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Ecological Systems Theory and Practice: Systems and the Sociocybernetic Map

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Ecological systems theory and practice is part of an ongoing series, and this article will focus on systems and he sociocybernetic map. I will be discussing ecomaps, genograms, and critical events timelines. Bronfenbrenner was not the only person exploring the application of ecological systems theory thinking in 1979. Ann Hartman published a book demonstrating how an ecological approach could be used in family assessment. Her book introduced ecomaps to the assessment lexicon and tool chest.

Ecomap
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Ecomaps are characterized by circles representing individuals and groups and linked in various ways. The linking of the circles provides an indication of the relationships between the systems. A solid line indicates a strong relationship. A dashed line indicates a tenuous or fragile relationship. A jagged line indicates a fractured or stressful relationship. Arrows, plus and minus signs can be used to represent energy flow between the systems.

Ecomaps are a good way to visually represent the client system, the influences on the client, and the energy flow to and from the client system. The worker may use the ecomap to organize the client’s systems to be reviewed in staffing. It may also be used to provide a visual aid when explaining assessment of the problem to the client.

Genogram

SampleGenogramWithoutEmotionalRelationshipsIn 1985, McGoldrick and Gerson introduced a new method for mapping the family system. This new system visualized the client in the context of other relatives including parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children, nephews, and nieces.

The genogram is not only concerned with the relationships among the systems, i.e. the lines connecting them representing relationship. It is also concerned with the health and well-being patterns represented in the individual persons included in the diagram. A thorough genogram will also include medical information including diagnoses.

Because of its inclusion of medical and relational data, the genogram can be used in medical health care settings as well as mental health care settings. Patterns of illness, including mental illness, failure to thrive, family complexity, adverse childhood experiences, substance abuse, and other trauma may be noted in the genogram. The Wikipedia article on genograms provides a useful visual demonstrating symbol usage as well as how the use of color expands the information potential of the genogram.

Adding the Critical Events Timeline

The concept of creating a timeline of events is not new. Perhaps the best known application within social work is Cournoyer’s (2010) explanation offered in his multi-edition text: Social Work Skills Workbook. The timeline provides a visual list of important events that have shaped the life of the client.

Cournoyer suggests two columns. The first column lists the age of the client when the event occurred. The second column lists the event. The age range typically extends from birth, beginning the chart, to the present age of the client.

The critical events timeline can provide a chronological representation of the events that have impacted the client. Timing is critically important in determining the impact of events on the development of the client. For example, childhood experiences have been shown to impact adult choice behavior (Felitti et al, 1998).

Expanding the Use of Mapping Tools

The tools presented, ecomap, genogram, and critical events timeline provide visual means to examine the influences on the client. Both the ecomap and genogram also provide a context for the client as system and the related systems. Yet, neither explains the context from the perspective of the client. This misses the opportunity to begin to clarify the opportunities, contracts, and negotiations that the client perceives—the basis of choice behavior.

Introducing the Sociocybernetic Map

The solution is to include elements of environmental practice in a mapping of systems, perception, and meaning over time. Imagine a combined ecomap/genogram distinguishing between “high influence” and “low influence” relationships completed multiple times corresponding with the ages on the critical events timeline. The point would be to identify the extent, enduring nature, and choice pressure of relationships based on membership, diffusion, relationship characteristics, and historical factors—the ability confirmed by an understanding of complex systems.

The best example is to consider relationships as chess boards. Each chess board represents the choice behavior matrix of individuals as they attempt to reach goals they have set for themselves. In order to understand the choice of the client, you will need to identify the choice options perceived by the client at a given time. A sociocybernetic map providing insight into the complex systems impacting the choice can provide a model of the chess boards, and possible moves, perceived by the client.

Bibliographic Notes

Cournoyer, B. (2010). Social Work Skills Workbook. Independence: Cengage Learning.

Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, Marks JS.Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 1998;14:245–258.

Hartman, A. (1979). Finding families: An ecological approach to family assessment in adoption. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

Hartman, A. (1995). Diagrammatic assessment of family relationships. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 1 , 111-122.

McGoldrick, M. and Gerson, R. (1985). Genograms: In Family Assessment. New York: W. W. Norton.

[EST&P stands for Ecological Systems Theory and Practice. ]

Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.

