Utility Of Human Development Theory Social Work Essay


This study deals with the utility of human development theory in understanding practical social work issues. It takes up the case of the Murray family (provided in the appendix to this essay) and using the family as a base, attempts to apply different aspects of human development theory in a practical real life scenario.

The study is divided into five specific sections. The first section briefly describes the circumstances of the Murray family. This is followed by the application of two theories of human development, (a) Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory and Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model of Human Development, to understand child and adult development, (b) the ways in which political and social processes influence human development, (c) the role of inequalities in human development, and (d) the ways in which theories of human development underpin social work knowledge and values.

The Murray family scenario is elaborated in detail in the appendix to this study and is thus being taken up briefly here. Jack (43) and Evelyn (36) Murray stay with their daughter Lora (6) and Evelyn’s mother Doris (71). Jack has two other sons, Seb (17) and David (15), who live separately. Jack Murray was an adopted child. He was brought up by parents who were open about his adopted status and has never shown any inclination to trace his biological parents.

Jack has alcohol related problems and is prone towards domestic violence. Evelyn has been hurt and that too badly, in the recent past. Lora is doing well in school and is cared for by Doris, who is however becoming frail. She had to be placed in an emergency foster care environment during her summer holidays, even as her mother made use of a women’s shelter to escape the difficulties of her home. Doris worries about being separated from her granddaughter and family if she were to go to a care home. All family members have expressed their willingness to work with a social worker.

Application of Theories of Human Development

Erik Erikson’s theory of human development was first advanced in 1950 and has been significantly augmented in later years (Brenman-Gibson, 1997, p 329). Erikson’s psychosocial theory states that life can be segregated into 8 stages from birth to death, which comprise of (a) infancy (birth to 18 months), (b) early childhood (18 months to 3 years), (c) play age (3 to 5 years), (d) school age (5 to 12 years), (e) adolescence (12 to 18 years), (f) young adulthood (18 to 35 years), (g) middle adulthood (35 to 55 or 65 years) and (h) late adulthood (55 or 65 to death) (Brenman-Gibson, 1997, p 329).

Each of Erikson’s 8 stages involves a crisis that is characterised by two opposing emotional forces. Infancy, for instance, involves trust v mistrust and is characterised by the care of the mother for a child with an emphasis on touch and visual contact (Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1998, p 133). Successful transition through this period results in individuals learning to trust in life and to have confidence in the future, even as problems during this period can lead to feelings of worthlessness and mistrust (Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1998, p 133).

The school age of 6 to 12 years is similarly characterised by the opposing forces of industry and inferiority (Brenman-Gibson, 1997, p 331). Individuals are capable of learning, building and achieving numerous skills and knowledge during this period, thereby developing feelings of industry. This stage of development can also lead to the experiencing of feelings of inferiority and inadequacy with peers and result in problems of self esteem and competence (Brenman-Gibson, 1997, p 331).

Erikson’s philosophy rests on two important themes, namely (a) that the world enlarges as people go along, and (b) that failure is cumulative (Douvan, 1997, p 16). The first theme is indisputable. Whilst the second is debatable, it is true that children who have to perforce deal with difficult circumstances find it challenging to negotiate later stages in their lives in comparison with others (Douvan, 1997, p 16). Various studies have revealed that children who were not stroked as infants find it difficult to connect with others in their adulthood. Erikson’s theory of human development has gained wide acceptance and is often used as a framework for understanding the nature of issues that lead to current behaviour and to prepare for the coming stages (Douvan, 1997, p 16).

The analysis of the Murray family members reveal that Jack Murray could have suffered from lack of stroking in his infancy, especially up to his adoption at the age of 6 months. This could have resulted in entrenched feelings of worthlessness and tendencies to mistrust the world. Such feelings, along with his experience of growing up as an adopted child, may have inculcated feelings of low self esteem and be causal in his current drinking problems. Whilst Lora has grown up in the presence of affectionate parents and a loving grandmother, she is now entering the school age and the coming 6 years will enlarge her contact with the world, where parents whilst still important will not be the complete authorities they have been until death.

The application of Erikson’s theory of human development helps social workers in understanding the various influences that individuals experience in the course of their lives and the roles of such influences in guiding their current behaviour and their emotional and social attitudes (Raeff & Benson, 2003, p 61).

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model was first introduced in the early 1970s. His general ecological model is defined by 2 propositions (Brendtro, 2006, p 162). The first proposition states that human development, specifically in the early phases but also throughout life, occurs through processes that progressively become more complex and involve reciprocal interaction between active and evolving humans, who are bio-psychological in their approach, and the people, objects, and symbols in their immediate environment (Brendtro, 2006, p 162). Such interaction, when it occurs over extended time periods, on a regular basis are termed as proximal processes and can be found in activities between parent and children, children and children, and solitary or group play, as well as in reading, getting to know new skills and performing complex and difficult tasks (Brendtro, 2006, p 162).

The second proposition states that the power, content, form and direction of these proximal processes influence development in a varying manner on account of the characteristics of developing individuals (Brendtro, 2006, p 162). Such development is also influenced by the environment in which such processes take place and the nature of development outcomes that are under study. The mother infant interaction, (an important proximal process) emerges as an important predictor of developmental outcomes (Brendtro, 2006, p 162).

Bronfenbrenner’s theory defines 4 different types of systems, namely the Micro system, the Meso system, the Exo system and the Macro system, which shape human development (Austrian, 2002, p 43). The Micro system comprises of the family, classrooms and schools, and other systems in the proximal environment in which people operate. The Meso system represents the interaction of two micro systems, like the connection between the home and the school of a child (Austrian, 2002, p 43). The Exo system represents the environment that is external to the experience of an individual and in which his or her involvement is indirect, but which effects development, all the same. The workplace of the parents of a child is a relevant example of an Exo system. The Macro system represents the larger cultural context (Austrian, 2002, p 43).

