Ecological Perspective in Social Work

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This assignment is about defining and using the ecological perspective framework to guide working with a family in dealing with the effects of the Manawatu floods in
2004. I will show in working with this family, what they discovered was of importance and needed to be addressed by them within themselves, their community and the world outside their homes. I would use other theories and models as well in working with this family, but will show you how by using the ecological framework we get a base to work with in establishing this families needs for now and the future.
???The ecological perspective uses ecological concepts from biology as a metaphor with which to describe the reciprocity between persons and their
environments…attention is on the goodness of fit between an individual or group and the places in which they live out their lives??? (Sands, 2001).
???The social work discipline has expanded this perspective to explain that an individual is constantly creating, restructuring, and adapting to the environments as the environment is affecting them??? (Ungar, 2002).
???In social work practice, applying an ecological approach can be best understood as looking at persons, families, cultures, communities, and policies and to identify and intervene upon strengths and weaknesses in the transactional processes between these systems???.
Page 2 Bronfenbrenner (1979), suggests four levels of ecological components as a useful framework in understanding how individual or family processes? are influenced by architectural environmental? systems in which they function: Micro system- The most basic system, referring to an individuals most immediate environment (i.e., the effects of personality characteristics on other family members). Mesosystem-?  A more generalized system referring to the interactional processes between multiple micro systems (i. e., effects of spousal relationships on parent-child interactions). Exosystem-?  Settings on a more generalized level which affect indirectly, family interactions on the micro and meso levels (i. e., the effects of parents employment on family interactions). Macrosystem- The most? generalized forces, affecting individuals and family functioning (i.e., political, cultural, economical, social).The foci of the work emphasized in this approach include life transitions, traumatic experiences, dysfunctional relationship patterns, and coping with environmental stressors. (Foundations of Social Work Practice). |
Page 3My focus for this assignment is on a small rural farming community 25 kms north of Feilding, called ???Beaconsfield Valley???, and the effects of the Manawatu floods of 2004 on this community. This community is made up of about 16 families of which some are multi generational and range in age from babies to elderly. The floods caused two bridges to collapse and split one end of the valley from the other and the road into and out of the valley to be dysfunctional, cutting off this community from outside help. I am working this case with this brief:
To assess and assist one particular family,The Es, father ??“ part Maori, mother – Pakeha, and two young sons aged 7 and 5 ??“ part Maori, living in a country cottage above the collapsed bridge at the top end of Beaconsfield Valley. The stepdaughter is currently in Auckland completing her schooling in the care of her father. The father in this family was born and raised down the other end of the valley and his father and mother, and his brother and brothers family live down the other end of the valley. The mother is from Auckland, and moved to Beaconsfield with her husband approximately 4 years ago. The father works with his brother in agricultural contracting and mum is a stay at home mum.
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I am going to use an ecological assessment , and in particular the life model (Germain & Gitterman,1996) as my practice approach in dealing with the issues this family faces in this small community faced with the after effects of the floods. With this approach, based on the environmental context and its effects, along with my intuition , life experiences and my understanding of human actions and interactions will help me understand their situation and we can therefore work out what is to be done for this family.
The life model applies ecological constructs such as habitat, niche, parasitism, and stress and coping directly to the social world. This approach is also grounded in process including human development over the life course and the process of helping over time (Foundations of Social Work Practice, p20. )
The life model draws on several major sets of ecological concepts, including (1) ecological thinking and reciprocity of person ??“ environment exchanges: (2) person:environment fit, adaptedness and adaptation; (3) habitat and niche; (4) abuse or misuse of power, oppression, and social and technological pollution; (5) the life course; (6) life stressors, stress, and coping; and (7) resilience and protective factors. (p 51, The Life Model of Social Work Practice, Gitterman & Germain) (2008)
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From an ecological perspective this family had issues with:
Basic needs (Maslow) food, water and power.
People who are part of a community must have their basic needs and expectations met if communities are to flourish. (p25, Social work for the twenty-first century)
Seclusion ??“ roads cut off
Communications down
Loss of income (Exosystem)
Sanitation, silt everywhere, cant flush toilets and dead animal carcusses causing health concerns
Family separation, daughter in Auckland, mums sister in Feilding, no contact due to telecommunications being down and no power.
Access to outside help, food helicopted after 5 days.
Access to medical supplies
Children unable to go to school – schools closed and when opened children couldnt get across river originally because the bridge was gone and the waters hadnt subsided enough to get kids across to other side.
Mums mental health