15 Comments

Don’t Forget About Me I Want The Title And Author of That Book Lol… 😛

Akisha Bethsheba You’re Welcome

Absolutely! Key point – What is ideal to our kids 🙂

It’s important to note that these types of diagrams are not set in stone, rather to be used as guides when assessing the family you are working with. It’s important that social workers be taught how to analyze a situation and make adjustments instead of trying to make families fit into a preconceived mold. No family will be the same and your diagram should match their ideals and whats important to them….not you.

@ Mel – Maybe read last half of my comment?

Tanks for sharing. . It’s is true it takes a village to raise …

The center should be church. If it were the very job you do would be vastly different. This is what’s changed. God became secondary.

Mel Hartsell Mel Hartsell says:

Nah. Men and women don’t always fit the gender role so having arbitrary male/female role model doesn’t necessarily help. Men can do traditional female parenting and women can do traditional male parenting. Your assertion is not based in a the code of ethics that celebrates different people and families. Children who have nontraditional families are not worse off than children from traditional families, except from the social stratification and stigma they face.

Akisha Bethsheba

Yep, that’s what social workers use as a guide! We are systems folks

why is employment not part of this ? It is a vital part of the family function

@ Taina – I agree with what you are saying. Only thing that I would add is that the central start to any child’s life is a Husband/Father/Male Friend + Wife/Mother/Female Friend. Their lives begin that way and so they usually need to start a conversation around that. Also, the head figures in each of their lives play a father-figure and mother-figure role. Life is not ideal for our kids, but they all seek the ideal family.

Taiana Hayes Taiana Hayes says:

The representations of eco grams and the like, such as this pic, seem heteronormative to be, and misrepresentative of the people we work with. It feels like the central family unit should be parent figure /guardian + child, as many might be adopted or raised by single parents or have same-sex parents or perhaps are raised by extended family members. As social workers, it feels important that we have a non-assuming, non-judgemental attitude in all of our work, even in presenting material meant for other social workers.

susana says:

Ecological Systems Theory and Practice: Systems and the Sociocybernetic Map http://t.co/GEPc0eHQwi #socialwork #paradigms #personfirst #grow

Sociocybernetics! I’m surprised that this is not more of a household word by now. #COACHMethod.com… http://t.co/8DUaKVFB9Z

Education

UMSSW’s Financial Social Work Initiative Celebrates 10 Years

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The University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Financial Social Work Initiative (FSWI) during the 2017-2018 academic year with a new Financial Social Work (FSW) Certification Program and numerous activities that honor its achievements over the past 10 years and lay the groundwork for ongoing work in this important, emerging area within social work.

In celebration of this milestone, the FSWI received a leadership grant of $100,000 from The Woodside Foundation, whose trustee, Meg Woodside, MBA, MSW, UMSSW alumna, is a co-founder of the FSWI. The Woodside Foundation is a private family foundation focusing on program development, outreach, and advocacy in the areas of family financial security and asset building in Maryland. “Social workers have been on the front lines of stabilizing vulnerable families and communities for decades,” notes Woodside. “Today’s challenges necessitate integrating new tools, skills, and evidence-based practices to strengthen the profession’s ability to address financial stressors and economic disparities. As FSWI’s 10th anniversary unfolds, we will be able to offer several new opportunities to engage even more social workers in financial social work.”

This generous grant will underwrite several planned educational and community events during the anniversary year. In the spring of 2018, a new Financial Social Work (FSW) Certificate Program will be launched, which in addition to financial support from the Woodside Foundation, has received a notable $23,600 grant from the Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation, Inc.

“For more than 60 years, the Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation has provided economics and personal-finance education to various audiences, most particularly to teachers,” says Michael MacDowell, the foundation’s managing director. “We are now also investing in social service providers. We see social workers as having an immediate impact on improving the financial well-being of their clients. The foundation applauds the work at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work and its innovative new certificate program. We are pleased to be part of this important undertaking.” OneMain Financial also contributed $3,000 toward the certificate program, and it has sponsored other programming offered through UMSSW; OneMain Financial provides support and sponsorship of community financial education programs and activities, in addition to offering financial services to individuals nationwide.

FSWI will offer the certificate program through UMSSW’s Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Office. The Certificate Program will run from April to December 2018 and will meet an identified need for greater knowledge and skills in financial capability, stability, and empowerment on the part of social workers who practice in nonprofit and other social service agencies, as well as in schools, medical settings, and justice and court settings. This is especially critical for social workers who work with individuals, families, and communities facing complex financial and psychosocial issues.