Bronfenbrenner’s theory perceives the environment of a child in terms of quality and context and attempts to explain differences between the knowledge, development and skills of individuals through the structure, support and guidance of the societies in which they exist (Ahuja, 2006, p 3). He states that interaction between over lapping eco systems affect people significantly. Applying Bronfenbrenner’s theory to the Murray family, it can be seen that Lora’s family and classrooms can be called the micro systems, which directly influence her working and development (Ahuja, 2006, p 3). When these two micro systems start working together to educate Lora, such education occurs through the Meso system. The society and culture in which Lora is being raised provides the underlying influence to these systems and is termed the Macro system. The comprehension of interaction of these systems helps in understanding the way in which children develop and the factors that influence failure and success (Ahuja, 2006, p 3).

Analysis of various micro and macro systems can help social workers significantly in understanding the various influences that shape the development of children. Researchers have in fact specifically found the significance of macro systems to be causal to general depression and feelings of low self esteem in individuals (Ahuja, 2006, p 3).

The application of Bronfenbrenner’s theory in the Murray family scenario enables the development of greater understanding on the influences of different micro and Macro systems on the development of Lora in her school age and can help social workers to adopt appropriate intervention methods.

Role of Political and Social Processes on Human Development

Whilst there is little doubt that the development of individuals is largely shaped by their home and school environments, sociological theory also places significant stress on the influence of larger society on such development (Grusec & Hastings, 2008, p 42). All individuals grow up in specific political, cultural and social environments that shape their attitudes and behaviours and influence their development in specific ways. The particular societies in which people live are home to different types of religious, cultural and social attitudes, biases and beliefs (Grusec & Hastings, 2008, p 42). Such political and social processes provide individuals with the means to participate within their own society, which itself contains shared customs, norms, traditions, values and social roles (Grusec & Hastings, 2008, p 42). These processes are essentially life long, starting in childhood and continuing till death. Both Erikson and Bronfenbrenner’s theories deal with the process of socialisation but through different perspectives

Such socialisation occurs through the influence of the family, religion, schools and peer groups, workplaces and the larger community (Berns, 2009, p 131). These processes are also influenced by local media and political thought. Children and young adults are significantly influenced by their peers. Such influences can often be negative and result in substance abuse, premature sexual activity and the need to live up to wrong expectations (Berns, 2009, p 131). Mass media plays an immense role in influencing human development. The constant exposure of children to glamour, sexual satisfaction and violence can influence the development of children and young adults in various ways (Berns, 2009, p 131).

With regard to the Murray family, it can well be understood that the personal development of all concerned individuals is likely to be influenced by different political and social processes. The continuance of domestic violence at home can lead to feelings of distress in Lora, especially when she compares her domestic environment to that of her friends, and cause her to wish to shift to a more peaceful environment. Such socialisation processes can furthermore leads to feelings of shame about her background and low self esteem, lead her to shun her family and take solace in her peers and spark of truant and delinquent behaviour.

Impact of Inequalities on Human Development

Social work theory and knowledge primarily aims to diminish and eliminate the impact of inequalities on the lives of individuals (Neckerman, 2004, p 189). Inequalities can arise on account of various factors like income, education, gender and ethnic status. Such inequalities essentially serve to reduce excess of affected people to various facilities and reduce the prospects of their life outcomes and their chances to lead normal and enriching lives, inequalities in income can for example deprive the children of such families from various educational and other facilities and severely diminish their life outcomes (Neckerman, 2004, p 189). Such inequalities can also generate feelings of low esteem and result in suboptimal performance in and out of school during childhood and in the workplace in adult life. Numerous studies have revealed that children with poorly educated parents receive significantly lesser educational sustenance and support at home, which in turn affects their cognitive development and adversely influences their performance at school (Marger, 2004, p 86). Lora the 6 year old Murray child has until now done very well in school. The disturbed domestic situation in her house, especially the gender inequality between her parents and the domestic violence faced by her mother can well result in poorer educational support at home, especially when she is moving into the learning stage and needs it the most. Gender inequality has been widely accepted to be an important factor in the unequal life chances offered to men and women of societies across the world and has resulted in unequal development and life chances of the two sexes (Marger, 2004, p 86).

Influence of Human Development Theories on Social Work Knowledge and Values

Theories of human development help in shaping the ideas of readers on the essence of human behaviour (Austrian, 2002, p 56). It expands the understanding of individuals of the scope, the potential and complexity of human function. Whilst scholars of human development do not agree on or endorse a single theory, many of these theories provide new perspectives for the observation and interpretation of human behaviour (Austrian, 2002, p 56). Piaget’s theory of cognitive development has resulted in a new appreciation for the ways in which children construct sense and meaning out of their experiences (Raeff & Benson, 2003, p 81). Erikson’s psychosocial theory highlights the concept of identity, even as the social learning theory of Bandura has resulted in the widespread use of modelling to simulate conditions under which children increase their learning by observing and imitating the behaviour of others (Raeff & Benson, 2003, p 81). The social work profession draws extensively on theories of human development for understanding the behaviour of individuals, with specific regard to the causal influences of such behaviour. An understanding of such theories not only enables social workers to understand the causes for human behaviour but also helps them to plan appropriate interventions to improve the social, emotional and economic conditions of people (Raeff & Benson, 2003, p 81). It helps social workers to understand the dynamic interaction that takes place among human beings and the impact of social systems upon the lives of people. A greater understanding of such theories also helps social workers in appreciating human diversity, as well as the impact of different actions in helping human beings to access opportunities and services that foster realisation of social and economic justice (Austrian, 2002, p 56).





Approximately 250 words