“The field of developmental psychology is the scientific study of age-related changes in behaviour, thinking, emotion, and personality.” (Bee and Boyd, 2002, p3). This assignment will concentrate on the early years area of the lifespan, which ranges from pre-birth to 3 years of age. During the early years, children start to develop physically as they begin to crawl, grasp and walk. Children also start to have self-determination as they begin to make choices themselves and they start to develop their vocabulary and have simple conversations with others. Additionally, children develop socially as they form attachments with their care giver and other important faces they recognise. In social work practice, it is important to understand that theories relating to lifespan development should not be used as a solid guide when viewing behaviour, as they do not take into account all aspects of an individual’s life, such as environmental and social factors, and not everybody lives a ‘text-book’ life. (Walker and Crawford, 2010). Theories are “an attempt to explain” something to give us an understanding and make sense of problems. (Thompson, 2000; page 20).
When working with young children, it is important to understand the various stages of development so that we, as social workers can identify achievements being made; such as when a child takes their first step, or when they say their first word. Theories regarding lifespan development are based around ‘normal’ development and can help social workers determine how much progress a child is making in terms of development. (Walker and Crawford, 2010).
Social workers must make sure that when working with young children they take into account their race and culture, and what impact these might have on their development. They must also take a holistic approach when trying to gain an understanding of a child, so that not only can say learn what has happened during the child’s life, they can also say why it happened and see the child as an individual. (Walker and Crawford, 2010).
“It is important to keep in mind that even a tiny baby is a person. Holistic development sees the child in the round, as a whole person – physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, morally, culturally and spirituality.” (Meggitt, 2006; page 1).
Following the death of Victoria Climbié, Lord Laming was required to update the arrangements for child safe guarding to prevent future tragedies occurring. The Children Act 2004, was a major reform and it brought along different policies to safeguard children, such as Every Child Matters: Change for Children. (DfES, 2004). Every Child Matters was also reformed in 2009, following the death of Peter Connelly. Also, framework for Birth to Three Matters (DfES, 2002), has been published to support professionals who work with young children and families and recognises the nature of human development.
Within psychology, there are 5 different approaches that can be taken when looking at lifespan development. These 5 approaches are biological, humanistic, cognitive, behaviourist and psychodynamic. These psychological perspectives are backed up by various theories, but it is very important to remember that theories are not always true as they do not take into consideration environmental and social factors that could affect an individual’s development. This does not mean that theories cannot be used to analyse behaviour and development within individuals, but it should be remembered that all theories do have criticisms when they are applied and used in social work practice.
The first theory which is going to be looked at regarding early years development is Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development. (Beckett and Taylor, 2010). The first stage of development is Trust versus Mistrust; this stage forms the foundation of trust a child has with their caregiver. The more consistent the care is that they receive the better trust that the child will have and they will become confident and will feel secure in their environment. However, if this stage is not completed successfully, then the child will not feel secure or confident, and may not have a lot of trust in their caregiver, which can result in a number of problems, such as anxiety and insecurities about others. (Erikson, 1995).
The second stage of development is Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt; this stage shows a child starting to assert themselves and become independent, for example, picking what they want to watch, what toys they want to play with, or what they want to eat etc. Children need to be supported in this stage so that they know what they are doing is correct and become more confident in making their own decisions, otherwise if they are criticised too much, they might start to feel dependent upon others, and may doubt their ability to make their own choices. (Erikson, 1995).
In social work practice, this theory could be used to investigate any underlying issues between a child and their parent. Erikson states that if a stage is not completed successfully, it is harder to complete following stages of development and achieve the positive outcomes. (Beckett and Taylor, 2010). This theory gives social workers an overview of how a child should be progressing and what their capabilities should be. However, this theory does not take into consideration children who have disabilities or who come from different ethnic backgrounds. A child with a certain disability may not be able to make their own choices from such a young age, no matter how simply they are, or children from different cultures will have different upbringings compared to children from other cultures.
John Bowlby was a main psychologist who studied children. In particular he looked at attachment between a child and caregiver. He believed that relationships at a young age are vital because any failings in relationships in childhood would shape the development of a child’s personality. He also believed that attachment is an innate act, and children want to form an attachment with their mothers and mothers want to be close to their children so that they can protect them. Prolonged separation from the mother is known as maternal deprivation, and this is a major cause of delinquent behaviour and mental health concerns. (Walker and Crawford, 2010).
