Knowledge for Social Work Practice: A Practitioner's View Through a Clinical Example

Presenter: Susan Lukas, Senior Social Worker, Jewish Board of Family and Children Services, New York, NY

 As a way of examining practice knowledge, an experienced clinical social worker was asked to identify a case and reflect on her practice decisions and actions. Ms. Lukas selected the case of "Nicole", referred to JBFCS by the New York City Ch ild Welfare Administration at the time of Nicole's fourth foster family placement. Seven at the time, Nicole had been found through physical examination to have been sexually abused. Law enforcement officials believed that Nicole's father was responsible for her mother's disappearance and Nicole may have witnessed her mother's murder.

Ms. Lukas described several sessions over two and half years of work with Nicole. She placed her practice in the context of changes in the client population over the past five years; younger children who have been severely traumatized and are brought f or treatment by caregivers other than parents. "While I had treated children who had been sexually abused and children who had lost a parent, I had never before worked with a child under the age of seven who had experienced a severe sexual assault, lost h er primary attachments and been repeatedly moved from one set of caregivers to the next. I now see more and more of these children everyday. Until I met Nicole I had never asked myself what the word "Mother" means to c child who calls four people by that name." In reflecting on practice principles that guided her, Ms. Lukas discussed the role of hope in therapeutic work; her assumptions about her role with children, their caregivers, and referring sources; and the questions that Nicole's care raised for h er, including "In what ways might the larger system (e.g. child welfare) include the very problem we are trying to prevent, namely the inability to form attachments?"