Human Behaviour and Lifespan Development in Social Care

Suzanna Pickering

Social Workers are increasingly referring to theories of the life cycle, life span development and human behaviours these theories indicate the relationship of particular biological ages of life to psychological, social and development changes.

From a theoretical perspective key theories of human growth and development will be discussed focusing on infants, highlighting the importance of professionals observing a child and making a judgment on their development and needs. Therefore, the theories will be applied to social work, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of taking a life span perspective, taking into account gender, culture and individuality. Attachment and the different theories associated with attachment will enable us to understand people in a more thorough manner and in particular the circumstances that service users may be faced with considering diversity, their individual cultural needs and beliefs. Whilst staying within the boundaries, values and Ethics set down by the GSCC.

It is widely accepted that parent and child relationship plays a central role in the psychological development.(Pg1Attachment andDevelopment) Goldburg, S. (2000) Attachment and Development,London: Arnold.

The term development refers to the process by which a child, or more generally an organism (human or animal) grows and changes through its lifespan. In humans the most dramatic developmental changes occur in infancy and childhood, as the newborn develops into a young adult capable of becoming a parent himself or herself. From its origins much of developmental psychology has thus been concerned with child psychology, and with the changes from infancy through to adolescence.Smith, P.K. and Cowie, H. (1996)Understanding Childrens Development (2nd ed.),Oxford: Blackwell.

The term attachment is described in Collins Dictionary of Social Work (Thomas, M. and Pierson, J. (1995), London: Harper Collins) as a long lasting emotional bond between two individuals, involving their seeking proximity to each other and having pleasure in each others company. Typically attachment is developed by infants towards their principal care-givers, but it may also characterize feelings between other people, or between a person and some object. Attachment is a strong emotional bond that develops between infant and caregiver, providing the infant with emotional security. By the second half of the first year, infants are said to become attached to familiar people who have responded to their need for physical care and stimulation. (Bowlby, J 1998) How these attachments develop and whether attachment theory provides a sound basis for advice on how to raise children have been intense topics of theoretical debate. Attachment refers to the interactive reciprocal relationship that infants and young children experience and develop with their primary caregiver(Bowlby, 1982).

Many times this caregiver is the infants biological mother. In recent times the population of working mothers has increased dramatically. Due to this demographic change, the primary caregiver for a child is sometimes the biological father and other relatives such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, older siblings, nannies or day care providers.There are also Children in our country who for various reasons find themselves in the care of foster or adoptive parents.

Following birth is a rapid area of learning for the child. A new born baby can see approximately 20 cm and follow a moving object, smell, hear and recognise voices. Checks are preformed on the newborn to ensure nothing obvious is wrong, these checks include Reflexes, Moro response (toes curling), Babinski (grasps fingers and hangs), ensuring that infant is rooting for the breast, sucking & swallowing, step and stepping. The new born is totally reliant on the caregiver as it is not equipped to survive without it. The caregiver provides food, warmth and protection, for example when a baby cries it is for a reason this is a form of communication. Babies know that when they cry somebody will come and will ensure to satisfy the babies needs. Chronologically, this is the period of infancy through the first one or two years of life. The child, well-handled, nurtured and loved, develops trust and security and a basic optimism. Badly handled, he becomes insecure and mistrustful.(Erikson E Trust Vs Mistrust 8 Stages of Development) cited Child Development Information (2009)

Children develop and grow from the moment they are conceived until early adulthood, showing many changes within their abilities. Whilst no two children will develop at exactly the same time, as Social Workers we use benchmarks to observe behaviours and development.

Understanding the stage and process of development can help a Social Worker identify the achievement of developmental milestones such as a Childs first step or first words and to acknowledge the child is developing normally within the benchmarks we work. Attachment theory is a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that forms relationships. One important principle of attachment theory is that a young child needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally. The theory was formulated by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby. The area of the infant is considered by Bowlby as sensitivity period.

Within attachment theory, infant behaviour associated with attachment is primarily the seeking of familiarity of an attachment figure in stressful situations. Infants become attached to adults who are sensitive and responsive to their needs and who remain as consistent caregivers for some months during the period from about six months to two years of age.

During the latter part of this period, children begin to use attachment figures as a secure base to explore from and return to with the knowledge that a parent will be where they left them in the case of a secure attachment. Separation anxiety or grief following the loss of an attachment figure is considered to be a normal and adaptive response for an attached infant. The child will show a clear preference for the primary caregiver on their return; this will help guide the individuals feelings, thoughts and expectations in later relationships.

Attachment theorists point to data that favour the caregiver responsiveness hypothesis. For example, it has been found that an infants crying changes over the first year much more than the mothers responsiveness to the crying does.

