The Family

The Family, it is often claimed as the basic unit of our society and its activities in economic, health, housing and welfare provision for its members. By the structure of the family, it is meant as the first type of bonds between people whether individuals live as couples or alone in large families of three generation or simply as couples with their children, divorced or as lone parents, particularly if they have children. Nowadays contemporary families consist of opposite-sex married parents, lone parents, same-sex parents, stepparents or extended family as parents. However, lone parents remain highly stigmatised in the United Kingdom (Hinton-Smith 2015) to the extent that lone parents themselves make a concerted effort to self-identify as ‘good mothers’ to distance themselves from the ‘bad’ sort (Phoenix 1991) while one of the missions of Gingerbread, the charity supporting lone parents in the UK is to “dispel the myths and labels” around lone parenthood (Gingerbread n.d.). All too often the term ‘lone parents’ is used by politicians and in the media, without defining what lone parents are meant and thereby classifying all lone parents as problematic. Skynner (1981) describes both ‘healthy and unhealthy’ families. He views a healthy family as one which can maintain ‘an accurate perception of reality’ through all vicissitudes of normal family life issues, from dealing with loss and ability to adapt to the diverse demands and changes which confront every family during its life cycle. By contrast, unhealthy families tend to cling defensively to their own version of reality or family script which over generations influences behaviour, the resistance of painful process of change and growth and have come to adopt a system for themselves and to the outside world.
This essay is built on a given case study where the family posts as unhealthy in all ramification. By default, the children are born and brought up in a multiracial family consisting of their alcoholic mother as a lone parent, caregiver and provider, stepfather known to have committed sexual offences with children and their wider familial network consisting of maternal grandfather also known as a sexual offender and maternal grandmother who has long-standing psychotic illness, therefore, the children themselves have become maladaptive and adopted the family script. It highlights the fact that due to the continued prevalence of nefarious atmosphere and most possibly witnessing violence themselves, the children have also developed certain forms of undesirable behaviour patterns, which needs immediate attention of a social worker. In the essay below, I would analytically explore the family using two theories; Psychodynamic and Systems as well as identifying prevalent risk factors involved in the case scenario, assessment and safeguarding process, further elaboration would be given on how the children are affected as well as their mother and other family members. Along with this section is discourse of two possible intervention methods highlighting their strength and weakness as in the case scenario, the legal and ethical issues that could arise, the complexity of the family within their cultural background lastly, the structural oppression and discrimination in terms of values will be considered as a social worker in practice.
A theory provides a framework for understanding any given situation in-depth. Freud’s Psychodynamic theory pays attention to individuals’ internal psychological processes that push them on the verge of committing abuses. Psychodynamic theories could be divided under attachment theory, object relations theory and a theory called violence or trauma (Fife and Schrager, 2011). Of this, attachment theory could possibly be most relevant to the present case study, which could help me as a social worker understand the family members and their circumstances. Attachment is defined as “a reciprocal and enduring emotional tie between the infant and the caregivers, where both parties contribute effectively towards the quality of the relationship” (Fife and Schrager, 2011). One study of the parenting of substance abusing mothers found a tendency for rigidity and over control in their parenting and little emotional involvement and responsiveness in their interactions with their children (Bums, Chethik, Bums, & Clark, 1991). Therefore, as observed in the case study there is an absence of a close emotional relationship that could be mirrored to maternal deprivation between the children and their mother especially as displayed by Kerry when she continues to cry. The contribution of a disturbing and unstable environment predisposition the children to form an insecure attachment. A continuous experience of substance abuse from the primary care given along with unpredictable episodes could also influence the children’s perceptions of the world as unstable as they often unintentionally imitate the adults in their life’s which can be linked to Social learning theory; proposing that new behaviours can be acquired by observing and imitating others. Psychodynamic the dominant thought of school in the 20th century and Sigmund Freud as the exponent founder, through his exploration of psychosexual development was able to formulate the “Structural Model”. This model enables the explanation of an individual’s personality’s three parts including the Id, the Ego and Superego (Freud, 2018). As per the explanation provided by Freud, a person is born with “Id” which forms the pleasure-seeking part of a person’s personality. Therefore, after