Hence, this has influenced her behaviour and coping mechanisms. Although there is considerable disagreement about the verifiability of behaviourism and external influence as the exclusive determiner of human development, Lilly's case should, at least initially, be regarded with this approach in mind.
The main reason for this is Lilly's drastic behaviour change since the hospitalization of her mother. Clearly, external influences have caused her to form coping mechanisms such as family loyalty and an over-developed sense of care for her younger sister, along with a sense of responsibility when it comes to attempting to dress herself and attend school. This then leads to the assertion by Llewellyn, Agu and Mercer (6), that individual behaviours and experiences do not occur without the influence of environmental factors. Both social and structural processes influence the way in which individuals behave.
This is also true for Lilly. Her immediate environment, which is her family situation, has significantly influenced the coping strategies and behavioural aspects of her personality. Clearly, the change in her behaviour during her mother's absence is indicative of such influences.
The authors also make the important observation that, like human behaviour, social work does not occur in a vacuum either. This is important for Lilly, since she should not be the only one involved in therapy. Since the entire family environment is not conducive to her or her younger sister's well-being, the social worker should take this into account and involve the entire family in creating a healthier environment for the children. Hence, Cunningham and Cunningham (2008) focus on the importance of considering the fact that there are many sociological perspectives one might use to consider the influences on a child such as Lilly. Her parents and their initial situation, for example, would have influenced her significantly, as has the hospitalisation of her mother. In a case like Lilly's, it is therefore important to use a relevant construct for considering the effect of her sociological world on her.
Cunningham and Cunningham, for example, draw attention to the debate around the extent to which society shapes and individual and the extent to which individuals can regulate and influence their own lives, regardless of such influences. What is important to consider in Lilly's case, however, is the fact that she is very young, and therefore significantly vulnerable, especially to influences that are not conducive to healthy childhood development.
Lilly is a very young child, still strongly influenced by the world around her, and particularly by her family life. The sudden and extreme changes in her patterns of behaviour most likely signifies concomitant changes in her world and the way in which she experiences the world. In other words, young children are more likely to be influenced by society than adults who have had the time and opportunity to mature and develop strategies in which to handle the changes around them. This, in turn, relates to the social constructionist perspective (Hutchison and Charlesworth 50), which can be used in addition to attachment theory to help shed light on Lilly's situation and how she and her family can be assisted in devising better coping strategies. The social constructionist perspective examines the way in which individuals learn by means of their interactions with each other. In this way, people classify the world and their place in it. This is process that is ongoing throughout the life span, in which children first learn their place within the family, then in the wider social context of school, and so on. What this means is that people are social beings who interact with each other on the basis of a set of shared meanings. Again, the first encounter with such shared meanings is the family setting.
When applied to Lilly's situation, it is clear that the meanings that she and her family share are somewhat less than healthy. Since birth, she has been witness to her mother's abusive relationships with men. What she has derived from this is that her role as older sibling to Lilly is to be protective, acting as a buffer between the atmosphere created by her parents and the little girl.
This has influenced the way she regards her role in the wider social context of school. In her mother's absence, she has been trying to take this responsibility by herself. Her lack of maturity has resulted in a lack of ability to adequately fulfill this new role she has set for herself. At the same time, she has suffered social isolation, with an inability to connect with those beyond her family circle in a meaningful way to form friendships.
In Lilly's wider social environment, there is therefore a basic lack of the ability to share meaningful relationships with those in her social environment, with her family environment creating a platform for overly developed protective and loyalty sensibilities. This is confirmed by the authors, who note that the initial interactions within the family shape the later interactions within the social context.
This perspective also recognizes the dynamic nature of social interactions. For the social worker assigned to Lilly's case, this is an important aspect. Lilly is still very young and can therefore be assisted in revising the views and constructs she has formed of herself within her family context. Her new strategies can then also be used in order to form a new social view of herself in her school context and concomitantly to create greater emotional stability. Hence, rather than social structures, this perspective recognizes social processes that can be modified in order to gain a modified understanding of the self and the social context within which one functions.
In conclusion, Lilly's situation is currently dysfunctional, not only for herself, but also for her younger sister, who is not currently receiving the support she needs. By including the whole family, and especially the mother, in strategies to provide Lilly with better coping strategies, the social worker can create a better family and wider social environment for Lilly. This will especially involve working with the mother in order to help her gain a sense of self-esteem that would preclude further abusive relationships while also enabling her to form closer emotional connections with her children.
In these ways, attachment theory and the social constructivist theory can be used first to understand Lilly and her environment, and second to help her, with her family, to create a healthier environment for her continued and healthy development. In addition, theories such as life span development and the behaviourist perspective can be used to supplement the initial findings and strategies. It is highly important to recognize the complexity of Lilly's situation and, generally, the complexity of human nature, to effectively help the little girl. Lilly and her family face many challenges, but there is also significant hope that her situation can be mitigated to create a healthy and wholesome environment. Surely all children, especially those who are very young, deserve a nurturing and wholesome environment, conducive to their effective development.
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Green, L. 2010. Understanding the Life Course: Sociological and Psychological Perspectives. Cambridge: Polity Press.
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Hutchison, E.D. And Charlesworth, L.W. Theoretical Perspectives on Human Behavior. Retrieved from: http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/36524_PE_Chapter2.pdf
Ingleby, E. 2010. Applied Psychology for Social Work. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.
James, a. And James, a.L. 2004. Constructing Childhood: Theory, Policy and Social Practice. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Llewellyn, a., Agu, L. And Mercer, D. Sociology for Social Workers.