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Psychology for Social Work Practice

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Young People
Wordcount: 2106 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Child development is the process of human growth and changes from birth through adolescence (Smith et al 2005). It is the study of how children develop perception, thought processes, emotional reactions and patterns of social behaviour (Mussein, 1990). Observation is a vital tool in analysing and understanding child development and holds key implication of effectiveness of social work practice in recent year (McKinnon 2008).

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The aim of this report is to analyse my observation of a two years three month old girl. My interpretation of the behaviour observed will be analysed critically using psychological theories with detail of the steps carried out in other to gain consent for the observation. Furthermore, the skills required for my observation will be described, in relation to my future practice, and some relevant psychological theories; stages of human development will be discussed including their relevance. Finally I will reflect on my learning and how it applies to social work as a profession.

Child and Family Confidentiality

Prior to the observation being conducted, I familiarized myself with the General Social Care Council (GSCC) (2002) Code of Practice to enable me to carry out the observation in a professional way. The child chosen for observation is my colleagues’ friend’s daughter, at the preliminary stage, I requested if I could observe her child for my coursework. My observers mother informed me she would discuss the issue with her husband and get back to me. A few days later, I was invited to meet both parents and was able to explain the aim of my assignment.

Having explained my aim, I assured them that confidentiality will be maintained; their daughter’s identity will not be disclosed. I reassured the couple that their privacy will be respected and the daughter’s wellbeing will be paramount throughout. Consequently, I was given a verbal consent by both parents with approved signatures on the letter of agreement.

Child Details

As stated above, for anonymity, the child’s name will not be mentioned, but will be referred to as Child A for the purpose of confidentiality as stated in GSCC 2002 section (2). Child A is a two years, three month old female. The observation took place at Child A’s family residence; she is the second child of the family, the only female, lives with her parents and her older brother of which the family composition is middle class, the aim of the observation is to observe Child A’s behaviour and also to learn how different behaviours relate to different theories.

Skills required for structured observation

Planning, respect, communication, working as partnership, reflection, listening and being focused are necessary skills required in carrying out structured observation.

In Child’s A selection process, I established a relationship of collaborative/partnership work between myself and Child A’s parents, listening to Child A communication with her family during observation has given me the insight of the importance of attentive listening through structured observation (CDWC 2007a: 7-8). The need to be focused by looking closely at Child A and not deviating from my aim has made me to understand how child learns and develop (HNCRC 2007). I also use reflective skills for child observation, as it enables me to reflect on what I have seen and provide accurate record of child behaviour (Wood et al 2005).

Psychological theories and their relevance to social work practice

Psychologists have defined behaviour in terms of bodily processes and social psychology defines it in terms of people’s interactions. For example Skinner (1953) believes that behaviour modification is based on operant conditioning and it is a way of assisting someone to change their unacceptable behaviour by offering a reward or punishment. From my observation in (Appendix week1), Child A, cries whenever she needs any item from Child B, she is aware of the attention gained whenever she cries and this will result in her getting what she wants. However, this behaviour could have negative consequences as well. Skinner will relate Child A’s behaviour as an operant conditioning, as Child A continues to cry for her older brother’s toys, having known that her behaviour leads to a particular consequences. She behaves this way as she receives attention from her brother by always getting back the toys she wanted, which is reinforcement with reward, a behaviourist perspective.

On the other hand, the study of behaviour by Bandura (1977) a Social perspective would disagree with Skinner, as Skinner would say that Child A’s behaviour is observational based on learning imitation. Child A may have seen someone at her school or a social gathering displaying such behaviour and so copies the same behaviour. Bandura (1971) suggested that learning moral rules by the individual is not in response to their exposure to punishment or reward, but by observing the behaviour of other people (Nicolson et al 2006: 23).This relates to Child A’s behaviour in (Appendix week1) and shows how the end result may not be as significant as the behaviourist perspective would have believed.

As a professional social worker, working with people from different backgrounds it is important to have knowledge of psychological theories as it’s a vital tool that can be used to understand and interpret behaviour in social work practice. Also social workers need to have a wide knowledge of different cultures and be sure when they are applying psychological perspectives they have an objective mind taking into account individual differences such as ethical, cultural and religious.

Stages of human development and its relevance to social work practice.

The study of human development is the progressive behavioural changes in an individual from birth. Psychologists have identified the changes that occur at a similar age for most children, from research and evidence, these changes are dependent to some extent on maturation, although certain environmental factors must be present for development to take place and so it’s difficult to decide whether the appearance of a new ability is simply due to learning or maturation (Woods 2000:5). For instance, Jean Piaget (1932) cited in Wood (2000) proposes that children think differently from adults, their knowledge is structured differently and shows their understanding developed in the following stages:

First stage is the Sensory Motor Stage (Birth to 18 months)

At this first stage the child watches moving object, reach out towards it and is able to grab the object, the child will put the object in the mouth and try to explore it by biting and smelling.

