In this course, you will be asked to select one case study and to use it throughout the entire course. By doing this, you will have the opportunity to see how theories guide your view of a client and the client’s presenting problem. Although the case may be the same, each time you use a different theory, your perspective of the problem changes, which then changes how you go about asking the assessment questions and how you intervene.
The first theoretical approach you will use to apply to a case study is systems theory. In other words, your theoretical orientation—your lens—will be systems theory as you analyze a social work case study.
Different theories can be used to take a systems approach. For example, Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory considers how a system is made of smaller subsystems that influence each other and seek homeostasis, whereas Brofennerbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory focuses on how an individual’s experience is influenced by different system levels (micro, meso, exo, macro, and chrono). Systems theory is commonly used to understand the interrelationships of the systems (e.g., family, community, organizations, society) of the client. If you are working with families, communities, and organizations, it is also beneficial to use systems theory to get a holistic picture of all the interrelated parts of the system.
To prepare: Select and focus on one of four case studies listed in the Learning Resources. You will use this same case study throughout the course.
Theory Into Practice: Four Social Work Case Studies In this course, you select one of the following four case studies and use it throughout the entire course. By doing this, you will have the opportunity to see how different theories guide your view of a client and that client’s presenting problem. Each time you return to the same case, you use a different theory, and your perspective of the problem changes—which then changes how you ask assessment questions and how you intervene. These case studies are based on the video- and web-based case studies you encounter in the MSW program.
Table of Contents Tiffani Bradley ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 2 Paula Cortez ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 9 Jake Levey …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 10 Helen Petrakis ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 13
Tiffani Bradley Identifying Data: Tiffani Bradley is a 16-year-old Caucasian female. She was raised in
a Christian family in Philadelphia, PA. She is of German descent. Tiffani’s family consists of her father, Robert, 38 years old; her mother, Shondra, 33 years old, and her sister, Diana, 13 years old. Tiffani currently resides in a group home, Teens First, a brand new, court-mandated teen counseling program for adolescent victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Tiffani has been provided room and board in the residential treatment facility for the past 3 months. Tiffani describes herself as heterosexual.
Presenting Problem: Tiffani has a history of running away. She has been arrested on
three occasions for prostitution in the last 2 years. Tiffani has recently been court ordered to reside in a group home with counseling. She has a continued desire to be reunited with her pimp, Donald. After 3 months at Teens First, Tiffani said that she had a strong desire to see her sister and her mother. She had not seen either of them in over 2 years and missed them very much. Tiffani is confused about the path to follow. She is not sure if she wants to return to her family and sibling or go back to Donald.
Family Dynamics: Tiffani indicates that her family worked well together until 8 years
ago. She reports that around the age of 8, she remembered being awakened by music and laughter in the early hours of the morning. When she went downstairs to investigate, she saw her parents and her Uncle Nate passing a pipe back and forth between them. She remembered asking them what they were doing and her mother saying, “adult things” and putting her back in bed. Tiffani remembers this happening on several occasions. Tiffani also recalls significant changes in the home's appearance. The home, which was never fancy, was always neat and tidy. During this time, however, dust would gather around the house, dishes would pile up in the sink, dirt would remain on the floor, and clothes would go for long periods of time without being washed. Tiffani began cleaning her own clothes and making meals for herself and her sister. Often there was not enough food to feed everyone, and Tiffani and her sister would go to bed hungry. Tiffani believed she was responsible for helping her mom so that her mom did not get so overwhelmed. She thought that if she took care of the home and her sister, maybe that would help mom return to the person she was before.
Sometimes Tiffani and her sister would come downstairs in the morning to find empty beer cans and liquor bottles on the kitchen table along with a crack pipe. Her parents would be in the bedroom, and Tiffani and her sister would leave the house and go to school by themselves. The music and noise downstairs continued for the next 6 years, which escalated to screams and shouting and sounds of people fighting. Tiffani remembers her mom one morning yelling at her dad to “get up and go to work.” Tiffani and Diana saw their dad come out of the bedroom and slap their mom so hard she was knocked down. Dad then went back into the bedroom. Tiffani
remembers thinking that her mom was not doing what she was supposed to do in the house, which is what probably angered her dad.