In large part due to the efforts of the FSWI and its partners over the last 10 years, social workers and human service organizations are seeking additional FSW education and training, in addition to skill-building strategies to enable them to intervene more effectively with financially distressed individuals, families, and communities. Beyond providing resources, social workers must have sophisticated knowledge about issues in typical daily financial life, such as credit, debt, budgeting, financial struggles, and how these intersect with other stressors, and they must be knowledgeable about and familiar with financial issues and barriers, and feel comfortable in addressing such issues directly and effectively with people and communities they serve. Also, social workers who work in FSW must be well-versed in historical and current policy issues that influence and affect people’s paths toward greater financial stability, as well as those policies that hinder financial stability or perpetuate economic injustice.

More information about the FSW Certificate Program is available online at www.ssw.umaryland.edu/fsw/education. It will span seven full-day sessions from April to December 2018. The in-person classroom style of the FSW Certificate Program will enable rich class discussion and learning through interaction among the macro and clinical practitioners.

FSWI’s 10th anniversary year officially kicked off with the 2017 Daniel Thursz Social Justice Lecture in April, featuring noted economist, author, and commentator Julianne Malveaux, PhD, who provided incisive commentary on the topic of “Economics, Race, and Justice in the 21st Century: Perspective on Our Nation’s Future.”

In addition to the FSW Certificate Program, the FSWI will host the following:

  • The third Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) Convening on Jan. 10-11, 2018, to be held just prior to the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) annual conference (Jan. 10-14, 2018, in Washington, D.C.). The third convening is titled “Using Evidence to Influence Policy and Practice” and will feature managers of widely used databases in FCAB work, along with social work researchers who are using these sources to further the FCAB research agenda.
  • UMSSW’s Homecoming 2018, slated for March 9, 2018, will focus on family financial stability and  feature influential advocate Jonathan Mintz, executive director of the New York City-based Cities for Financial Empowerment, who will speak on “Strengthening Family Health: Advancing Economic Stability.”
  • Increased infusion of FSW and its role within psychosocial assessment in the Practice 1 courses offered in the MSW curricula.
  • Development of an FSW alumni network at UMSSW.
  • Increased financial support through scholarship opportunities to support MSW students who have an interest in financial social work: The Woodside Foundation Scholarship Endowment in Financial Social Work is available to all MSW students who would like to apply, and The SunTrust Foundation Scholarship Endowment in Financial Social Work is available to incoming first-year students.

“It is hoped that through these events and offerings, and especially with the launch of our FSW Certificate Program, the UMSSW FSWI will continue to advance and lead the field as financial stability plays an increasingly important role in social work education, research, and practice,” states FSWI Chair Jodi Frey, PhD, LCSW-C, CEAP.

UMSSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, lauds the efforts of the Financial Social Work Initiative. “I am thrilled by the rapid development of the FSWI from a kernel of an idea and a few active participants to a wide array of services and educational programs that now appear destined to become central to much of what social work accomplishes.”

For information on these and other FSWI activities, visit www.ssw.umaryland.edu/fsw.

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Education

The Best Arizona Social Work Degree Programs

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The state of Arizona offers several social work programs. Arizona students may study for the BSW, MSW or Ph.D. Arizona State University and the University of Northern Arizona are among the two top schools for social work degree programs in Arizona. Read on for information concerning degree program requirements.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University is a research university with over 50,000 students on several campuses. Because of the school’s size, reputation and resources, ASU is able to offer the bachelor of social work (BSW), the master of social work (MSW) and the Ph.D. degree. These degree programs are offered in Phoenix and Tucson.

The BSW at ASU requires students to complete courses in government and politics, economics, philosophy and ethics. The BSW prepares students to work with underserved and at-risk communities. For instance, upon graduation students may eventually work in the areas of adoption, HIV/AIDS services, child welfare, mental health and/or substance abuse services. ASU also prepares students to work for practical solutions to problems commonly seen in the American southwest. For instance, some graduates choose to work as advocates for immigrant rights.

Most ASU students receive some form of financial aid. Many scholarships are offered based on academic performance and degree program. For students who would like to live in Phoenix or Tucson a Phoenix moving company might be your best bet. Living in a metro area could also provide students with social work internship opportunities.

ASU Advanced Degree Programs

ASU offers several MSW programs, one of which can be completed online. Each of the master’s degree programs requires 60 hours of coursework as well as a fieldwork component. The university’s field education office helps place students in an internship where the student completes over 900 hours of work in at least one area of social services. For instance, a student might complete their fieldwork in disability services if it’s an area in which he or she is interested.

