The field of social work recognizes the important role of various social work theories in not just understanding each unique situation but also in the critical roles they play in the way they bring order to social workers. Having a proper and thorough understanding of various social work theories helps social workers to clarify the practice for themselves as well as for patients. Social work practices stem from service but the field is, by nature, inherently interdisciplinary. Social work practices and the social world profession at large takes place at the intersection of communities, society, and individuals (Tomar, 2019).
This paper discusses two dominant social work theories that apply to the given case study of the Mitchell family. The theories of Feminism and Strengths Perspective will be looked at in more depth and evaluated for their correlation to the case study.
Feminist social work practices tales its form based on principles that have been derived from the social and political analyses of the women's movement. This approach to socialwork emphasizes the importance of equality between male and female genders. The Feminist theory in social work also encourages and advocates for inclusivity, diversity, democratizedstructures, transformation at every level of intervention, etc. (Hyde, 2013). Feminism advocates for women due to generations of being denied power and privilege because of responsibilities, gender roles assumptions, etc. It is structural oppression of women by denying equality which eventually shapes the standing and position of women merely because they are women and not because of any individual or personal action or circumstance.
Although there continues to be much debate among scholars on what exactly constitutes feminism, there are several common themes and definitions. Hyde (2013) points out that feminist practices and theories fundamentally aim to address a myriad of issues revolving around sexual violence, education, employment equity, child care, poverty, income maintenance, rights to sexual minorities, etc. In the given case study of the Mitchell family, the theories of feminism and feminist social work are apt. Feminist social work began to gain momentum from the 1970s where the professional theory within in the field of social work was developed such as questioning and challenging medial discourse in clinical mental health, gender roles division within families, etc. (Eyal-Lubling&Krumer-Nevo, 2016).
Mitchell is a single parent. She has automatically been given the responsibility to take care of her two children, their health, their education, and general wellbeing. This is where feminist social work intervention is required. There is no indication in the case study of the father (Mark) providing any financial support with the children’s education, let alone rent and expenses. The entire burden has befallen Jennifer. Additionally, Jenifer was not employed before she was separated from Mark which not only indicates the unfair employment skew but also ought to have served as a compelling factor for Mark to provide child support, however, he did not. For the children automatically becoming Jennifer's responsibility after their separation indicates gender inequality in terms of roles and responsibilities, each gender is supposed to assume.
Since Jennifer is a woman, it automatically became her responsibility to stay with the children and provide care. However, it is often an overlooked issue that caring is essentially very hard work (Dominelli, 2002). The various roles which are demanded of Jennifer such as that of a provider, a caregiver, stable support for his children, a childcare worker, etc. have put enormous amounts of pressure on her resulting in their depression. Additionally, socially isolated single mothers often tend to feel a lot more pressure due to the enormous demands of the multiple roles they are expected to fulfill. Hence, in a situation such as Jennifer's, social work intervention serves as emotional support wherein Jennifer may be reminded of her value and reassure her of her existence (Kissman, 1991).
Moreover, Jennifer not being able to afford mental health treatment for her depression challenges one of the key fundamentals of feminism in social work as mentioned previously (Eyal-Lubling&Krumer-Nevo, 2016). The feminist theory serves as a framework to be used by social workers when working with women like Jennifer who present to mental health services. The trauma theory is applicable in Jennifer's case because she has started to suffer from depression due to a lack of financial and emotional support with her life and children. She no longer knows where to live, let alone where to gain an income as she is now unwell. Furthermore, she does not receive any support from Mark who ought to be held equally accountable for his children and must be responsible for providing financial aid, especially since he is working.
As a responsible social worker, the social worker helping Jennifer helped in registering her with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, however, Jennifer runs the risk of not being accepted for funding. However, the theory of feminism in social work is helpful in Jennifer's case due to the gender role imposed on her of parenthood and having to take care of her children on her own with no contribution from Mark, their father. Additionally, the feminist theory also addresses issues of mental health in women and since Jennifer is now suffering from depression, this theory can be used by social workers to address her problem.
The number of studies regarding the use of a strength-based approach with people with severe mental illness has grown over the years (Saleeby, 1996). However, in more recent times, this approach has expanded to cater to a variety of issues faced by individuals.
This social work practice focuses primarily on the strengths of the people, environment, and the community rather than focusing on the problem (School of Social Welfare, n.d.). This approach pays special focus on the capacity of the human being and the strengths such as resilience, resistance, courage, ingenuity, and thriving. The strengths perspective does, however, acknowledge the challenges and difficulties experienced by clients but it does not let that come in the way of improvement. The strengths perspective never limits people to their situations or their traumas, illness, problems, etc. but rather addresses them as challenges that serve as motivations for change. The key principles of the strengths perspective for social work are: to identify every individual, community, group, and family as a resource and a strength; to conduct a systematic assessment of these strengths and resources; to acknowledge and realize that the experiences of trauma, abuse, etc. are injurious to the patient, however, use them as resources of opportunity and strength; etc. (School of Social Welfare, n.d.).
The strengths perspective can be used in Jennifer's case by considering her situation as a challenge and aiming to address it as an opportunity. For example, Jennifer's standing as a single mother having to sing-handedly take care of two children can be used to avail loans that cater to such specific needs. Additionally, Mark can be held accountable for his children especially since they are both still minors. Hence, by mark providing financial support, Jennifer will feel less burdened or worried about funding. Jennifer’s mental and emotional wellbeing is especially crucial because of her profession in child care. Also, the strengths perspective can look at Jennifer’s situation with difficulty finding a house on rent as an opportunity for her to move on to a better phase of life. Jennifer can use this opportunity to find an apartment in another location (although slightly away from her family which she is currently hesitant about). Doing this will not only help Jennifer actually find an affordable place to live but also provide her children with a new environment that may refresh them and bring some joy in their lives since they, too, are suffering emotionally.
