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Introducing social work: a starter kit
Introducing social work: a starter kit

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Session 4: Understanding human development


Every individual is unique. They have their own genetic pathways and biological characteristics, their unique family histories, and their individual psychological experiences. For individuals these elements are theirs alone, driving their wishes, feelings and choices directly. Therefore, making assumptions and generalised predictions about people without carefully considering and consulting with them in advance can be notoriously error-prone, and can lead to conclusions that prove to be very wide of the mark. On occasions, it may lead to being actively discriminatory.

This is a photograph of a woman with a young child. There are more adults and children in the background.
Figure 1

Nevertheless, alongside individual uniqueness, human physical and psychological development and social behaviour do frequently express themselves in recognisable and generally predictable patterns. These patterns offer a range of ‘templates’ for what it might be reasonable to expect at different ages and stages in the human life-span, or for what might be likely under certain typical sets of circumstances. These templates and patterns of what is known can occur, can usefully be described under the general heading of ‘human development’. Consequently, social workers need to study and be aware of human development, as it can provide a series of measures against which to understand and to assess whether individuals and groups are progressing well in their physical and social development, offering useful if not necessarily always definitive threshold indicators for concern and intervention.

These aspects of what social workers need to know are reflected in the four principal areas of this session:

  1. Developmental frameworks
  2. Development and children
  3. Development over a lifetime
  4. Development in a social context

You’ll begin by considering developmental frameworks.