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The aim of this assignment is to critically discuss the importance of child development theories for social work practice. Therefore, I will be concentrating on the psychoanalytic, behavioural, cognitive, and social perspective. In addition, I will explain the evidence, strengths, and limitations of each perspective and how they might inform social work practice. The key perspective I will focus on is Attachment theory. I will make references to how it might be used critically in social work practice, and conclude by discussing the importance of anti-discriminatory practice.
According to the psychoanalytic perspective, children move through a series of stages in which they confront conflicts between biological drives and social expectations . How these conflicts are resolved determines the person’s ability to learn, to get along with others, and to cope with anxiety.
A special strength of the psychoanalytic perspective is its emphasis on the individual’s unique life history as worth of study and understanding. Psychoanalytic theory has also inspired a wealth of research on many aspects of emotional and social development . Freud’s (1923) theory was the first to stress the influence of the early parent-child relationship on development, however, his perspective was eventually criticised. First, it overemphasised the influence of sexual feeling in development. Second, because it was based on problems of the sexually repressed, well-to-do adults in the 19th century Victorian society, it did not apply in other cultures. Finally, Freud (1923) had not studied children directly. In addition, many psychoanalytic ideas, such as psychosexual stages and ego functioning, are so vague that they are difficult or impossible to test empirically (Crain, 2005; Thomas, 2005).
It is true that psychoanalytic thinking has held a fascination for social workers for well over half a century. Yet it must be observed that social workers have never pretended to be peripatetic analysts, serving Freud (1923) to the poor in undiluted measure. They have found some aspects helpful. The concept of defense mechanisms, the way the past influences the present, and the debilitating effects of anxiety have all encouraged social workers to reflect on their clients and their practice in a more thoughtful way. On the whole, social workers have taken what is useful from psychoanalysis and its derivations and adapted it to their own situation.
Psychoanalysis has helped social workers to understand personality, behaviour and emotional suffering. It has proved less useful in assisting social workers to develop a set of detailed prescriptions and methods appropriate for use in everyday practice. Even so, let us be in no doubt. The worker chooses to view her client with a broad Freudian framework displays a highly distinctive style of practice. It can be detected at each stage of the social work process. Poor childhood experiences causes clients to suffer particular emotional problems and personality disorders. These upset the clients emotional, interpersonal, and social functioning. Therefore, the aim is to help them to mature, to become less emotionally fragile, and to function in society. One of the main vehicles through which these aims have been pursued is that of trusting, nurturing and long-term relationship between the worker and the client. To understand the dynamics of this relationship is a critical skill.
Child study was also influenced by a very different perspective. According to behaviourism, directly observable events, stimuli and responses, are the appropriate focuses of study . Behaviourism had a major impact on practices with children. Behaviour modification consists of procedures that combine conditioning and modelling to eliminate undesirable behaviours and increase desirable responses. It has been used to relieve a wide range of serious developmental problems, such as persistent aggression, language delays, and extreme fears (Martin and Pear, 2007). Nevertheless, many theorists believe that behaviourism offered too narrow a view of important environmental influences. These extend beyond immediate reinforcements, punishments, and modelled behaviours to children’s rich physical and social worlds. They have been criticised for underestimating children’s contributions to their own development.
Unlike many social work theories, behavioural knowledge is capable of direct application in human affairs, which offers precise methods of practice. Behavioural social work not only tells the worker how to understand what is going on, it prescribes in step-by-step detail how to do something about it if that is the wish of the participants. If people can shape other people’s behaviour through the pattern of their responses, we can use this fact to therapeutic advantage
By modifying and fixing interpersonal stimuli and responses, we can eliminate undesirable behaviours. Teaching people to respond differently has a powerful effect on a situation’s behavioural content. The shy can learn to be bold, the urges of the impulsive can be kept in check, and the vicious circles of bloody-mindedness can give away to benign spirals of mutual reward.