University Northern Arizona

The Department of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Northern Arizona offers a bachelor’s degree program in social work. The BSW degree prepares students to:

  • Help victims of domestic violence, child abuse and/or homelessness
  • Assist people with substance abuse problems
  • Provide support to those struggling with disabilities, mental problems and behavioral problems
  • Advocate for social change
  • Become a licensed generalist social worker

Graduates of the program work as case managers, victim advocates, disability services workers, family support services workers and child and youth services workers. In these fields, UNA graduates advocate for underserved groups and even become involved with politics and policy.

At the University of Northern Arizona, students first complete their core courses, and afterwards, they must apply separately to the social work program. Once accepted into the BSW program, a student must successfully complete courses in human behavior, crisis intervention and research. Students complete at least 120 coursework hours for the degree, which typically takes about four years.

In addition to classroom work, the BSW program also has a fieldwork requirement, which allows students to get work experience by completing an internship. Students may intern in the public or private sector. In the past, students have worked for both the state and federal government. Students may dedicate several months of full-time work to satisfy their field placement requirement, or they may work part-time while completing coursework. The university has a field placement director to assist students with selecting a suitable position.

The social work programs at Arizona State and Northern Arizona offer some of the best social work degree programs in the state. Students can earn a bachelor’s or advanced degree in 2-4 years, depending on the program of study. The field placement requirements also allow students the opportunity to gain practical experience and networking opportunities.

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Education

Mindset Matters: Positive Parenting

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Growth mindset is a very hot topic in the educational realm today. A basic explanation for a not-so-basic, metacognitive concept is the fact that people can improve their achievement, motivation, and even their intellect by adopting a growth mindset and strategies that correspond to such a mindset.

In classrooms, growth mindset is used as a tool to deliberately activate and strengthen neural pathways by targeting areas of need using strategies that students already utilize in other areas. While that sounds like a mouthful, students as young as kindergarten are learning about metacognitive practices and the importance of grit and reflection.

Besides a strictly instructional focus, growth mindset can positively impact any endeavor, whether it be a cognitive or physical goal. That said, parents can implement basic growth mindset principles at home to boost self-confidence, motivation and effort, as well.

Parents can start with themselves

This means that, prior to encouraging your child to invest in adopting a growth mindset, parents must be ready and willing to look critically at their own mindset. As an educator, I initially felt that I fully understood growth mindset. However, it was not until I investigated my own mindset that I realized my tendency to lean more toward a fixed mindset—the polar opposite of what I was trying to teach my students.

As long as I can remember, I have considered myself to be an English-minded person—comfortable in my literary bubble where language as a means of expression was my primary academic strength. On the contrary, math is something that I have never grasped—ever. In my mind(set), I had absolutely no chance of improving my knowledge of mathematical concepts, so why even bother? Thus began my self-fulfilling prophecy instigated by my very fixed mindset.

The point here is that we adults cannot simply talk the talk; we must walk the walk and lead by example when it comes to growth mindset. Parents can model grit and determination by attempting something intentionally challenging. Golf not your strength? Consider a family outing in which you all take a golf lesson, or simply play a round of mini golf to infuse some fun into a personally difficult sport. Perhaps you are a notoriously disgraceful cook. Read a new cookbook or research a few fool-proof recipes to demonstrate to your children that planning, effort, and reflection can start the ball rolling on growth mindset and its ability to improve achievement.

Parents can model positive self-talk

Not only is this good for boosting self-esteem in adolescents, but optimistic affirmations help to strengthen one’s growth mindset. Much like my self-fulfilling prophecy involving poor math performance, negative internal dialogue lowers motivation and one’s expectations. When we put ourselves down, we are essentially self-sabotaging. Parents should be careful when discussing their own weaknesses as to not pass on these negative mindsets and behaviors.

This is not to say that parents should claim that they are amazing at everything—acknowledging areas of need is a huge part of developing a growth mindset. However, we should be teaching children that our weaknesses are not destined or written in stone—we can and should always be working towards improvement and personal growth.

Parents can celebrate failures

To clarify, parents should not praise failure that results from laziness or lack of effort. Instead, explain that a job well done will sometimes still result in disappointment, but this does not mean that strides weren’t made toward success. When we try and don’t succeed, we learn a little bit more about the task or goal and how we might readjust and attempt again after some reflection and strategizing. The key here is for parents to stress that to try and fail is not shameful—it’s the lack of the attempt at all that cripples our growth.

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