Shondra and Robert have been separated for a little over a year and have started dating other people. Diana currently resides with her mother and Anthony, 31 years old, who is her mother’s new boyfriend.
Educational History: Tiffani attends school at the group home, taking general education classes for her general education development (GED) credential. Diana attends Town Middle School and is in the 8th grade.
Employment History: Tiffani reports that her father was employed as a welding
apprentice and was waiting for the opportunity to join the union. Eight years ago, he was laid off due to financial constraints at the company. He would pick up odd jobs for the next 8 years but never had steady work after that. Her mother works as a home health aide. Her work is part-time, and she has been unable to secure full-time work.
Social History: Over the past 2 years, Tiffani has had limited contact with her family
members and has not been attending school. Tiffani did contact her sister Diana a few times over the 2-year period and stated that she missed her very much. Tiffani views Donald as her “husband” (although they were never married) and her only friend. Previously, Donald sold Tiffani to a pimp, “John T.” Tiffani reports that she was very upset Donald did this and that she wants to be reunited with him, missing him very much. Tiffani indicates that she knows she can be a better “wife” to him. She has tried to make contact with him by sending messages through other people, as John T. did not allow her access to a phone. It appears that over the last 2 years, Tiffani has had neither outside support nor interactions with anyone beyond Donald, John T., and some other young women who were prostituting.
Mental Health History: On many occasions Tiffani recalls that when her mother was
not around, Uncle Nate would ask her to sit on his lap. Her father would sometimes ask her to show them the dance that she had learned at school. When she danced, her father and Nate would laugh and offer her pocket change. Sometimes, their friend Jimmy joined them. One night, Tiffani was awakened by her uncle Nate and his friend Jimmy. Her parents were apparently out, and they were the only adults in the home. They asked her if she wanted to come downstairs and show them the new dances she learned at school. Once downstairs Nate and Jimmy put some music on and started to dance. They asked Tiffani to start dancing with them, which she did. While they were dancing, Jimmy spilled some beer on her. Nate said she had to go to the bathroom to clean up. Nate, Jimmy, and Tiffani all went to the bathroom. Nate asked Tiffani to take her clothes off and get in the bath. Tiffani hesitated to do this, but Nate insisted it was OK since he and Jimmy were family. Tiffani eventually relented and began to wash up. Nate would tell her that she missed a spot and would scrub the area with his hands. Incidents like this continued to occur with increasing levels of molestation each time.
The last time it happened, when Tiffani was 14, she pretended to be willing to dance
for them, but when she got downstairs, she ran out the front door of the house. Tiffani vividly remembers the fear she felt the nights Nate and Jimmy touched her, and she was convinced they would have raped her if she stayed in the house.
About halfway down the block, a car stopped. The man introduced himself as Donald,
and he indicated that he would take care of her and keep her safe when these things happened. He then offered to be her boyfriend and took Tiffani to his apartment. Donald insisted Tiffani drink beer. When Tiffani was drunk, Donald began kissing her, and they had sex. Tiffani was also afraid that if she did not have sex, Donald would not let her stay— she had nowhere else to go. For the next 3 days, Donald brought her food and beer and had sex with her several more times. Donald told Tiffani that she was not allowed to do anything without his permission. This included watching TV, going to the bathroom, taking a shower, and eating and drinking. A few weeks later, Donald bought Tiffani a dress, explaining to her that she was going to “find a date” and get men to pay her to have sex. When Tiffani said she did not want to do that, Donald hit her several times. Donald explained that if she didn’t do it, he would get her sister Diana and make her do it instead. Out of fear for her sister, Tiffani relented and did what Donald told her to do. She thought at this point her only purpose in life was to be a sex object, listen, and obey—and then she would be able to keep the relationships and love she so desired.
