According to EPAS competencies, a social worker should engage in self-reflection, self-monitoring, and correction; engage in career-long learning. When starting this self-reflection, I ask myself, which part of social work practice may influence my ability in performance. I think maybe, I will try not to deal with cases involving children living with family violence.
In 2003, when I was only 16 years old, I was sent to Portugal for a year as a cultural exchange student. One day, my host mother asked me to pick my 9-year-old host brother home after school. When I entered his school, a little boy just rushed to me and kicked me saying “Chines! Chines! (‘Chinese’ in Portuguese)”. I thought that I never knew this boy and there was no use to argue with a little boy so I just ignored him. Then while my host brother and I were walking out of the school, the boy appeared again and came to beat me saying again “Chines! Chines!”. I got really angry and went to the principal’s office to report the situation. The headmaster told me that the boy was a Brazilian and his family background was quite complicated. He grew up in a climate of family violence and he always performed aggressively at school. After that incident, I started to have fear and lost trust in this kind of children.
Recently during my part-time job in Centre on Behavioral Health of HKU, we are having a pilot study on abused women and children in Harmony House. My supervisor asked me to be in charge of the part of children, who are of 5 to 12 years old. Later in the formal study, the sample size will be much bigger. I found it difficult in designing questionnaires and conducting interviews properly for children, especially those who are living with trauma and family violence. We used several validated questionnaires, but the kids could not understand the questions, neither could they comprehend expressions like “suffering”, “fear” and “worries”. Moreover, when doing the interview, they would suddenly lose patience in talking with you, thus many questionnaires remained uncompleted at all. For those children, reading people’s faces are sometimes a necessity to survive in the family. In order to pretend as normal as other children and to behave as a goody boy or girl, they tended to give us answers which they thought their peers would possibly say and their parents and we interviewers would prefer to hear. Therefore, I tell myself, in social work practice in the future, I will avoid children if at all possible, particularly children living in domestic violence.
When I precipitated to write this self-assessment, I reflected and found that my past ideas seemed very immature and they were against social work principles. We believe in the equality of every human-being and we pursuit social justice all the time. But when it comes to the issue of children, I have bias against them and directly avoid them.
Children who live with family violence are vulnerable and oppressed and we social workers have our primary mission to pay attention to their needs and empowerment . We social workers respect the dignity and equality of every individual, and we are committed to assist them to solve the problem and get the needed resources. Social workers also strive to make social institutions responsive to human needs so we should also put efforts on the restoration family functioning to meet children’s needs. Therefore, to be a qualified social worker, I should apply these principles and values to guide my professional practice other than personal experience and bias.
As we all know, Family is a special social system which performs certain functions and certain responsibilities. It performs the essential function of attending to the social and educational needs, health and well-being, and mutual care of its members. So parents have responsibility to meet children’s needs and provide adequate care, affection, safety, stimulation, guidance, boundaries and stability. Inside the family, parents are significant support systems and attachment figures for children’s socio-emotional development. So when the functions and responsibilities are replaced by verbal, sexual, physical violence and various forms of maltreatment, and when support, care, and harmony no longer exist, family can be very harmful to a child.
According to Harmony House’s statistics, the number of children admitted to their shelter has increased by 60% in the past twenty years, from 155 cases in 1985 to 250 cases in 2005. 100% of them witnessed domestic violence at home and 65% were directly abused by their fathers. Over 96% of child witnesses felt scared, while over 70% felt angry, helpless and did not know how to seek help from external resources. Around 30% of them even tried to fight against their abusive fathers to protect their mothers, causing and long lasting scars throughout their lives. In addition, 85% children having witnessed domestic violence will suffer from mild to severe levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
Experiencing or witnessing a violent event is a very strong stressor to children, especially when it is human designed, long-lasting, and the aggressor and victim are close to them. Children who are abused, neglected and exposure to family violence are more likely to produce problems of emotional and behavioral adjustment, and even PTSD symptoms like withdrawal, regression, aggression, anxiety, helplessness, low self-efficacy, lack of concentration and so on. In Osofsky’s study, he divided children suffering from domestic violence into three categories by their ages. 1) Very young children are likely to show emotional distress and immature behavior. Sometimes they would also have somatic complaints and regressions in toileting and language. 2) For school-aged children, they will probably exhibit a greater frequency of externalizing and internalizing. Externalizing includes aggressive and delinquent, while internalizing consists of withdrawn and anxious. 3) Adolescents may have a higher level of aggression but a common acting-out. Moreover, their cases are often accompanied with anxiety, behavior problems, school problems, truancy, and revenge seeking.
