There is a reason that jigsaw puzzles are so often used to represent complex processes and enduring problems, the solutions to which are not immediately evident to the puzzler. It is a curiosity how, at some point, each piece in a puzzle reveals where it fits in the frame. Most people have their favorite strategies for solving puzzles, and they generally do contribute to a more expedient solution -- or at least, they give that illusion. Oddly, spending time not puzzling over the fit of the pieces seems to bring about a solution, and the ease with which understanding comes after such a break never ceases to astonish. Why is it that -- when we can't find a fit -- we don't gain greater clarity through a forced, hyper-focus on finding the missing piece. Indeed, our use of theory, as explained in Chapter 5, Just Thinking: Theoretical Perspectives on Social Justice-Oriented Practice, can be equally constricting (Finn & Jacobson, 2007). It is through the application of critical theory that we are able to see how we try to force the fit of the theory to the practice, as we know it to be or wish it to be. I discuss this analogy in more detail in the section on Critical Reflection below.
Christopher lives alone with his mother Ann in Section 9 housing in an under-developed section of the suburbs of a thriving metropolitan area. Ann graduated from high school and has a few credits toward an Associates Degree in accounting. Ann currently works as an in-home care assistant during the afternoon hours that Christopher is at school. She has intermittently received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Christopher receives Supplementary Security Income (SSI) because of his disability. Ann took the job as part of the required work program and has been doing this work since Christopher began attending high school. Because of their low household income, Christopher receives free lunches at school and Ann visits the food pantries or food banks for staples.
Prior to beginning work, Ann spent a considerable amount of time at the schools Christopher attended. She would sometimes help Christopher's teachers, but she primarily just felt a need to keep an eye on Christopher. As Christopher has autism and exhibits some savant capacity -- such as being able to calculate calendar dates for people and for some historical events of which he is aware -- he has often been the brunt of inappropriate attention from non-disabled peers. Unlike many of his peers with autism or Asperger's Syndrome, Christopher does not habitually act out or engage in aggressive or violent behavior. While this is a great relief to Ann, it is troubling that Christopher is routinely placed in classrooms with other students who have autism and is, therefore, made vulnerable to physical attacks by other students. Minimally, Ann has expressed concern about the amount of time that Christopher witnesses the problem behavior of other students in the special education program to which he is assigned. She is rightly concerned that Christopher will mimic the problem behavior modeled by the other students with autism or developmental delays. Ann has more of less devoted the majority of her time to Christopher or to organizations and associations that are focused on autism spectrum disorders. Ann's only friends appear to be other parents of children with autism, and even at that, those associations are not close as most of the other parents live more typical middle class lives than Ann.
Ann does not own a car and does not have a driver's license. She depends on the metropolitan buses or special shuttle bus transportation to get to her job and to appoints for Christopher. Ann's ex-husband lives in a neighboring town and occasionally tries to reestablish contact with Ann. But Ann denies that her ex-husband is Christopher's father and she has never permitted Christopher to meet her ex-husband.
Christopher attends special education classes and some general education classes. Ann has always pushed for Christopher to be included in general education, although his resistance to being touched has limited his ability to establish closer relationships with his peers. Christopher is endearingly enthusiastic about asking people about important dates in their lives and once he knows some details, he asks questions in a manner similar to the reverse style used on the television show Jeopardy. Ann puts an admirable amount of effort into her attempts to help Christopher learn to tolerate handshakes, and to accept her hugs -- both of which generate considerable and obvious anxiety in Christopher.
Unless Ann is interacting with Christopher, she seems to have a flat affect and has admitted that she often experienced a depressed mood. She has considered having a mental health evaluation, but she has not found the time and she expressed fear that any indication of her having difficulties could threaten the lifestyle that she and Christopher currently enjoy. Christopher is most comfortable in a relatively isolated environment and Ann seems to have adapted -- if overly so -- to Christopher's mental health needs. In addition, Ann explained that she so often is engaged in meetings or doing paperwork for the State on Christopher's behalf that she doesn't feel like she has the time to do anything about her own physical or mental health needs. Ann is moderately obese, which is exaggerated by her short stature; her graying hair is worn long and straight, pulled back by girlish headbands, and her face is bare of make-up. Taken together, these features make Ann look a decade or more older than she is. This year, Christopher is transitioning out of high school to a post-secondary work program and some community college classes. He will also begin living part-time in a tenant-support program in the community in a house that he will share with one other young man with autism who is suitably matched in temperament.
Just Practice Framework Perspective
While I understand that the core processes of the just practice framework are not linear, I have addressed them so in this paper for the sake of simplicity and clarity. In fact, the core processes occur both in an iterative fashion and often, too, simultaneously, as nested processes that are largely inseparable. While they are core processes, they are also ways of approaching the transactions between the social worker and the client, and transactions among the stakeholders.
Engagement. My first meeting with Ann and Christopher are in my office. Ann explains that it is stressful for Christopher to be left out of family meetings as he imagines the worst. I learn that Ann does have state-funded respite care for Christopher, but that she tries to keep that in reserve for meetings or trips that Christopher cannot attend or go on for more fundamental reasons than just her convenience or the convenience of others. Christopher paces the perimeter of the office and seems to be rehearsing -- just under his breath -- questions that he is preparing to ask me. Because of the anxiety that Christopher is exhibiting in my office, I ask if our next meeting can be in Ann and Christopher's home. Ann very graciously agrees, and she seems to be relieved. Also, in making this request, I find that I am thinking about the comment on the writing of Paulo Friere in Chapter 6, Just Get Started: Engagement in which Stephen Rose recalls reading: People committed to human dignity and social justice could never fear entering into the lives of those in whose behalf they believed they were working (Finn & Jacobson, 2007). For the duration of this meeting, we talk about how what brought Ann to request a meeting with me and how I should prepare for our next meeting in order to be the most efficient. I have come to believe that these preliminary meetings are not especially productive but that they do lay the foundation for trust building with clients.
Teaching-Learning. Ann may not have much formal education, but she is a bright and articulate woman. I have learned that she reads a great deal. Her living room holds stacks and stacks of books, mostly paperbacks because, as she explains, they are easier to tote around on public transportation. Ann and Christopher do have a small television set and manage to pay for a low-end cable connection. This is important because Christopher is adamant about seeing his favorite television shows. Ann disarmingly finds some humor in the behaviors that Christopher exhibits which have become popularized by the movie Rainman. She is quick to note that Christopher is not able to identify at a glance the number of toothpicks spilled -- or anything else in large quantities, for that matter. She emphasizes that his strength and fascination is predominantly associated with calendars.
Since Ann has associated for years with social workers and psychologists and other specialists in fields related to Christopher's care, she is very direct and to the point in stating her…