest that Social workers might help Mrs White on a one to one level by helping her maximise income levels. One possible method would simply be making sure she was claiming all her benefit entitlements; often benefits remain unclaimed due to a lack of knowledge and clear information (Blackburn 1992).

The situation could also be improved with the provision of relevant information about services such as the employment agency and issues such as the provision of childcare. By providing this information Mrs White may potentially be better of financially and in giving clear options and alternatives be given a sense of empowerment which she can use in a positive manner to better her situation and improve her disposition (Blackburn1992). However there is no guarantee this approach will help Mrs White, who left her part-time job as cleaner due to low wages, anti-social hours and high childcare costs.

A drawback of the approach is that it assumes it is Mrs White├втВмтДвs responsibility to improve her income rather than the responsibility of society as a whole. Issues such as unemployment, childcare costs and low benefits are also structural ones. An individual approach will not increase benefits or push up the minimum wage to make working and paying for childcare worthwhile. Consequently leaving Mrs White stuck in a rut of poverty unemployment and depression. Intervention at a local level is an option for consideration because the problem of poverty and unemployment in an area such as Flatsville is clearly an important local issue.

Intervention at a local level often begins with groupwork, working in groups to combat issues can be of assistance in identifying policies that might be put forward to improve situations and engineer social change. Within a group a social worker should strive to put an emphasis on the commonalties of problems and situations (Ward 1998). In an area such as Flatsville problems encountered by Mrs White such as the high cost of childcare could in fact be addressed in a group set up specifically for parents.

A possible arrangement could be the formation of a childminding circle by mothers in similar situation; this could provide a greater incentive and opportunity for mothers such as Mrs White to work. Social work can also assist in supporting a Flatsville “job club” or monitoring of employment services in the area, commenting on how employment policies effect the local area. With the assistance of professional guidance working in a group can empower people in Mrs White├втВмтДвs situation at structural level to demand and apply pressure on local authorities to make changes by taking up issues in this case perhaps the development of childcare places and holiday playschemes.

The capacity of groupwork in “applying techniques of problem analysis objective setting and prioritisation and evaluation” (Ward 1998: in Adams Payne & Domminelli: p155) can help to generate team spirit and enthusiasm for the tasks in hand. For the group work method to be effective at a local level it is imperative that it works in a way that is empowering for the members. It should involve them setting the agenda to some extent rather than the group leaders who simply retain control and power over the group; it must also identify itself as more than simply an individual level of practice at a group level.

From the perspective of a group member such as Mrs White there is an opportunity to break down the isolation and loneliness she undoubtedly feels. Beyond this “in a group there is better chance of addressing the inseparability of private troubles and public issues” (Brenton, 1994, p.31). Even though matters may surface as private concerns, in groups these private troubles will become shared. This can provide ground for the analysis of their structural sources, and action together to bring about change (Brenton 1994).

However groups can add collective responsibilities to the already overburdened and fragile Mrs White. The other key character in the Flatsville situation is 12 year old Johnny White, Mrs White’s son. In the scenario Johnny’s behaviour has deteriorated rapidly over the last few months, he has recently been caught stealing money and vandalising property. At the local primary school his work has deteriorated along with his behaviour and attendance. At home his Mother can├втВмтДвt control him, and he is socialising with other boys in the neighbourhood known to be on drugs. Something clearly needs to be done about Johnny’s behaviour.

On an individual level it is important that there is some attempt at intervention, perhaps through one to one counselling. Childcare legislation can direct policies to ensure social work departments provide such help. Although intervention is often aimed directly at young people like Johnny, it is important to recognise that family strengths and weaknesses will influence the impact of any direct work with young people (Mutale 2001). A more effective approach might encompass the mother and raise some issues; for example whether Johnny is receiving enough attention at home; three children and a depressed Mother might suggest he is not.

Perhaps Mrs White can do more to control him and prevent him wandering the streets at 12 years old with known “troublemakers”. Focusing on underlying causes related to his behaviour perhaps certain changes could be made that would improve Johnny’s future conduct. In theory this sounds fine in practice it could be a little unrealistic to suggest that Mrs White spends more time with Johnny when she has two other children one of pre-school age and is surviving on benefits. With this in mind it is hard to fathom what she can do to prevent Johnny doing as he pleases.

A drawback with the one to one method in helping Johnny is that it pathologises him, suggests that he alone is to blame for his difficulties. It is a time-consuming method and may fail to address underlying difficulties (Blackburn, 1992). On a local level Johnny’s behaviour can be linked to a number of problems within Flatsville. One of the principal social problems in the neighbourhood is the lack of adequate resources in the area the few amenities it has are badly run down. Social workers, in partnership with local parents, could campaign for better resources.

In the scenario it mentions that the Flatsville has a problem with vandalism which Johnny has partaken in on at least one occasion. One response to this could be a council policy of vandal proofing the area; for example replacing fragile glass fittings with toughened plastic. However such a scheme may have social side effects; some would argue that “vandal proof buildings become so inhuman in their defences that the environment is worse than the vandalised version” (Open University 1984 p37).

The lack of good resources in the Flatsville area is something that has to be addressed; young people like Johnny are perhaps less likely to show respect to disreputable looking property. On a structural level a collective approach is needed to create a more desirable environment. Statistics show that a great deal of social problems such as drug use and vandalism is concentrated in dilapidated council housing schemes and areas of social and economic depravation. Attention needs to be given to how these might change to reduce the problem (Open University 1984).

An attempt at regeneration is being attempted in the scenario with the voluntary neighbourhood agency negotiating with the local authority for financial assistance to build an adventure playground further authority help is needed to improve the standing of the area. Bob Holman a worker in Easterhouse observed that the London Docklands Development Corporation, which had spent 2.5 billion of public money mainly for the benefit of property bosses and yuppies agreed to spend $100, 000 on a huge party. Holman noted that $100, 00 would secure a new community centre for the community, and $2.5 billion would transform Easterhouse.

Transferring knowledge, skills and control to local people means they then have the information and resources to challenge the economic inequalities in government policy. However in general it appears that many local authorities are entrenching rather than expanding and while government money is clearly available for public expenditure the political will has to exist for it to reduce rather than reinforce inequalities (Rudi Dallos & Eugene McLaughlin, 1993). Its is clear that while each approach has it’s merit problems are inherent within them all.

While an individual approach may be successful in offering close individual support for people like the White family it can also pathologise people or individualise problems that result from structural causes. On a local level, group work and local initiatives may be a way in which local people can attempt to challenge factors that maintain local problems. Work at a local level must remain focused on empowerment with the agenda being that of the local people rather than outsiders. Tackling problems on a structural level can be effective in encouraging positive social developments, however taking this approach is often fraught with difficulties.

This is particularly true for disadvantaged neighbourhoods such as Flatsville in which people may lack the confidence and skills to be directly involved in engineering structural change (Blackburn 1992). There are no simple recipes that can be applied across communities intervention on an individual and local level can help alleviate some of the problems faced by families like the White’s. This needs to be done in conjunction with more holistic methods, focused on the prevention of social problems within areas of deprivation. This is something that requires a great deal of national support and finance which is often not made available to areas where it is needed such as Flatsville.

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