Historically death was a familiar part of everyday life, in modern day society grieving has become a private affair, fertile ground for the examination of the impact of the application of the ecological and strengths perspective.
This essay will investigate the impact of grief on a family, married couple with two preschoolers, having experienced the sudden death of an older child. In doing so the ecological perspective is explained, in terms of the interactions between people and their environments, and the strengths perspective, which seeks to empower people.It is then argued that the application of the ecological perspective when using a strengths approach supports the social worker to achieve a collaborative role with the client within the family environment with its special features. The importance of the social worker working with people as individuals is introduced, thereby recognizing individual grieving within that of the family dynamic, including the fit between the individual and their environment.
Concepts such as adaptation, stress and coping and human relatedness, competence, self direction and self esteem are investigated as they relate to the people in their environment.The strengths perspective, which views the client in terms of their strengths, assumes that the client has the knowledge that defines their situation and that human beings are resilient, is applied. Concluding, that the ecological and strengths perspective, are important in forming a collaborative partnership in working with a family and their grief. Historically death was a familiar part of everyday life.
Life expectancy was reasonably short, infant mortality high and care of the elderly, sick and dying was carried on at home.Children witnessed death at home, and were included in the family rituals surrounding death, thereby becoming familiar with the natural cycle of life. The extended family usually lived nearby and supported each other McKissock (1998). Furthermore; Modern public health policies increased life expectancy and technological advances took birth and death out of the home.
A changed work economy moved family members too far from each other to provide a solid support system in times of crisis, and the role of primary carer was often taken over by professionals (McKissock, 1998, p. 11)Thus for many people the ability to cope with death has been lost in their life. “Bereavement counseling and death education have emerged to fill the gap created by the institutionalization and depersonalization of death. McKissock (1998, p.
11). To understand this phenomenon an understanding of the ecological and strengths perspectives is useful. The ecological perspective is “concerned with the interactions between people and their environments Important concepts include stress, coping and adaptation as well as competence, autonomy, social networks and organizations”, Compton and Galway (1999, p. 289).
Germain (1991) explains, “human beings ….
strive to achieve, individually and collectively, an adaptive balance with their environment. ” (p12). The person: environment relationship is transactional in that reciprocal exchanges between entities are changed with consequences for both. It is this transactional concept “that enables the social worker to maintain a dual focus on both person and environment” Germain (1991, p17) and “facilitates our taking a holistic view of people and environments as a unit in which neither can be fully understood except in the context of its relationship to the other”, Germain (1991, p.
6). Central to the ecological concept is adaptation which is action-oriented.”Human beings strive throughout live for the best person: environment ‘fit’ possible between their needs, rights, capacities and aspirations, on the one hand, and the qualities of their environment, on the other Germain (1991, p. 17).
To enable this process to occur when their person: environment fit is threatened; a social worker may assist their client by practicing from a strengths perspective.The strengths perspective seeks to empower people, to enable them to recognize options open to them. Understand the barriers they face, surface their hopes, and align them with their inner and outer resources to improve the quality of their life. Saleebey, (2001).
Thus the emphasis shifts from the client’s problems and deficits to their strengths and from the traditional social work practice of worker-directed effort to a client-directed effort and the social worker operating in collaboration with the client. Blundo, (2001).Therefore a social worker assisting a bereaved family may need to start at the beginning of the grieving process. They will need to work individually and with the family as a whole.
“Everyone’s response to grief, how it is expressed and how it is coped with, will be different” Bouvard (1998, p. 31). Germain (1991) argues, that “adaptedness and adaptation, and stress and coping; withholding of power as oppression ; and human relatedness, competence ,self direction and self esteem are all viewed as transactional in nature”, (p. 17).
When confronted with death all family members will struggle to cope in their own way. There are two major functions of coping: “problem solving (what needs to be done to reduce, eliminate or manage the stressor) and regulating the negative feelings aroused by the stressor”, Coyne and Lazarus (1980) cited Germain (1991 p. 21) These are interdependent functions and “progress in problem solving leads to the restoration of self-esteem and to the more effective regulation of the negative feelings generated by the stressful demand” Germain (1991, p. 1).
Furthermore problem solving is difficult until the negative feelings are under control and that they are hard to regulate unless there is a sense of progress being made in resolving the issue. “What seems to take place in successful coping with severe stressors is a partial blocking out of negative feelings and even enough blocking out of the situation’s reality, so that hope is maintained and some problem solving can begin”, Germain (1991, p. 22).After a sudden death, initially there is a sense of unreality, shock, a dreamlike state which surrounds the grieving person which prevents them believing what has happened or being able to feel it, The death is too devastating to take in all at once and it is like acting out a part of the drama, Gatenby (1998).
Bouvard explains, “this period of numbness actually gives us the time we need to mobilize our resources and cope with the impact of the loss when we are more able to,” (p. 4), and further states “the period of numbness, which is the very early phase of grief, shelters us until we are able to feel the very painful emotions which come with loss, (p. 35).Germain (1991) quoting Lazarus and Launier (1978) describes “adaptedness, by definition, expresses some degree of person: environment fit.
.. Life stress, however, may, express either a positive or a negative relationship”, (p. 18).
A negative or poor person: environment relationship is “when actual or perceived environmental demands or harms exceed the actual or perceived capacity for dealing with them.This arouses negative and often disabling feelings, such as anxiety, guilt, rage, helplessness, despair, and lowered self-esteem”, Germain (1991 P. 19). This elicits a sense, of being in jeopardy, Germain (1991).