The strengths perspective sees the community and the social environment as resources, hence, relocation to another area may be seen as an opportunity according to the strengths perspective (Stuart, 2012). Moreover, people are also seen as having great strength and capacity to learn and grow, therefore, Jennifer being hesitant to move away f4om her friends and doctor can be seen as an opportunity for her to learn and grow on her own, away from her family which may be seen as she is dependent on them. The strengths perspective approach in social work is entirely based on the thought process of the individual.
The theory of feminism and strength perspective is very different from one another. On the one hand, Feminism focuses on the problem and seeing the external environment as a problem and obstacle in the growth process of a woman while the strengths perspective, on the other hand, uses the same environment its advantage and views it as an opportunity rather than a problem. Another difference between these two theories and approaches is that the feminist theory aims to address the problems of an individual as a social and political level while the strengths perspective is one that addresses the issues at an individual level.
The feminist theory promotes social justice and human rights (Turner &Maschi, 2014). The feminist and other empowerment theories are important in social work especially to understand the individual as well as sociopolitical levels of social work intervention. The weakness or limitation of this theory, however, lies in its special focus on women. While feminism does acknowledge men and the need for equality of the sexes, its special attention goes to empowering women often tends to overlook the needs of men. This theory then is hardly suitable for men who undergo similar challenges. The key strength may lay in the exact opposite – that it caters especially to empowering women since women have been disadvantaged for a generation. However, the drawback of this theory is its gender bias and not being able to cater to both sexes equally.
The weakness of the strengths perspective approach lies in its viewing of each situation as an opportunity. This approach often does work, however, in situations such as that of Jennifer suffering from depression; this approach may not be suitable. The problem of depression cannot be taken as an opportunity but ought to rather be addressed as a problem. The key strength of this approach, however, is its perspective of considering an individual's ability to persevere and be resilient in an unfavorable situation. However, this strength can be limiting in cases where the individual is maxed out and needs to be addressed from a different approach.
Some situations and circumstances are often social and political such as patriarchy which has landed Jennifer in the sole responsibility of her children with very little income. In such situations, it is the feminism theory which will be more useful as it addresses the matter at a socio-political level. It is important to consider, however, that although the feminist theory caters to uplifting women, it does not aim to bring down men. However, there are multiple organizations that discriminate against men and many social workers are not well trained to implement the feminist theory in situations when addressing male problems. Female dominated organizations are no feminist when they either do not use the feminist theory on male patients or even when they impose or support patriarchal gender roles on men. It is important to remember that by attempting to advantage the disadvantages, one ought not to disadvantage another. In other words, in an attempt to bring equality for women, it is important to remember not to discriminate against men. Doing this is not the proper application of the feminist theory nor is it feminism at all. Also, doing this will essential just resolve one issue of inequality by starting another issue of inequality.
Both the approaches and theories discussed above can very aptly fit into addressing the Aboriginal issues. Although these theories cannot single-handedly address the problems faced by the Aboriginal community, they, however, be used to address some of the issues such as problems faced by women in the community. The feminist theory can be sued for its approach in addressing both social and political problem while the strengths perspective can be used to remind the Aboriginal people of their strengths as a community deeply rooted in culture and closely associated to the land. Similarly, the strengths perspective can also be used for child rearing practices for better outcomes in the Aboriginal health and Aboriginal child health domain (Geia, Hayes & Usher, 2011).
Social work plays a key role in empowering those in need and social workers ought to be constantly educated with theories. Especially those which are best fit to address the issues of the marginalized such as the Aboriginal community. By using the strengths perspective approach as an early intervention technique can help better the historicaldeficit the Aboriginal community has had to suffer (Geia, Hayes & Usher, 2011). Exiting approaches to address Aboriginal issues focus primarily on the problems. However, the strength based strengths perspective approach to shifts the focus from the problems o the strengths of the community and the families of the community. Hence, when seeking practice in the Indigenous community, social workers ought to show respect for their culture while engaging with them and establishing good partnership to deal with issues.
Aboriginal people face complex and multifaceted problems such as poverty, substance abuse, child maltreatment, etc. In a research conducted by Deborah et al (2020), using the strengths perspective was proven successful in the Indigenous community. By constantly reminding the individual of his or her resilience and power, this approach aims to focus on an individual’s existing inner perspective and inner strength. The effects of colonization are still devastatingly visible in the Aboriginal community and Aboriginal women are further marginalized for being women. Hence, with the help of the feminism theory, social workers can effectively tackle the issues of oppressing women and bring out gender equality in the Aboriginal community.
Social worth theories and approaches play a fundamental role in not just addressing the issues of the individual/patient, but also addressing issues of the society at large. While specific theories such as the feminist theory aim to address special and political issues faced by the individuals by looking the issue as a problem that needs fixing, other such as the strengths perspective approach views each problem as an opportunity and aims to turn the problem into a favorable thing from which the individual can gain something. The aforementioned theories along with multiple other social work theories are used to address specific cases. When it comes to the Aboriginal community, there is a need to address the problems faced by the community from the grassroots level since they have been disadvantaged for decades.
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