Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Social Work, Systems Theory and the CBMA

The celebration of the World Social Work Day highlights the role of social workers in responding to individual, family and community crises. In another site, I discussed Social Work as a Profession. Yesterday’s blog pointed out that social workers are also skilled in analyzing the frameworks of social conditions, and know how to change them to foster a more dignified life for all people, in all communities. This makes our discussion on systems theory and networking more relevant as they contribute to the development of such skills. Speaking by experience, the CBMA has benefited from my past learnings in social work when I led the association for six years. I feel a discussion on this topic is helpful before we resume the Gains in networking…

Ann Hartman (1970), as cited in Johnson (1995), noted that the systems theory is useful to social workers for it gives a means for conceptualizing linkages and relationships among seemingly different entities: individuals, families, small groups, agencies, communities, and societies. It notes similarities and differences among different classifications of systems. It aids social workers in considering both private troubles and public issues within the nurturing system and the sustaining system of a situation they are assessing.

The application of system analysis to social work practice was best described in the book written by Allen Pincus and Anne Minahan in 1973 entitled Social Work Practice: Model and Method. Their basic premise, that there is a common core of skills and concepts, which are essential to the practice of social work, is in fact basic to most theoretical interpretations of systems theory.

Pincus and Minahan theorize that there are four basic systems in social work practice: (1) a change agent system, (2) a client system, (3) a target system, and (4) an action system. The change agent system is composed of professionals who are specifically employed for the purpose of creating planned change. Also part of the change agent system is the employing organizations of the change agent.

The client system is composed of the people who sanction or ask for the change agent’s services, who are expected beneficiaries of the service, and who have working agreement or contract with the change agent.

The target system is composed of the people, agencies, and/or organizational practices that one wishes to change in some measurable way in order to reach the goals of the change agent. As such, by analyzing the changes of the target system, one can measure effectiveness and provide a mechanism for accountability.

The last is the action system, which is used to describe those factors with which a social worker works in his/her effort to accomplish the tasks and achieve the goals of the change effort. One may need to involve a number of different action systems in different aspects of a planned change effort to accomplish all of the different goals of the change agent. In the Pincus and Minahan model, the four basic systems are not mutually exclusive, but can and do overlap in many cases.

Following the Pincus and Minahan framework there is overlapping among the basic systems in the process of development. This means that a person, which may be considered a client system may also become a target system, a change agent or even an action system just like the processes, experienced by other systems. In the same way, that the social worker, who is considered basically a change agent, may at times become a client system, a target system or an action system.

This is true with those considered as action system. They may also become a target system or a change agent system or even a client system, as the need arises. Each system, therefore, is a contributor to and recipient of development which is the by-product of the whole interaction processes and relationships between and among NGOs and the network and their environment.

Pastors can apply this in their ministry, in dealing with the parishioners, officers, lay leaders, auxiliary and fraternal/maternal organizations, government and other institutions in the community. The framework can served as guide to respective actions.

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