It is a perceptual and transactional force which if not managed effectively may lead to impaired growth, development, health, and social functioning, Germain (1991). The family may derive a great sense of relief to know that the feelings they are experiencing are a normal grieving process, and there is hope that their lives will improve.Tonkin (1997) explains “when someone close to you has died, there will be big and small adjustments which have to be made in your life. It’s really about adapting to changes in your life, your thoughts, your hopes, your beliefs and your future”, (p.
3). There is no set process that everyone follows when grieving, and members of the same family will show grief in diverse ways. This is because specific factors affect the grief of individuals differently, Tonkin (1997).When parents lose a child they not only have to face their own grief, and cope with possible strains on their marriage but they have their other children to continue to care for and guide them, through their grieving process.
A couple generally will have expectations of mutual support; however men and women have different coping styles which can cause irritation and stress. “A woman may express her grief through tears and talking, whereas a man may seem stoic by maintaining silence and plunging himself in his work. Although he is in great pain, his wife might conclude that he’s not feeling anything”, Bourvard (1998, p. 0).
Consequently because a preschooler does not appear to be grieving a parent may think that the child does not feel any loss.To assist a family, especially the preschool children a social worker may look towards the work by Bronfenbrenner to seek understanding. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model places the family in a “microsystem, nested within a wider framework of social and economic influences which either support or undermine the capacity of the microsystem to support children’s well-being. , Smith (1998, p.
277).Bronfenbrenner’s levels of the environment (micro, exo, macro and meso) all influence a child’s development, and the family is influenced by the society in which it lives, Smith (1998). McMillan (1991) explains that Bronfenbrenner is “emphasizing that the most significant factors influencing learning and development occur as a result of interaction among people who matter to each other” (p. 34).
Therefore a social worker assisting this family will look at ways to ensure that the children will process their grief in a manner appropriated for their developmental level and take into consideration the environment in which this occurs.McMillan (1991) explains that at the heart of Bronfenbrenner’s model is the individual’s perception of their environment, (p. 37). Therefore, the meaning of a death in the family for a child is developed in a social context and will be different for each child.
A preschool child is egocentric and sees things in a concrete manner. Gatenby (1998) explains: a pre school child will understand that people exist even when you cannot see them, they can be called back and they can search for them.They probably will want to talk about death but will see it as something that can be reversed or is another kind of life. Preschool children are interested in the physical functions and characteristics of their body, they do not understand the possibility of permanent destruction and may ask “How will she get out of the box and up through the ground when she wakes up? Staudacher (1987).
The language used often reinforces this view for example ‘now they are resting or they closed their eyes and didn’t wake up’. Such language may cause fear for the child, and a fear of going to sleep.Social work practice from a strengths perspective is a useful tool when working from an ecological perspective as it is values families, and builds resilience. “In the strengths perspective the environment is prominent as both a resource and target of intervention”, Early and GlenMaye (2000, p 2).
The family is the primary environment for the preschool children. “Families also share the strengths of other systems in which they are embedded, such as extended family and neighbourhood, from an empowerment perspective this means that families are already competent or they have the capacity to become competent” Early and GlenMaye (2000, p 2).The strengths approach views the client in terms of their strengths and assumes that the client has the knowledge that defines their situation, That human beings are resilient and this can be protected by the strengths practice which attempts to manipulate these factors, which include a supportive family situation, and external factors that instill positive values and reinforces the children’s coping efforts, Early and GlenMaye (2000).As the major focus in practice from the strengths perspective is collaboration and partnership between the client family and social worker, the family would begin by describing their grief, desired goals, and ideas on how to accomplish this.
If the family is so distressed they may not know how to relieve this or improve their lives, however they may have a vision of how they would like their life to be. Practicing from the strengths perspective will assist the family to discover this vision and create opportunities for this to happen, Early and GlenMaye (2000).To identify strengths the social worker may ask, what kind of life does the family want and focus on these aspirations, to build resilience by developing hope for the future and survivor’s pride, Early and GlenMaye (2000). This enables the family see what they already are doing right, (the times they feel happier) and helps to create a vision of how life will be.
Early and GlenMaye (2000) describe that “what ever the family is doing to help the situation is a strength” (p. 6).To build resilience it is important to have a relationship with another “person who cares about and is unwavering in their support of the child under duress ” for example, a grandparent, Saleebey (2001 p. 72), and coping strategies employed may involve the whole family making a Memory book as it helps by feeling close to the dead child again.
The family, talking together about the dead child revives memories of them, and provides comfort when they feel sad, Zagdanski (1993, p. 9).Early and GlenMaye (2000) further describe “that the social worker demonstrates the principles of the strengths approach through having high expectations for family participation, involvement, and success. This creates a climate of optimism, hope and possibility”, (p.
6), and reminds the family of goals accomplished and an improved situation. Thus, working from a strengths perspective, empowers the family. They take charge of their lives, and are able to attribute change to their own actions, in the face of an event outside their control.The family is empowered to continue, thereby ensuring a successful disengagement from professional assistance.
Avoid victim status, and the children grow up resilient, confident and well adjusted to a normal life event. In conclusion, grieving has become lost as a part of everyday life, and is seen today as a private affair. This essay has examined the impact of the application of the ecological and strengths perspectives to a bereaved family.The ecological perspective was explained in terms of the interactions between people and their environments and the impact of grief on the family was investigated.
Empowerment and the ability of clients to recognize options open to them via a strengths approach was explained. It was then argued that the environment, the family is in, had special features and that the application of the ecological perspective, using a strengths approach supports the social worker to achieve a collaborative role.The importance of the social worker working with people as individuals was introduced, thereby recognizing individual grieving within the family dynamic, including the fit between the individual and their environment. The strengths perspective, which views the client in terms of their strengths and assumes that the client has the knowledge that defines their situation also that human beings are resilient, was applied.
Concluding that the ecological and strengths perspective are important in forming a collaborative partnership in working with a family and their grief