Applying social work skills in practice
Applying social work skills in practice

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Applying social work skills in practice

2.1 Developmental theories and experiences of care

Developmental theorists have suggested that experiences of growing up and the influence of early caregivers affect how individuals develop psychologically and socially (Dunn, 1994; Rutter and Hay, 1994; Aldgate et al., 2006). Owusu-Bempah (2006) argues that early relationships (of whatever kind) are the foundation on which future relationships are based.

It has been suggested by these authors that the way people relate to others and to the world is handed down by adult caretakers to children, and that culture, language and spiritual identity are part of the transmission of styles and beliefs from one generation to the next. However, this should not be seen deterministically, as early patterns can be changed, new ideas taken on board and positive new experiences repair earlier damaging ones.

This research also shows that a child’s individual temperament and responses are such that people make their own choices, having multi-layered and changing identities in response to new situations. A reading of biographies often very effectively illustrates the way that upbringing influences adult experience (for example, Winterson, 1985, 2012). The first activity in the section asks you to consider this from a personal point of view.

Activity 5 Experiences of early care

Allow about 30 minutes

Reflect on your own experiences of growing up.

  • Use the following spider diagram to identify and evaluate the six things that most influenced you and how. Type into each of the six boxes, then follow the instructions to display the strength of the influence by increasing or decreasing the thickness of the connecting lines.
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  • How does your upbringing inform your work with families?
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This activity was a personal one and you are not being asked to share it unless you choose to. The experiences you have had while growing up can influence your behaviour in relationships and the roles you adopt in groups. Oldest children sometimes say they have a well-developed sense of responsibility. People growing up in a group of several children may develop good negotiating skills. Growing up in local authority care can give valuable insights and skills about transition and change and their impact on service users. Your own experiences can also influence your ideas and assumptions about what is usual/unusual in family life. It is helpful to know what these are and to avoid bringing your own unexamined views into your work with other families and social networks. In all likelihood, you have been in new relationships and new relationship groups since your first ‘family’, and these will have influenced your ideas, values and perspectives.


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