Second stage is Pre-Operational Stage (18 months- 7 years old)

During this stage the language are developed using words and expression, which enable the child to talk about things and express ideas.

Third stage is Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years)

The child is able to centre more logical thinking and able to understand that it is possible for there to be two different view of the same thing at the same time and able to decentre.

While the final stage is Formal Operational Stage (11 years and older)

The child can manipulate ideas in its head, for example being able to calculate by thinking through imagining the impossible sequence.

From cognitive perspective, Piaget also believed that the environment can affect child’s development but, argued that it will not prevent a child from skipping the cognitive development stage. However, he would have interpreted Child A’s behaviour, as due to the fact that she is in the pre-operational stage and she demonstrates this behaviour by using ability and memory. Her thinking is in a non-logical manner as she suddenly cries for her mother’s attention in other to get what she wants (Woods 2000:227-231).

Relevance to social work practice

The relevance of this observation to social work practise is that the use of theories would help to understand individuals’ behaviour. As a result social workers need to acquire skills and knowledge to enable them to understand the reason why a particular event occurs. To achieve this, social workers need to be aware of sensitive issues around them (Thompson 2005). However this observation process increased my understanding of Child A; as a very happy chid, to appreciate her skills and unique qualities and to come into her world and see things from her perspective (Faulkner, 1995). This has become so relevant, as the failing of professionals in the Laming Report (2003) highlights; which emphasises the need for professionals to move the focus away from the parents and back to the child (Copper, 2005).

Reflect on my experience

In reflecting on my role on child observation, I have learnt how to focus my attention and reflect on it afterwards, trying to make my presence less obvious. It is good practice to avoid assumption and being non-judgemental is vital. Each individual is different and their needs must be tailored to individual requirements. I now understand that self-reflection is a continuous process during observation, which is to reflect on what I am doing and reflect on my reaction and interpretation of what took place by thinking, writing and recording report. Payne (1997) defines reflection as to imagine alternative ways to understand situations using observation.

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In addition, looking into different theories and perspectives has given me the insight into how they can be applied to practice. Children also need to be encouraged to join in to activities that they may not be interested in, taking into account their reasons for not interacting. I have also learnt that children use gesture to express what they want to say if they are not in the mood to speak. This is of an interest to me as I want to work with children with special needs who are not able to communicate through speaking and use their behaviour as a way of communicating instead. As such this assignment has made me feel a little more confident in approaching people.


In conclusion, I have learnt greatly through observation and reading. I have realised that working from one’s own personal perspective can be oppressive and it is better to use different perspectives in dealing with individuals. I have also gained knowledge on behaviourism and how it can be used to relate to children’s behaviour which is relevant to social work practice and not to have general assumption about children as there are individual differences. I have also acquired good knowledge and understanding of child development.


Bandura A (1971) Social Learning Theory General Learning Press

Children’s Workforce Development Council (CDWC 2007) (online) accessed on 25/11/2010 at http://www.cwdcouncil.org.uk accessed on 09/12/10

Copper A (2005) Surface and Depth in the Victoria Climbe Inquiry Report Child and Family Social Work 10 1-9

Faulkner D (1995) Play Self and the Social World In Barnes P (ed) Personal Social and Emotional Development of Children

General Social Care Council (2002) (online) accessed on 26/11/2010 at http://www.socialworkconnections.org.uk/content.php?id=47

HNCRC (2007) The early years Foundation Stage: Effective Practice Observation Assessment and Planning

Laming Report (2003) (online) accessed on 10/11/2010 at http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_110711.pdf

McKinnon F (2008) Child Observation and Professional Practice In Ruch G (ed) Post-Qualifying Child Care Social Work Developing Reflective Practice Sage

Mussein P (1990) (7th ed) Child Development Harper and Row publishers

Nicolson P Bayner R and Owen J (2006) (3rd ed) Applied Psychology for Social Workers

Payne M (1997) (2nd ed) Modern Social Work Theory Macmillan

Skinner B F (1953) Science and Human Behaviour Macmillan

Smith P C H and Blades M (2005) Understanding Children Development (4th ed) Blackwell Publishers

Thompson N (2005) Understanding Social Work Preparing for Practice Palgrave Macmillan

Woods B (2000) Basics in Psychology Hodder & Stoughton

Wood M Taylor J (2005) Early Childhood Studies: An Holistic Introduction Hodder Arnold


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