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Social work case study: Young and single mother

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Published: Tue, 11 Apr 2017

General Category of Service User: Level One

Erikson’s ‘Stages of Human Development’ (Kalat, 2010, p.173) divides a human’s life into stages. Each stage highlights specific tasks which have to be completed before moving onto the next stage. Each stage creates its own physical, social and emotional conflicts. These stages help to determine where a person is in their life, rather than basing it on their age. Rachel Clark is nineteen years old, and is at the physical stage of a young adult, late teens to early twenties. However, as she has not yet developed her identity, it is fair to say she is still at the stage of an adolescent, early teens. Erikson greatly emphasised the adolescent period, as it is a fundamental stage for a person to develop their identity. The main conflict at this stage is better known as identity versus role confusion. Since moving back to Northern Ireland from Liverpool, Rachel had to move from one friend’s house to another before finally finding a place of her own. This may have affected Rachel’s confidence and increased her stress. Prior to meeting with Rachel it is important to consider where she is now living and who her peers are.

Theories such as ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ (Taylor & Devine, 1993, p.44) is relevant to Rachel’s case as it is important to understand if her psychological needs are being met in order for her to grow. In an attempt to address unmet need, the use of interventions, such as assessment is proposed and these requirements are legislated for in the Children Acts across the UK. Assessment is used to ‘…make possible informed decisions about meeting client needs’ (Taylor & Devine, 1993, p.7) Assessment frameworks such as; Understanding the Needs of Children in Northern Ireland (UNOCINI) are used to not only assess the child but also to assess the parents’ capacity to meet the needs of the child. Additionally, assessment is used to help the service user and worker to identify any areas which require growth and change. The UNOCINI framework is also in line with legislation such as; the Children (NI) Order (1995) and Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (1998); right to respect for private and family life (legislation, n.d.), which are also fundamental while working with Rachel’s case.

Additionally, the stages of Egan’s ‘Skilled Helper Model’ can assist in providing a ‘basic framework for the helping process’ (Egan, 2002, p.25). Each of these stages are a set of tasks based around a theme that assist clients in moving forward to help develop opportunities and provide assistance in managing problems.

Information specific to the service user/s: Level two

Rachel Clark is a nineteen year old, who is currently residing in Northern Ireland. She is a single parent to a son named Jamie, two years old. Rachel’s parents divorced when she was fifteen. Following this, her mother and twelve year old brother, Mark, moved to Liverpool with Mrs Clark’s boyfriend, Gavin. Rachel was unable to settle in Liverpool and quickly lost interest in her education. Rachel became pregnant at sixteen and gave birth to her son, Jamie, at seventeen. Rachel’s relationship with Jamie’s father ended before Jamie was born. Rachel returned to Northern Ireland six months ago with Jamie. Following this, Rachel had to move from one friend’s home to another until she was granted rented accommodation from a local housing association. It has also been mentioned that Rachel’s grandmother lives nearby and provides support for Rachel on a daily basis. There has been reason for concern with Rachel’s situation following a call from one of her neighbours, they wish to remain anonymous. It has been stated that Rachel is ‘partying all night and sleeping all day’, there is a collection of rubbish within Rachel’s garden and it has been reported that Jamie has been heard crying on occasions.

Prior to the initial interview with Rachel, it is important to have a clear overview of objectives and aims prepared. The main aim is to engage with Rachel and some objectives may include:

  • To find out if there is any truth in the allegations made against Rachel.
  • If Rachel is acquiring the full financial/emotional support available to her.
  • What kind of support she receives from her grandmother and to establish if respite may be required to give both Rachel and her grandmother a break from Jamie.

As Rachel is a young mother, it is important to make sure she is receiving all the help and support that is available. These include financial support, housing support and any child maintenance that is available to her. Although Jamie’s father is not on the scene, Rachel will still be able to claim child maintenance. This is perhaps something that could be discussed with Rachel. The financial help available to Rachel is also something that could be discussed, to make sure she is receiving all the financial support possible. It is stated that Rachel receives daily support from her grandmother, but it does not state what kind of help or what age her grandmother is. It may also be important to consider if respite may be required for both Rachel and her grandmother, to allow them both to have a break from Jamie at times.

Specific Phase of Work/Tuning in to SU’s feelings/anticipations of potential SU objectives: Level three.

A key skill during the preliminary phase of social work is to develop a sense of empathy. It is also essential to develop some initial strategies for responding directly to indirect words or actions. This skill is described as ‘Putting the client’s feelings into words’ (Shulman, 2012, p.148). In Rachel’s case, it is important to consider what it might be like to be an adolescent. It is essential to get in touch with possible feelings and anxieties that a client might be feeling. In this case, Rachel may be feeling anxious about what kind of worker or person she is going to be meeting with. It is important to engage with the service user and to establish a rapport to help her feel at ease and to gain her trust. Furthermore, effective preparation highlights your concern for the service user and therefore makes them feel valued.

It is important to consider how Rachel might be feeling during the point of first contact with social services. She may be feeling angry that someone has reported her for neglecting her son, as well as showing anxieties about whether or not she will have her son taken away from her. It is important to acknowledge how difficult it must be for Rachel to have a social worker talk to her about things that could be a sensitive subject.

Tuning in to own feelings, values and skills: Level four.

It is important for me, as a social worker, to tune into my own feelings and possible anxieties before beginning the first session with Rachel. The reason for this, is because if they are not addressed before hand then they may arise during the interview session, cause a distraction and may ultimately affect my ability to help Rachel. To establish a rapport with Rachel, personal values such as respect, honesty and compassion would be beneficial and would help to relax the client when they know you are showing a genuine interest. The values and skills within social work apply to the process of aiding others from a professional perspective. Professional values such as; social justice, respect for their rights and professional integrity will also come into effect before and during the interview with Rachel. A number of communication skills can be used to engage with Rachel. Talking and listening skills such as; paraphrasing, the use of open questions, clarifying, reflecting and summarising would show evidence of genuine interest. Other skills such as body language will show non-verbal indications of my attitude or feelings towards Rachel, so it is important to have an open posture. Likewise, the ability to respond to non-verbal cues are also important during the interview session. But, most importantly, the ability to be empathetic is a fundamental skill which is required to help develop strategies and relate to the service user. The use of non-verbal methods, such as; self-perception questionnaires, a problem tree or using a life line, are other communication skills which could be used to help Rachel interact with me. Additionally, Rachel might feel an impact of oppression with stereotyping based on her gender, age, gender or mental ability to cope. She may feel like the social services are judging her because she is a young, single mum and therefore, she might feel tense and under pressure. To understand how discrimination and inequalities are present in the interaction between service users and social workers, it is useful to consider the situation in terms of three levels. The personal, cultural and societal level, referred to as Thompson’s PCS model (Thompson, 2012, p.33). Thompson’s PCS model is important to comprehend as it states how personal beliefs, cultural norms and structural institutions combine to create oppression in society.


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