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Pardeck and Yuen (1997) consider the family system to be one of the most important client systems that the practitioner works with.
With this in mind, and with talking to the mum in this family, we have decided that the most important interventions for them would be done by drawing up an eco map showing the different levels at which individuals and families interact on an everyday basis, considering the influences that come from individuals, families and society and in return have an impact upon them (p 47, Social Work Practice, parker and bradley) and prioritizing what was most important for this family. It was decided in discussion with the mum and dad that these things needed to be addressed:

Food and water supplies. These are currently ok as they have diverted their electric water pump on their full water tank to gravity flow, so can access water and they are cooking on a gas barbeque for their meals and have two full gas bottles. This shows the strength of adaptability to their current situation.
Medication supply and support for mum who suffers depression and hasnt long been out of Hospital in Palmerston North for inpatient care in regard to a very serious suicide attempt. If necessary helicoptering
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medical supplies but at this stage mum has enough medication for one month. Family members of dad and a close neighbour are her support system for now.
Generator to be used to keep freezers cold. At present they are sharing their neighbours generator for a few hours a day to keep freezer cold and to heat water for showers. Another generator would be helpful so food doesnt go off. I will touch base with civil defence when I return in regard to any knowledge as to how long before power and phone lines can be fixed.
The dad and a neighbour are both working long hours with their tractors to clear a way through the river and to remove debris around the road between houses to make access to each other easier and hopefully make an alternate way across the river to access vehicles to use on other side to get to town to access supplies as soon as possible.
Lack of income is huge here, due to losses of land and for farmers who now will not get contractors in to do their baleage because they have huge costs in replacing lost stock and floods caused areas of farms to be covered in silt so baleage is not an option. This family maybe have enough money to pay their outgoings for approximately one month then may require assistance, so I will find out what assistance they may be able to access, possibly WINZ, possibly access to donations made to
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banks for flood victims and/or help from Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Lack of communication availability, we need to inform family, especially daughter in Auckland and sister in Feilding that they are ok and will be in contact as soon as phone lines fixed.

Short Term:
Power restoration, find out when likely to happen
Telephone communication restored, again find out when this is likely to happen
Pressure on parents relationship with dad spending very little time at home as helping prepare new access across river and helping others in community dig holes to bury dead cattle and helping rebuild fences to keep in their livestock that they have left. Mum is left to occupy children all the time and is adjusting to cooking on a bbq for all meals and finding ways to conserve water usage etc. This is putting pressure on her somewhat fragile mental health. She gets on well with her neighbours wife so some support from her has been offered to mum and accepted by mum.

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Medium Term:
Bridges fixed so the family can commute out of the valley in vehicles for the children to attend school and dad may be able to find paid work helping repair fences etc, using his skills in woodwork and farm fencing experience.
Mum can then also access her community mental health team for her counselling sessions too. Until then we will have to arrange the community mental health team to call her regularly by phone when the lines are fixed.
At this time also the feeling of isolation will be finally over for this community with access being restored, and milk tankers etc will be able to get back to these farms which will assist in income restoration.

Long Term:
Rebuilding family livelihood. This is a huge issue for this family because the baleage contracting season has now been totally wiped out for this year so dad will have to find other employment and this may mean him travelling back to Auckland for work as a boatbuilder which is his trade. This could cause other issues for this family but we will deal with that if and when it occurs.

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The effectiveness of the ecological perspective can be limited by a continuing imbalance- that is, greater emphasis on either the person or the environment. One consequence has been the tendency of practitioners to avoid environmental interventions in favour of changing people in isolation from their life situations because the environment is often seen as intractable and difficult to affect??? (Kemp, Whittaker, & Tracy, 1997).
I feel that as a social/community worker the effects of these floods will be long term, especially financially for this small rural community who rely on their land and animals for their family income. Long after everyone else has forgotten about the immediate influence the floods have had, these families are still trying to cope with reduced income from land and animal loss, major repairs to whats left of their farms and the fact that for most of these families, this is their sole income. The effects in the long term could put marriages and partnerships under pressure because of the effect on their lifestyle. The children have missed some schooling etc putting the burden on the families to teach these kids at home and having them underfoot all the time could add undue pressure to the mums.