birth satisfaction of basic needs becomes very important. On the other hand, within the first three years, the baby starts learning about new things with his or her subsequent environmental interaction. This leads to the development of “Ego”. The Ego takes stock of the reality principle as a part of its personality. Even though, it aims at Id satisfaction but balances the Superego and the Id (Suttie, 2014). However, in case of Kerry, who is aged 3 displaying developmental delay perhaps due to a failure on the part of the Ego to balance the urges of the Id and Superego. She does not establish eye contact with others, head bangs and does not prefer being touched. Perhaps these are because of the distraught conditions of her childhood which heightened the tension between Superego and Id. As per Freud, when a child reaches 5th year then he begins learning about ethical and moral rules as well as the importance of the restraints that parents, other people and teachers impose. This marks the time of Superego development. The Superego tells about whether something is wrong or right. Amy is aged 8 and therefore, already has a sense of moral principles. Therefore, in this context, she must have sensed the advances of her brother to be wrong and sexually interfering. Thereby she reported about sexual interferences by her brother. Freud has stated that for a healthy person ego is the strongest in his or her personality. Andy, the stepfather, does not have a healthy ego development which makes him fail to take stock of the reality principle and instead he seems to be fixed on sexually interfering with children as reported by Mary his other daughter.
Another psychodynamic theory which could be informed in this context is Alfred Adler’s “Inferiority and Birth Order” (Adler, 2015). According to Adler, all children take birth with an inferiority sense. As per his “Inferiority Theory of Personality”, the first-born child might end up feeling inferior. In fact, they may develop inferiority complex on the arrival of younger siblings. This indicates towards the development of sexualised behaviour in Christopher who is the first born and had been caught in school making sexual advances, even on his sister. The youngest child has a potential for developing inferiority complex akin to the first-born child because of over-pampering. This might indicate the developmental delay problems in Kerry.
Adams, L. et al., (2002, p. 170) states that “a woman neglected as a child may have low self-esteem, feels anxious and agitated in close relationships which are expressed in term of aggression, drinking and gambling”. In the case study, the mother’s lack of intimacy with her children could be as direct events from her childhood experience, the frequent absence of the maternal grandmother in her life could contribute to her later life and how it affects her relationship with her children also her failure to form a stable relationship as the children had different fathers.
Family systems theory views the family from a system perspective. Therefore, the family is seen as a complex organisation where the components of the system interact with each other to form a whole. Family systems differ in all families, their norms, value and beliefs. ” (Longres, 1990, p. 35) Families are the primary social system that socialises children about rules and norms of the family and of the society. Children inherit the rules and norms that their parents internalized from their families of origin and through their parents’ interaction with their environment. As per the case study, the mother is responsible for bringing up the children. Campion (1985) says that if a child grows up in a stable and loving environment, the child will usually develop a sense of self-respect and self-discipline. The child understands what is expected of him however it can be argued that a child who has been brought up in a family system where the parents attitudes lack maturity, the child is more likely not to flourish in the environment and not understand what is expected of them, therefore cannot develop a sense of their own competence. Campion (1985) suggests that children take on the roles, which have a function in their family system. It is believed that if children see themselves as the disobedient one in the family setting, they may carry out their difficult behaviours in school. This could be attested to the family in the case study, their mother’s behaviour and her transmission of aggressive behaviour on the children as displayed by Christopher who in turn is aggressive and hitting other children at school. As per the case study, the holistic understanding of each person together with their environment could be influenced by activities in their home.
L. von Bertalanffy made use of Systems Theory as the foundation for “general system theory” which is a multidisciplinary field. System theory could be defined as a transdisciplinary study concerning abstract organisation made of phenomena without regards to substance, temporal or spatial existence scale or type (Rousseau, 2015). “Developmental Systems Theory (DST)” includes theoretical perspectives of biological development, evolution and heredity. It lays stress on the contribution of environment, epigenetic factors and genes in the process of development. Therefore, DST could be used to make an analysis of the reasons behind the development of child sexuality in Christopher due to inherited genes from his maternal grandfather and being conditioned to the environment of a sexually aggressive home.