"People need to receive from their environment the resources essential for development and survival. Reciprocally, the environment needs to receive the care necessary for its evolution" (Turner, 1996, p. 391).
Ecological theory provides a framework for a "life-model" practice which incorporates an understanding of the experiences of each individual within their historical, societal, and cultural contexts. The life model provides social workers with an insight into assessment and intervention, with respect to individual's difficulty in life transitions, traumatic events, environmental pressures, and dysfunctional interpersonal processes. This model, highly representative of an ecological approach, primarily focuses on the person-environment fit.
Turner (1996), highlights four elaborations to address the constantly changing person-environment fit:
- "To be responsive to oppression, social workers must develop competence in community, organizational, and legislative influence and change as well as in direct practice."
- "To effectively respond to people's varied needs, social workers must practice at whatever level a particular situation begins and wherever it may lead."
- "People cope with oppression and scapegoating in many different ways. Practitioners must be careful about blaming oppressed people for their troubles."
- "Social workers must be sensitive to people's diverse backgrounds. Stage models of human development follow in a fixed, sequential, and universal stages."
The goals of a life model approach are to improve the person-environment fit, through effectively reducing stress between systems including individuals, communities, and resources, hence professional functions are versatile and occur at varied micro and macro levels (Turner, 1996):
Improve a person's ability to effectively handle stress;
Influence individuals immediate social and physical environments to become more effective in responding to individual needs;
Improve the quality of reciprocity between person and environment.
Community, Organizational, and Political levels-
Mobilizing community resources; influencing organizations to develop and maintain effective services; and influencing local, state, and federal legislation.
Social workers often assist families experiencing cultural transition. Diverse populations are often struggling with migrating to a new country,and trying to maintain their ethnic identity while adjusting to a new culture's expectations, policies, and rules. "mainstream developmental psychology, which serves as an important source of social work knowledge, often fails to provide theoretical and practical tools for deal with this challenge. Rather, it relies primarily on the individual as a unit of analysis and focuses on universal laws of behavior while neglecting cultural diversity" (Roer-Strier & Rosenthal, 2001). Social workers need to adopt an ecological approach to understand the complexities of diverse populations and to assist them in adaptation to a new and unfamiliar society.
Roer-Strier & Rosenthal (2001) propose that it is first best to develop a clear understanding of practitoner/client cultures. This can be done through discussing traits, sculpturing, painting with family members;
Social workers can enable discussions of differences between traditonal and current cultural perspectives within a safe, accepting environment;
Social workers can form multi-cultural family groups where beliefs, values, and perspectives can be shared between cultures as well as between varied age groups in helping to eliminate conflicts of opinion within family units. Younger family members may be more accepting of a new culture which may conflict with elder family members traditions;
Social workers can advocate and lobby for immigrant populations in promoting a better understanding and acceptance of diversity within our societies.