Community Practice: Theories and Skills for Social Workers

By David A. Hardcastle; Patricia R. Powers et al. | Go to book overview
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7
Using Assessment in
Community Practice

Although it generally is understood that people live in complex social milieus that dramatically affect them, assessment rarely takes into account larger social variables.

A. WEICK, C. RAPP, W. P. SULLIVAN, AND W. KISTHARDT (1989, P. 351)

Some years ago in California, Erin desperately needed a job. Divorced, she had three children to support; a car accident had created even more severe financial difficulty for her. Somehow Erin wrangled work from the lawyer who represented her in the accident. Since she only had a high school education, it was an entry-level filing job. But this newest staffer at the law firm was a curious person, a thinking person, and she noticed incongruities in one obscure case. Her initial hypothesis was that something was wrong with the file itself.

Erin showed initiative. Besides asking her boss about those irregularities, she left the office, drove to the Mojave Desert, and talked directly to the family involved. Their health and housing situation made her suspicious of a nearby corporation. She revised her assessment, deciding something was wrong in the community. Gathering facts, she investigated the Hinkley area, population 1,000, and Pacific Gas and Electric. She gradually introduced herself and made a point of meeting everyone in the neighborhood and hearing their stories. As she attended picnics and sat in homes, she compiled evidence and learned people's strengths. She built trust because she knew that, before she could help, she and the community had to become allies. Erin rolled up her sleeves and dived in, and that was appreciated by residents and plant workers who slipped her secret documents.

Even though she had no legal training, Erin refused to be intimidated by technical records, and she copied what seemed relevant. She insisted on her right to use public records and gathered soil and water samples. Eventually, this paralegal was able to document widespread medical problems caused by chromium 6 contamination in the drinking water. Erin's investigation led to a $333 million settlement for 600 residents who sued the corporation with the help of her law firm. Erin Brockovich's determination to secure justice for these folks became the subject of a popular movie starring Ju

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