Legal History: Tiffani has been arrested three times for prostitution. Right before the
most recent charge, a new state policy was enacted to protect youth 16 years and younger from prosecution and jail time for prostitution. The Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act allows the state to define Tiffani as a sexually exploited youth, and therefore the state will not imprison her for prostitution. She was mandated to services at the Teens First agency, unlike her prior arrests when she had been sent to detention.
Alcohol and Drug Use History: Tiffani’s parents were social drinkers until about 8
years ago. At that time Uncle Nate introduced them to crack cocaine. Tiffani reports using alcohol when Donald wanted her to since she wanted to please him, and she thought this was the way she would be a good “wife.” She denies any other drug use.
Medical History: During intake, it was noted that Tiffani had multiple bruises and burn
marks on her legs and arms. She reported that Donald had slapped her when he felt she did not behave and that John T. burned her with cigarettes. She had realized that she did some things that would make them mad, and she tried her hardest to keep them pleased even though she did not want to be with John T. Tiffani has been treated for several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at local clinics and is currently on an antibiotic for a kidney infection. Although she was given condoms by Donald and John T. for her “dates,” there were several “Johns” who refused to use them.
Strengths: Tiffani is resilient in learning how to survive the negative relationships she has been involved with. She has as sense of protection for her sister and will sacrifice herself to keep her sister safe.
Robert Bradley: father, 38 years old Shondra Bradley: mother, 33 years old Nate Bradley: uncle, 36 years old Tiffani Bradley: daughter, 16 years old Diana Bradley: daughter, 13 years old Donald: Tiffani’s self-described husband and her former pimp Anthony: Shondra’s live-in partner, 31 years old John T.: Tiffani’s most recent pimp
Identifying Data: Paula Cortez is a 43-year-old Catholic Hispanic female residing in New York City, NY. Paula was born in Colombia. When she was 17 years old, Paula left Colombia and moved to New York where she met David, who later became her husband. Paula and David have one son, Miguel, 20 years old. They divorced after 5 years of marriage. Paula has a five-year-old daughter, Maria, from a different relationship.
Presenting Problem: Paula has multiple medical issues, and there is concern about
whether she will be able to continue to care for her youngest child, Maria. Paula has been overwhelmed, especially since she again stopped taking her medication. Paula is also concerned about the wellness of Maria.
Family Dynamics: Paula comes from a moderately well-to-do family. Paula reports
suffering physical and emotional abuse at the hands of both her parents, eventually fleeing to New York to get away from the abuse. Paula comes from an authoritarian family where her role was to be “seen and not heard.” Paula states that she did not feel valued by any of her family members and reports never receiving the attention she needed. As a teenager, she realized she felt “not good enough” in her family system, which led to her leaving for New York and looking for “someone to love me.” Her parents still reside in Colombia with Paula’s two siblings.
Paula met David when she sought to purchase drugs. They married when Paula was 18 years old. The couple divorced after 5 years of marriage. Paula raised Miguel, mostly by herself, until he was 8 years old, at which time she was forced to relinquish custody due to her medical condition. Paula maintains a relationship with her son, Miguel, and her ex-husband, David. Miguel takes part in caring for his half-sister, Maria.
Paula does believe her job as a mother is to take care of Maria but is finding that more and more challenging with her physical illnesses.
Employment History: Paula worked for a clothing designer, but she realized that her true
passion was painting. She has a collection of more than 100 drawings and paintings, many of which track the course of her personal and emotional journey. Paula held a full- time job for a number of years before her health prevented her from working. She is now unemployed and receives Supplemental Security Disability Insurance (SSD) and Medicaid. Miguel does his best to help his mom but only works part time at a local supermarket delivering groceries.
Paula currently uses federal and state services. Paula successfully applied for WIC, the
federal Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Given Paula’s low income, health, and Medicaid status, Paula is able to receive in-home childcare assistance through New York’s public assistance program.
