Case study

profileSalman Wahid

Systems Theories

Module 5

Week 9

SWK313 Engaging Individuals and Families In Partnership


Case Study continued: Working with the family

Consider everything you have learnt about Erica and her family to date.

Critically examine how systems/ecological approaches be applied to understand the circumstances of Erica and her family. How could these theories guide your practice in this case?

Module 5 Learning Activity

“Person in environment”

Context is important

Multiple factors & levels of systems impact on people – micro, meso, macro

Theories include: General Systems Theory, Bio-Ecological Systems Theory, Person in Environment Model, Life Course Model

Broad application for practice in a range of contexts – assessment & intervention

Systems Theory Overview


Bio-Ecological Systems Perspective


Developed in 1970s by Bronfenbrenner

Human development is influenced by the environment

Provides the theoretical foundation for the life course model of social work (Germain & Gitterman, 1980)

Adds a humanistic and dynamic element to systems theory

Process of interaction, change & adaptation

PPTC Model – Process Person Context Time

Bio-Ecological Systems Perspective


Multiple “systems” relevant to people’s lives

Interact in complex ways

Patterns of interaction are important for understanding human behaviour

Changes and actions in one part of the system impacts others

Networks – social networks, support networks, “connectedness”, boundaries, resources

Tools for practice – genogram & eco-map

Main concepts


Holistic view of client’s circumstances

Different systems and levels are always interacting and influencing each other

There are many variables to consider in assessment and intervention

Consider structural factors (link to AOP)

Context of practice & worker is also a ‘system’ to be considered

Maidment & Egan (2016 p.252)

Ecological Systems & Practice


Pincus & Minahan (1974) – 4 systems:

Change agent system (worker/agency)

Client system (client, families, groups, communities engaged with worker)

Target system (target for change - may or may not be the same as the client system)

Action system (work with for change – client, target & action systems may not be the same)

Systems Theory & the Worker


Systems for practice

Systems can be simple or complex, intrapersonal, interpersonal or environmental

Some examples:

Biophysical, cognitive, affective, behavioural functioning

Physical environment


Social support networks

Peer groups





Which systems are most important to the client?

Some types of systems…

Social support systems can provide the following:

Attachment – a sense of security and belonging

Social integration

Practical support and resources



Help in a crisis

Source of stress and conflict


Social Supports


Aim to increase the ‘fit’ between individuals and their environment

Maximise the ‘goodness of fit’ between the needs of individuals and environmental resources that correspond to particular needs

Link resources with clients to utilise resources or cope with environmental forces

Establish areas of support for clients

Assess the positives and negatives with decisions made or actions

Person-in-Environment Model


Life Course Model

Theory of development

Environmental events and transitions that can impact the person over the life course

Initial assessment

Visual and historical representation of a family

Benefit both client and worker

Tool for “helping the client explain relationships between members of the family, showing patterns in family behaviour, occupation of health, and highlighting potential areas to explore during assessment” (Maidment & Egan 2016 p.154)


Genograms (Compton, Galaway & Cournoyer, 2005)

Rob, 39

Jan, 35




Liam, 5

Paul, 9





Death X

Marital separation --

Divorce …

Widow/ widower W

Ric, 12



Visual representation showing “people, places and institutions that are significant in the life of the client” (Maidment & Egan 2016 p. 156)

Show type of relationships, resources, conflict etc.

Can change over time – representation of change process and tool for feedback, evaluation of intervention

Eco Maps

An eco-map…

Tentative ---

Strong (solid)

Stressful ….

Think about the people you know – family, friends, acquaintances. Think about the different relationships you have with each of them. What is the connection to you and with each other. Has this changed over time? What are the most important connections?

How would you represent this in a diagram?


Emphasis on changing environments but does not account for power

Labels? (e.g. functioning, dysfunctional families)

Assumes systems are interdependent – are they?

Descriptive rather than explanatory

Non prescriptive and generalist (this can be a positive too)

Slow and manageable change – focus on adaption

Complexity of system analysis can be a barrier to clear action


Allows integration of different approaches

Accounts for interaction and impact of people and systems on each other

Multiple points for intervention

Not prescriptive

Space for critical theory or AOP as well as micro level intervention