From the perspective of social learning theory, children will learn and intimate what they experience and see. What can kids learn from domestic violence? 1) Violence is an appropriate way to solve conflicts. 2) Violence is a part of family relationships. 3) The perpetrator of violence in intimate relationships often goes unpunished. 4) Violence is a way to control other people. So “intergenerational transmission of violence” often occurred and children are likely to become offenders in the future. . In addition, if parents are emotionally unavailable and abusive, children will lose the basic trust to others in their development. When a child’s parents are in a state of hostility, they have to somehow “make a choice”. Such choice of loyalty to one of the parent inevitably will bring about the worsening of the family communication and relations. Growing up under such stressful conditions with unmet childhood developmental needs will affect their view toward themselves as a person, and their view toward parents, family, marriage and interpersonal relations.
When I start to work with a child from family violence, I should keep my role in mind all the time that I am coming to help and try to establish a professional and helpful image in communication with the child and the family.
In problem assessment stage, I need to make clear what is known and what is not yet known, and carefully observe what the family environment the parents are providing for the child, what developmental needs of the child are not met and what are the existing problems and difficulties in restore the functioning. In the part of family and parents, it is necessary to assess the family history and functioning, basic care, safety, emotional warmth, housing, employment, income, family’s social integration, etc. In the section of children’s developmental needs, there are several dimensions to be considered as followed:
It includes a child’s physical and mental well-being as well as his/her medical care, nutritious diet and sport exercise.
It covers all areas of cognitive development of a child from his/her birth. It involves one’s access to school education, books, and other school facilities, interactions with other fellow children, attendance of school activities, and development of skills and interests.
Emotional and Behavioral Development
It concerns how a child can react to people by feelings and actions, which includes attachment, temperament, adaption, self-control and so on.
It means the child’s understanding of him/herself has an independent and valued person, relating to self-efficacy, self-image, self-esteem, sense of belonging to the family and the society.
Family and Social Relationship
It refers to a good relationship with parents, siblings, caregivers, peers and other important people in the child’s life.
It means how a child presents him/herself in various social situations and how the presentation fits his/her age, gender, culture and religion.
It concerns a child’s independence by observing his/her practical, emotional and communication competencies in living and solving problems by him/herself.
It should be pointed out that non-verbal cues are very important and useful in assessing the children. The assessment process can be therapeutic itself, so every action we take should be very careful, otherwise the interview can bring further harm to the child.
After collecting the information, together with comprehensive analysis and planning, I can move on to the intervention stage. The first step is to prevent the maltreatment, and ensure safety and cares for the child. Coping resources like relatives, schools and communities can be searched and used into the practice. Besides, refugee service is another choice. At the same time, proactive work of target services should be provided to the family and the children. For example, if the violence is because of the parent’s mental health or drug and alcohol abuse, actions like medical and rehab treatment can be adopted to this salient problem.
The second level of intervention is to recover the vulnerable children who have suffered from abuse and neglect. The intervention should fit the characteristic of the age and gender of the child and his/her particular situation and needs. Many approaches from expressive art therapy, play therapy and body-mind theory can be applied to help the child identify and change destructive belief patterns, identify and express emotional residue, exercise personal control, make plans for future and break down the sense of isolation. However, if the trauma is too severe for me to handle, I will refer the child for further clinical treatment.
Then comes the third level of the intervention. It aims to ensure the long-term well-being of the child and the family. More target services are followed up to provide a good family environment for the kid. Many integrated therapeutic intervention models can be adopted for the whole family. For example, parent-child interaction therapy suggests that modifying family interactions can diminish the child’s behavior problems and improve positive parenting skills, and it effectively reduce likelihood of future abusive actions.
Above is my plan of practice with children living in family violence. I found that the whole process seemed not that difficult although many practical problems might appear during each stage. I am very energetic but hot-headed. Sometimes when I encounter a hard nut to crack, I will be worried and anxious all the time doing nothing, and thinking about how to avoid it. As a future social worker, I will cultivate my patience, psychological quality in crisis and difficulty, and try to obtain more professional skills to handle problems properly.