The focus upon the interrelationship between people and their environments has been a distinctive feature of social work since it emerged in the late nineteenth century (Kemp, Whittaker and Tracy 1997). The ecological systems theoretical tradition has, over the past 30 years, become the main theoretical metaphor for understanding context and the relationship between people and their situation. It is the perspectival theory in the integrated practice framework. This part contains four chapters that present an overview to ecological systems theories in action.
It begins with a chapter by Kieran O'Donoghue and Jane Maidment that critically reviews ecological systems theory. This review traces the evolution and development of the ecological systems tradition, outlines the key theoretical concepts, and discusses the strengths and limitations of ecological systems theories in social work in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.
The three chapters that follow apply ecological systems theories to specific practice settings, namely HIV practice, trauma and an acute inpatient mental health ward. Christa Fouché's chapter applies ecological systems theory as an analytical framework for conceptualizing HIV practice within the South African context. The argument presented by her multi-level analysis is that an ecological assessment of the HIV situation in South Africa reveals that changes in the South African situation will occur only by altering the environments in which the virus, and the human carriers of this virus, live. The next chapter, written by Carole Adamson, applies an ecological perspective to trauma theory and practice and emphasizes the significance of context in both social workers' and supervisors' responses to traumatic events. The last chapter in this part is presented in the form of a conversation between Mathew Keen and Kieran O'Donoghue on the topic of integrated practice in mental health social work. The areas covered include the authors' views concerning integrated practice and its place in the ecological systems tradition, its application in the inpatient mental health setting and with the indigenous and settler populations living in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Kemp, S., Whittaker, J. and Tracy, E. (1997) Person-EnvironmentPractice: The Social Ecology of Interpersonal Helping. New York: Adeline de Gruyter.