Social work Theories in Diverse

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Application of Social Work Theories in Case Study

Application of Social Work Theories in Case Study


Social work theory has informed my thinking and interpretation of behaviours and situations. Across the nations, people are more than never before seeking an assistance of social workers in building a residential care home and eliminating issues happening in their homes (Osmond and O’Connor, 2006). Understanding of these issues requires an understanding of social theories. I have learnt that social work practices are impacted by social work theories such as attachment theory and system theory (Healy, 2005). Theories assist in predicting, clarifying and evaluating situations and behaviours and offering justification on how social workers can intervene with clients with certain problems or histories (Osmond and O’Connor, 2006). It is the responsibility of the social workers to have knowledge of social work theories in order to be able to solve social work problems. Since social work is a practical action in a complex world, it requires the guidance of a theory (Osmond and O’Connor, 2006).

This paper is based on the case study of Cruise family. Cruise family has been faced with many challenges including living in a low socio-economic area, unemployment of both the husband and the wife and receiving disability pension and attending to challenges faced by the three children; Antony, Andrew and Lisa. This paper will use two theories; attachment theory and system theory to understand the case study of Cruise family. In addition, the paper will highlight the main arguments of each theory and will describe two principles for each theory and apply the main arguments to the aspect of the case study.

Selection of Theories

The theories that will best explain what is happening in the Cruise family are the attachment theory and system theory. The reason why I chose these two theories is because they can best explain the complexity in the Cruise family. These theories will help us understand the Cruise family and their circumstances; why things are happening the way they are and why the family members are behaving the way they do. They will offer guidance on how to interpret the situation of the Cruise family and how such situations could be avoided.

Individual-focussed Theory

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory is concerned with the relationships between people. The theory is based on the fact that children form a connection with their caregivers who often influence their emotional growth and development into adulthood (Colmer and Rutherford, 2011). There is a strong connection between childhood experiences and future development. Children grow intellectually and emotional when they receive care in their infant years (Colmer and Rutherford, 2011). The attachment theory emphasizes that, early experiences of attachment of children with the caregivers or the parents are very essential foundations for effective social competence (Colmer and Rutherford, 2011). Through childhood experiences, the brain is able to develop expectations that create social reality. The attachment theory is centred on the bond created between a person and an attachment figure such as the parent or caregiver. An attachment is referred to as a connection founded upon the need for protection, safety as well as security (Colmer and Rutherford, 2011).

Attachment behaviour means that an individual seek to the attachment figure in an event of threat (Snyder, Shapiro and Treleaven, 2012). From the attachment theory, I have learnt that we as human require a social identity and social groups behind us regardless of our culture and ethnicity. People need to feel attached to those close to them. There is need for mutual attachment and bond between people in the society (Snyder, Shapiro and Treleaven, 2012). Secure attachment may lead to enhanced flexibility when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges. This means that warmth mutuality, bond and support form relationships that are able to form coherent and well-organised future lives. Attachment theory illustrates that attachment behaviour is generated by communication and social interactions (Snyder, Shapiro and Treleaven, 2012).

Principles of Attachment Theory

One principle I have learnt from attachment theory is that when parents interrelate with their children is inconsistent way, the children tend to develop some sort of ambivalent attachment patterns (Snyder, Shapiro and Treleaven, 2012). Parents sometimes are nurturing but at times they are insensitive and neglect the emotions of their children. For instance, parents can be emotionally unavailable and then later they make up for this by being overindulgent (Snyder, Shapiro and Treleaven, 2012). In such a situation, children often become confused and distressful as they do not know what treatment they will receive at a certain time. In the Cruise family, Jill and Bob have been busy and worried about Antony and Andrew and at occasion they have neglected their other child Lisa. Due to Antony vandalism, the parents have concentrated their attention on him and have been insensitive to the emotions of Lisa.

Children with ambivalent attachment are in a state of being clingy and desperate and at the same time are suspicious and sceptical (Colmer and Rutherford, 2011). These children focus more on their parent and are open-eyed regarding to the availability as well as the unavailability of their parents. Children with ambivalent attachment fluctuate between being very clingy and being angry at their pattern for being rejected (Colmer and Rutherford, 2011). In the case study of Cruise family, Job and Jill have said that their child Lisa is a lot of work since she is demanding. In some instances, she cries a lot and seeks their attention which makes the parents feel guilty and may compensate by overindulging. From this case study, I have understood that Lisa had ambivalent attachment pattern since their parents sometimes were emotionally available but sometimes due to the issues going on around them, they were insensitive and emotionally absent.

Another important principle of attachment theory that I have learnt is that a child needs to have a connection with at least one parent or caregiver in order to have a successful emotional development or social life (Colmer and Rutherford, 2011). Lack of such attachment will make the child unable to effectively regulate his or her feelings and may result to avoidant attachment. A child with avoidant attachment tends to avoid and ignore the parents or caregiver and shows no emotions when the parents go away or returns (Snyder, Shapiro and Treleaven, 2012). Children with avoidant attachment are not distressed when their parents depart. They have the tendency to turn away when their caregiver is around. In addition, these children often avoid their parents in stressful situations and rely on themselves to overcome the situation (Snyder, Shapiro and Treleaven, 2012).

Their behaviours may be attributed to their emotional and physical needs not met by their parents of caregiver. The children often believe that communication of needs may not have an impact of the caregiver (Snyder, Shapiro and Treleaven, 2012). The attachment theory has enabled me to understand that Antony and Andrew had avoidant attachment patterns. They did not have a good relationship with the parents. And during his vandalism case and community service order, Antony did not sort their parents as a secure base. In addition, Andrew followed Antony’s footsteps and the two were both verbally abusive to Jill and Bob. Due to their socio-economic condition, Antony and Andrew’s needs were not met which led to their behaviours. Bob and Jill also were stressed due to their environmental issues and did not spend as much time with the children.