As a group, behaviourists have introduced social workers to a style of practice which is in marked contrast to the psychodynamic tradition. It emphasises on the present rather than the past. There is preference for taking note of the external and observable and not the internal and reported. Yet both approaches share a view that the failings lie in the individual and that it is to the individual that treatments are addressed. Thinking for both Freudians and behaviourists is causal and scientific. It is the individual and his pathological state that has to be treated and cured before that person can be pronounced socially fit. It is on this basis that we can consider both approaches within the same paradigm, with the reward going to the behaviourists for the most unequivocal support for science and its application.
According to cognitive theorist Piaget (1953), children actively construct knowledge as they manipulate and explore their world; he did not believe that children’s learning depends on reinforcers, such as rewards from adults . Piaget’s (1953) theory had an active rather than passive view of the child, in which he revealed important invariants in cognitive development. In addition, he suggested that perceptual-motor learning is more important for development rather than language.
Nevertheless, Piaget’s (1953) theory has been challenged. Researchers concluded that he underestimated the competencies and ability of children, and that the maturity of children’s thinking may depend on their familiarity with the task presented and the complexity of knowledge sampled (Siegler and Svetina, 2006). Furthermore, many studies show that children’s performances on Piagetian problems can be improved with training . Critics also point out that the stages pay insufficient attention to social and cultural influences, and the resulting wide variation in thinking that exists among children of the same age.
Sheldon (1998) identifies numerous important ideas underlying cognitive-behaviour therapy, which are all directly applicable in social work . The main aim of this therapy in social work is to increase desired behaviours and reduce undesired behaviours, so that people respond to social events appropriately. This increases their capacity for leading a full and happy life. Insight into people’s problems often helps because it speeds learning, but there is no evidence that it is necessary or that it I enough to get people to change. Warm personal relationships between worker and client help in behavioural work as in other forms of social work. Therefore, it can be used in many social work situations.
Cognitive practice has developed strongly because of its effectiveness, clarity, structured assessment, and action sequences, which can help engage clients, focus practice and command management and policy support . Social skills’ training is more widely used than conventional behavioural methods, with reasons to the lack of impact of this technique. The specific techniques are distant from the standard non-directive approach of social workers, and have procedures and terminologies which they may feel uncomfortable with. There have also been some ethical criticisms which, while not wholly valid, might have reinforced the reserve of social workers and the feeling that this is not in the style of social work.
There is a great deal of research on the social development of children. Bowlby (1969) was one of the earliest theories of social development, where he believed that early relationships with caregivers play a major role in child development and continue to influence social relationships throughout life. Bowlby’s (1969) and Ainsworth’s (1978) work made a significant contribution to the understanding of the behaviour of those children whose attachment bonds had been disrupted because of parental death or as a result of childhood abuse or neglect. These studies formed the basis for further investigations into the implications of insecure early attachments for child development, adult behaviour, and the capacity to create and maintain relational bonds with others. Their research helped to clarify the notion of intergenerational transmission of trauma and the development of mental disorders, including personality disorders (Farber, 2000).
Over time, researchers have established that children’s affectional bonds with their caregivers are rooted in psychological, as well as biological motives. Attachment is the strong, affectionate tie we have with special people in our lives that lead us to experience pleasure when we interact with them and to comfort by their nearness in times of stress. Attachment studies across cultures have found that children seek a primary attachment with one caregiver and that most children are securely attached. Moreover, with the advance of attachment patterns affect later adult personality styles and that children frequently develop an attachment style similar to that of their parents.
Attachment theory traces its origins to several scientific and social fields, most notably psychoanalysis, social work, and behaviourism. Bowlby (1973) believed that answers to the most perplexing questions surrounding human attachment, were not available from any single discipline. Attachment theory and research are closely aligned with the traditional interests of the social work profession. They have both emphasised infant and child welfare, the importance of relationships with primary caregivers, and the contributions of the extramural environment in shaping human functioning and pathology.
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