Moreover, the mothers responsiveness over a 3-month period predicts the infants over the 3 months significantly better than the infants crying predicts the mothers subsequent responsiveness to crying. In short, the mother appears to influence the infants crying more than the infant influences the mothers responsiveness to crying (Bell & Ainsworth, 1972). As a social worker we need to gain an understanding of the whole child, their development and their life course. It is important to take a range of theories and perspectives into account that support us in understanding childrens growth and development and individual experience, the role and the impact of their families and the influence of processes and systems in their lives. Through this you should be able to see beyond the description of the child, to give meaning to their lives and experiences. Thus we are recognising the child as an individual.

We need to acknowledge there are children with unique and specific needs that may impact on their individual development and behaviour, certainly on their experiences and how others view and respond to them, a good example would be the experience and views of a child with a disability. Pg 31 SW & human deve.

We need to recognise that communities raise children in diverse ways with each culture encouraging the kinds of habits and traits that help them to integrate and function within that culture, (pg 33 Social work and human development) however we need to be mindful of the laws and human rights that we have within the United Kingdom whilst being aware of cultural diversities and preferences.

Recognising the importance of culture within the childs development is important for a number of reasons. Firstly we need to identify those aspects of development that impact on all children ,not just through theories and studies based on white, middle class children living with a western culture. Secondly we need to have an understanding of the childs family culture and how that impacts on the child; we need to understand the impact of cultural beliefs as part of that environment. We need to consider how different cultural beliefs impact on how people experience their lives.

Attachment process for the parents seems to begin with the development of an initial emotional bond and then extends to more and more skilful attachment behaviours. For the infant, the process is said to begin with attachment behaviours and then progresses to the full characteristics of attachment somewhat later (Atkinson et al 2000).

Sigmund Freud however, also offered a view on the area of attachment and his view was later known as the The Cupboard Theory. This theory stated that the absence of the mother would frighten the baby into believing that it would not be nourished. This theory offered by Freud has received a great deal of criticism on the basis that there is no evidence to suggest that the infant associates the mother entirely with nourishment. Bowlbys view supplemented these criticisms as he believed that babies have inborn tendencies towards the mother and are not attached by food or warmth.

Another key development which was argued disproved Freuds theory and offered support towards the view of Bowlby was an experiment which was conducted by Harlow and Harlow in 1977. This experiment consisted of Rhesus monkeys been raised without their mothers. The Monkeys were housed is isolated cages with a model mother either made from wire or . The terry-towel cloth had no provision in which to feed the monkeys whereas the wire mother figure did in the form of milk yielding nipples. The study concluded that every time the monkeys were frightened they would seek support and comfort from the warm non-food providing terry-towel cloth model as opposed to the cold food providing wire model. These findings clearly disputed the view of Freuds Cupboard theory. And it indicated, as Bowlby would argue, that a mothers love is not for nourishing but for comforting and children, like the rhesus monkeys, use teddy bears for comfort if they feel in anyway threatened (Gleightman, H. et al 1999).

Later criticisms of attachment theory relate to temperament, the complexity of social relationships, and the limitations of discrete patterns for classifications. Attachment theory has been significantly modified as a result of empirical research, but the concepts have become generally accepted, although we are no longer working with just a Euro centric base, we use these theories as a benchmark within Social Work taking into account individual cultures and beliefs.

Another disadvantage for a child is having a good attachment with a poor parent; this could cause lack of trust, mistrust and the child then as having to care for themselves and possibly siblings.

Although criticisms have been made of the Theory of Attachment and certain aspects of the work of Bowlby, Ainsworth etc I feel that the theory of attachment has developed immensely through their work. It can certainly be argued that their work will and will continue to contributed to our understanding of how parent and child attachments develop and I feel that their work provides us with reasoning as to why children may develop in different ways. Although there are criticisms which exist of the theories, I feel that it can be clearly argued that they give us a solid information base as to why attachment is important in the development of infants and children.

The overall consensus surrounding attachment and the associated debates have in past suffered criticism from feminist groups too. For example, criticisms surrounding Bowlbys work have been made highlighting that he maintains that the mother should be the main carer of the infant and that her continuous care should be present while the child is growing and developing (Gross, R. 1999). This has been argued to be sexist as the implication is that the mother will not work and will automatically undertake child rearing roles. It can be argued once again that this presumption is not only sexist but as highlighted previously, culturally unethical too. One major argument which has been offered by Gross R. in 1999 to support the feminist view is that a stable network of adults offers adequate care and in some cases can have advantages over a system where the mother has the meet all the infants needs (Gross, R. 1999).


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