Structural-focussed Theory

System Theory

System theory is a type of social work theory that can be used to examine how an array of variations within the environment can influence rural families since it offers a model for realizing complicated interactions amongst groups of individuals (Ambrosino et al., 2008). This theory specifically gets its attention to investigate the numerous systems with which individuals function and thus allows the social worker contextually locate individuals within their particular environment (Ambrosino et al., 2008). Furthermore, system theory distinguishes a vast array of factors that influences the problems related to social welfare and diverts its attention form the entire characteristics of individuals or the environment to the dealings between systems. Therefore, social workers can aim at interventions at various degrees in order to deal with the social problems as well as individual demands (Ambrosino et al., 2008).

Furthermore, system theory emphasizes on the creation as well as the revolution of systems together with both the interaction and relationship between them (woods, 2001). A system can be described as a compound of constituents which are either directly or indirectly connected in a casual network (Ambrosino et al., 2008). Consequently, elements within a system do not work in seclusion by function by relying on as well as interacting with each other in order to complete the entire system. Additionally, a system can be human in terms of biological, psychological or physiological elements (Ambrosino et al., 2008). Also, it can be a family comprising of a dad, mum, brother and daughter. In general, the aim of a system theory is for evaluating as well as determining the target systems or subsystems so as to bring about a positive change.

Principles of Attachment Theory

The two principles that I think can relate well with Cruise family are stress and level of fit. System theory is concerned with level of fit principle (Ambrosino et al., 2008). The level of fit principle relies on the fact that there is degree of balance as well as the reciprocity existing between an individual’s aspirations and physical and emotional needs and resources available in the environment (Ambrosino et al., 2008). In a situation when the degree of balance between a person’s needs and resource availability is positive, then the level of fit can attain adaptedness. On the other hand, when the degree of balance between the two aspects is negative, then the level of fit leads to dysfunctional condition (Ambrosino et al., 2008). The resulting dysfunctional condition has the ability to inhibit, frustrate and damage individual and environmental potential.

In Cruise family, the degree of balance between their needs and aspirations and resource availability is negative. This has led to dysfunctional condition. Jill and Bob are both unemployed and live in a low socio-economic status. My understanding of this situation is that the family is unable to satisfy all their needs and aspirations due to lack of enough resources and this leads to dysfunctional conditions. First, their first born child Antony is involved in vandalism which has led to him receiving community service. Second, Antony and Andrew regularly skip school and spend their time at home together. In addition, the communication in the family is dysfunction as the children are verbally abusive to the parents. All these situations are brought about as a result of the lack of balance between the family’s needs and resource availability.

The other principle that can explain Cruise family condition effectively is stress. An individual perception of imbalance between their needs and aspirations and their ability to access the resources required to take care of such needs and aspirations may result to stress (Woods, 2001). When an individual foresees the impossibility of the available resources to take care of his or her needs, the result is high level of stress that can be damaging to an individual (Ambrosino et al., 2008). It is evident from Cruise family that Bob and Jill were suffering from high levels of stress as a result of many environmental factors. As mentioned earlier, Jill and Bob are unemployed and Jill receives a disability pension due to anxiety and panic attack and Bob receives pension to support Jill.

Cruise family can be described as a dysfunctional family as a result of the issues taking place such as poor communication, lack of resources to support their needs, unemployment and misconduct in the part of the children. All these conditions have led to high stress levels among the parents. In addition, Jill and Bob are afraid of losing their pension money and therefore do not want to get “too well” financially. In order to minimize the level of stress, it is important to first improve the level of fit between an individual and the environment (Ambrosino et al., 2008). This can be done by changing the perception and behaviour of an individual or changing how the environment responds to the person’s needs and aspirations. In order to reduce stress of Bob and Jill, there is a need to change their perceptions about the environment around them.


In conclusion, I have learnt that social work practices are impacted by social work theories. This paper is based on the case study of Cruise family. The attachment theory illustrates that, attachment of children with the caregivers are very essential foundations for effective social competence. Without such attachment, the children may be unable to effectively regulate his or her feelings and may result to avoidant attachment. Antony and Andrew did not have a good relationship with the parents and did not sort their parents during hard situations. They avoided them as much as possible and this may be attributed to the inability of the parents to satisfy their emotional and physical needs. Lisa on the other hand was very clingy and very angry due to lack of parents attention. On the other hand, system theory has enabled me understand how the environment can affect the interactions of families. Due to lack of financial abilities, Cruise family lived in poverty and not all their needs were met. This inhibited, frustrated and damaged the relationship between the children and parents. In addition, Bob and Jill were stressed due to their conditions which led to poor relationships and connections between family members.


Ambrosino, R., Ambrosino, R., Heffernan, J., & Shuttlesworth, G. (2008). The Systems/Ecological Perspective(Chapter 3) Social Work and Social Welfare: An introduction, 6th Ed, Thomson/Brooks Coles, Belmont USA, pp: 49-82.

Colmer, K & Rutherford, L (2011). Attachment theory and primary caregiving, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 36(4): 16-20.

Healy, K. (2005). Social Work Theories in Context: Creating Frameworks for Practice. Palgrave Macmillan: Houndsmill.

Osmond, J. & O’Connor, I. (2006). Use of Theory and Research in Social Work Practice: Implications for Knowledge-Based Practice. Australian Social Work, 59(1): 5-19.

Snyder, R. Shapiro, S. & Treleaven, D. (2012). Attachment Theory and Mindfulness, Journal of Children and Family Studies, 21(5): 709-717.

Woods, A. (2001). The origins of family systems work: Social worker’s contribution to the development of family theory and practice. Australian Social Work, 54(3): 15-28.