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Many extra hours must be put in to an already time constrained community to restore to the best of their ability their community and build up their income again.

In true reflection of myself having lived through the floods as part of this small rural community, it is important that all members of a family are spoken to to get an accurate assessment, this was not done for us. The only social service involved was that a rural support worker came out on the helicopter at day three after the flood and offered all the families boxes of food and asked those who met the helicopter if there were any families in need of any other resources, to which they were reassured by these people that the community had rallied around and were looking after each other. There was no further contact from any services.

If I was a social worker in this situation, I would want to personally visit each house to make sure everyone was coping with the situation and also for my own peace of mind by seeing for myself what conditions they had to contend with to report back to my supervisor the true picture these people were facing. Also in visiting as many houses as possible would show the community that after complete isolation and no input from outside the community for a whole week that there was people out
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there who cared about us and willing to work with us to make the changes needed and adapting to their new life.
As a reasonably close knit community we coped well considering the complete isolation we suffered as we worked together and had supplies we could share to keep us going.
I would not like to think how we would have coped if any medical emergency rose but thankfully this did not happen.
Each person, even from the same family would have different ecological perspectives as every individual has different world views and places different orders of importance for each other. This can change the outcome, depending on how many of the family are involved in the assessment process. Dad was interviewed separately for his thoughts and opinions on the importance and priority of issues.

I feel that an ecological framework is a good base for working with these families but certainly not the only tool to be used. The emphasis would be strengths based, with a holistic approach for overall mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being for all concerned.
It would also be hard to put a time frame on the help needed as the after effects of these floods would bring new issues as time went by. It would depend on the agency you work for and the time allotted for this case.
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In summary, I feel that starting with an ecological perspective is a good idea so that the social worker can see what is happening for this family both within their relationships and their environment so that you know what influences this familys decisions and can help both the social worker and the family to see on a visual level the areas of issue and work together on the priorities for coping with their situation. The ecological framework definitely shows that more than just the familys own interpersonal relationships are affected by such a disaster as the Manawatu floods on the 15th February 2004. If you were not to consider the environment in dealing with this family you would only have a small view of issues, whereas with adding in the effects of the environment, you get a bigger picture of whats facing them and the change that has occurred from these floods that they have to adapt to.

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Bronfenbrenner (1979)

Coady, N, and Lehmann, Peter. Theoretical Perspectives for Direct Social Work Practice

Gitterman, A. & Germain, C.B. (2008) The Life Model of Social Work Practice : Advances in Theory and Practice. New York : Columbia University Press.

Kemp, Whittaker, & Tracy, (1997).

Maslow, A.H., (1973). Dominance, Self Esteem, Self Actualization : Germinal Papers, Monterey, Calif., Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.

Mattaini, Mark A. and Lowery, Christine T. (2007). Foundations of Social Work Practice: A Graduate Text, 3rd Edition, Washington D.C.: NASW Press

Netting, F., Kettner, P., and McMurtry, S. Social Work Macro Practice

Pardeck, John T. (1996). Social Work Practice : An Ecological Approach. Westport, Conn. : Auburn House.

Pardeck, J.T and Yuen, K.O. (2006). Social Work for the Twenty-first Century. Praeger Publishers, U.S.A.

Parker, J. and Bradley, G. (2003). Social Work Practice : Assessment, Planning, Intervention and Review. Exeter: Learning Matters

Sands, (2001).

Trotter, C. (2006). Working with Involuntary Clients. Sage Publications, London.

Ungar, (2002).2011-03-18T00:00:00HTML:


Manawatu Floods / Flooding – February 2004 – Information Central … – CachedThe Big Flood Feb 2004: Maori backlash against Pakeha racism – Cached ??“ SimilarThe February 2004 floods in the Manawatu, New Zealand … by P Bag – 2005 – Related…/20080610-015002-JoHNZ_2005_v44_2_Fuller.pdf – Similar
The Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management: Photo … Flood events 2004 continued. ??? … ??? Photo library – Cached ??“ Similar

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