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ASSESSING STRENGTHS AND STRESSES WITH FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS:
AN ECOLOGICAL PERSPECTI
VE 


An ecological perspective looks at families in their environmentit looks at the stresses and strengths of the family and the environment, and the way the family
and the environment interact.  Does the environment meet the family's needs or 
does the family fit the environmental expectations? 

Environment refers to: 

1.  The social world of the family (friends, relatives, neighbors, church 
     supports and others) often referred to as the informal support network

2.  The community resources available to the family (SSI, Medicaid, Special 
Education Programs, Child Welfare, Mental Health, Heath Services, and 
others) often referred to as the formal support network.
 

THE STRENGTHS PERSPECTIVE 

Some specific factors to consider when assessing the strengths and stresses
of families with special needs are: 

1.  The daily living skills requirements of the child including self-help skills in 
the areas of eating, bathing, toileting and mobility.

 

2.  The need for behavior management especially in cases where the child 
is self-injurious or dangerous to others.  Is the child about to be removed 
from school or day care program unless the parent "does something"?
 

3.  The safety needs of the childcan the child be left alone unsupervised?  
Is the child aware of danger and basic safety issues?

 

4.  The medical and health needs of the childdoes the parent focus on just
keeping the child alive due to complicated and demanding medical problems?  Do these medical needs result in frequent crisis?  Are health care professionals 
really trying to determine if there is an additional medical problem(s) or are 
they attributing the symptoms to the developmental diagnosis without fully
ruling out other conditions?
 

5.  The ability of the child to relate to the parentmany children with special 
needs are loving, caring and gratifying children who are responsive to the 
parent's actions and needs.  Other children may be non-responsive due to 
severe cognitive limitations, sensory limitations or specific diagnostic 
features.

 

6.  Cultural factors that may help or hinder the parent through the grief 
process, affect the problem-solving process with regard to the child's 
needs and the family's help-seeking behavior.

 

7.  The amount of time, energy and financial resources that are required just
to keep all the appointments with various professionals.  Children with developmental disabilities will require at least one school I.E.P. meeting 
a year.

 

8.  The family's coping mechanismswhat psychological strategies do they 
have for coping with expected and unexpected stresses?  How do individuals
react and how does the family interact in crisis?  Are there concurrent mental
health or substance abuse problems?  How are the siblings doing?

 

9.  The family's informal supportswhat are their relationships like with 
 relatives, neighbors, and friends?  Is support being offered and accepted 
 from churches or parent support groups?

 

10. The family's financial resources including SSI, Medicaid, private insurance, 
 and income and other forms of assistance.

 

11. The community resources that are available and accessibleIs there 
 adequate respite care, are home health care providers reliable, is the teacher  adequately trained, are special transportation, day care, and after school care   programs available?  Are professionals non-judgmental?  Do professionals dominate the parent contacts or are they "partners" in assisting families?
 

12. An able case manager, most often the parent, who can interface successfully with    the service delivery system providers.  Are people working together? 


 This information may be reproduced but not altered in any way. Excerpted from the training curriculum, "Working with Families with Children/Parents with Developmental Disabilities".  Developed by Natasha Green, B.A. and Virginia Cruz, D.S.W., The Social Work Program, Metropolitan State College of Denver, PO Box 173362, Campus Box 70, Denver, Colorado, 80217. E-mail: Info@DevelopmentalDisability.org

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