Social workers can use theory when in practice to see how a child responds to their mother or father. For example, if a child is in a care and has contact with his/her mother twice a week, the social worker should look to see who interacts with who first, who runs to who, what is the proximity like and body language etc. All of these actions will allow the social worker to determine whether something is wrong. If the mother runs to her child, why is the child not running to her mother? Does the child not feel attached? Has something happened which needs to be looked into? However, Bowlby’s theory does not take into account fathers being the attachment figure as they may be a single parent. Also, social workers need to work in a non-discriminatory manner and remember that in some families, such as Asian families, within a household it is not just the immediate family who live there, it is also the wider family. A member of the wider family could be the main caregiver, so this needs to be taken into consideration when starting to work with a child from this type of family. (Walker and Crawford, 2010).
Mary Ainsworth adapted Bowlby’s attachment theory by carrying out her own experiment on children and their caregiver so that different attachment styles between a child and the caregiver could be observed. The Strange Situation recognised four different attachment types; secure, anxious-avoidant, anxious-ambivalent and disorganised attachment. (Ainsworth et all., 1978). The experiment took place in a small room with a one way mirror so that the child could easily be observed. Throughout the experiment, the child would be left with their caregiver for some time before a stranger entered and the caregiver leaves, and then the child would be left completely alone for a short period of time before the stranger and caregiver return and so forth. The attachment type that the child would have would be dependent on their reactions to the events that happened in the experiment – upset, crying, anxious, scared, happy, distressed etc.). For example, a child who has an ambivalent-attachment would have shown no signs of distress when their caregiver left the room, but they would have avoided the stranger when they entered the room. When the caregiver returns after leaving the child alone with the stranger, the child would approach them, but may also push them away to show that they are upset. (Simply Psychology, 2008).
In social work, this theory could be used to view the attachment between a child and their caregiver. Positive attachment could result in intervention not being needed by social workers. However, negative attachment could prove that earlier intervention is needed as there is an underlying reason as to why the child is not forming an attachment with their caregiver. This theory should be used very carefully in practice as some children are more independent than others, and it does not take into account cultural differences and disabilities. For example, children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), especially on the higher end of the autistic spectrum, find it very difficult to display feelings and show affection. This does not mean that they have not formed an attachment with their caregiver, they are more than able to, but it is how they display their attachment type which can make them appear unattached. During the mid-1980s, researchers started to observe children with ASD in the Strange Situation. Results show that 50% of the children formed a secure attachment with their caregiver. Despite this figure being low compared to children who do not have ASD, it is very impressive and proves that children with ASD can form attachments. However, when it came to the part where the caregiver returned to their child, the children acted differently compared to other children. For example, they did not initiate contact or appear to be happy. (Oppenheim et al., 2008).
The knowledge of development and attachment theories is important in social work, as these theories will help a social worker carry out assessments on a family with young children. When carrying out an assessment, it has to be done under the Common Assessment Framework, which aims to identify the following; how well the parents or carers can support their child’s developmental needs, and how they respond and meet their needs; and what impact does the environment and the wider family have on a child’s development. (DfES, 2006).
John Bowlby’s attachment theory gives an overview of the different attachment types and it allows social workers to assess and judge the quality of a relationship, and this can help as the social worker will know when to intervene, and if necessary, remove a child from a family unit. (Walker and Crawford, 2010).
Under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a responsibility to safeguard and promote the safety and welfare of children who are in need. (Legislation.Gov, 2012). When working with children in need, a social worker will need to carry out an assessment under the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need. (Department of Health, 2000). Tied within this assessment, is another assessment regarding the developmental needs of a child. It covers several areas of development; health, education, identity, family and social relations, emotional and behavioural development and self-care skills. According to Parker and Bradley, children need to reach these developmental needs to achieve a healthy adulthood. (Parker and Bradley, 2007).
By using anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice in social work, it allows social workers to challenge their own beliefs and values while considering others. The Every Child Matters: Change for Children policy has 5 outcomes which are considered to be the most important to children and young people; be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well-being. The policy wants children and young people to be “safe from bullying and discrimination”. (Crawford, 2006; page 16).
With regards to lifespan development theories; anti-discriminatory practice and anti-oppressive practice are used in social work because these theories can be applied to all cultural and class backgrounds. The majority of the theories were based around white middle-classed children and parents when experiments were carried out, but by no means does this mean that they cannot be applied to different cultures.
In conclusion, if knowledge of lifespan development and various theories are used correctly and appropriately in social work practice, then this could give social workers a clear indication of when a child is not developing at the usual rate, and intervention can take place at the earliest possible moment, to ensure that the safety and welfare of the child is met. The advantages and disadvantages of viewing behaviour through lifespan perspectives seem to weigh each other out in relation to social practice, however, it should be remembered that the studies are theories, and are not based on solid facts, so they should only be used in practice as guidance.
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