Social History: Paula is bilingual, fluent in both Spanish and English. Although Paula identifies as Catholic, she does not consider religion to be a big part of her life. Paula lives with her daughter in an apartment in Queens, NY. Paula is socially isolated as she has limited contact with her family in Colombia and lacks a peer network of any kind in her neighborhood.
Five (5) years ago Paula met a man (Jesus) at a flower shop. They spoke several times. He would visit her at her apartment to have sex. Since they had an active sex life, Paula thought he was a “stand-up guy” and really liked him. She believed he would take care of her. Soon everything changed. Paula began to suspect that he was using drugs, because he had started to become controlling and demanding. He showed up at her apartment at all times of the night demanding to be let in. He called her relentlessly, and when she did not pick up the phone, he left her mean and threatening messages. Paula was fearful for her safety and thought her past behavior with drugs and sex brought on bad relationships with men and that she did not deserve better. After a couple of months, Paula realized she was pregnant. Jesus stated he did not want anything to do with the “kid” and stopped coming over, but he continued to contact and threaten Paula by phone. Paula has no contact with Jesus at this point in time due to a restraining order.
Mental Health History: Paula was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She experiences
periods of mania lasting for a couple of weeks then goes into a depressive state for months when not properly medicated. Paula has a tendency toward paranoia. Paula has a history of not complying with her psychiatric medication treatment because she does not like the way it makes her feel. She often discontinues it without telling her psychiatrist. Paula has had multiple psychiatric hospitalizations but has remained out of the hospital for the past 5 years. Paula accepts her bipolar diagnosis but demonstrates limited insight into the relationship between her symptoms and her medication.
Paula reports that when she was pregnant, she was fearful for her safety due to the baby’s father’s anger about the pregnancy. Jesus’ relentless phone calls and voicemails rattled Paula. She believed she had nowhere to turn. At that time, she became scared, slept poorly, and her paranoia increased significantly. After completing a suicide assessment 5 years ago, it was noted that Paula was decompensating quickly and was at risk of harming herself and/or her baby. Paula was involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric unit of the hospital. Paula remained on the unit for 2 weeks.
Educational History: Paula completed high school in Colombia. Paula had hoped to
attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City, but getting divorced, then raising Miguel on her own interfered with her plans. Miguel attends college full time in New York City.
Medical History: Paula was diagnosed as HIV positive 15 years ago. Paula acquired
AIDS three years later when she was diagnosed with a severe brain infection and a T- cell count of less than 200. Paula’s brain infection left her completely paralyzed on the right side. She lost function in her right arm and hand as well as the ability to walk. After
a long stay in an acute care hospital in New York City, Paula was transferred to a skilled nursing facility (SNF) where she thought she would die. After being in the skilled nursing facility for more than a year, Paula regained the ability to walk, although she does so with a severe limp. She also regained some function in her right arm. Her right hand (her dominant hand) remains semi-paralyzed and limp. Over the course of several years, Paula taught herself to paint with her left hand and was able to return to her beloved art.
Paula began treatment for her HIV/AIDS with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Since she ran away from the family home, married and divorced a drug user, then was in an abusive relationship, Paula thought she deserved what she got in life. She responded well to HAART and her HIV/AIDS was well controlled. In addition to her HIV/AIDS disease, Paula is diagnosed with Hepatitis C (Hep C). While this condition was controlled, it has reached a point where Paula’s doctor is recommending she begin a new treatment. Paula also has significant circulatory problems, which cause her severe pain in her lower extremities. She uses prescribed narcotic pain medication to control her symptoms. Paula’s circulatory problems have also led to chronic ulcers on her feet that will not heal. Treatment for her foot ulcers demands frequent visits to a wound care clinic. Paula’s pain paired with the foot ulcers make it difficult for her to ambulate and leave her home. Paula has a tendency not to comply with her medical treatment. She often disregards instructions from her doctors and resorts to holistic treatments like treating her ulcers with chamomile tea. When she stops her treatment, she deteriorates quickly.
Maria was born HIV negative and received the appropriate HAART treatment after birth. She spent a week in the neonatal intensive care unit as she had to detox from the effects of the pain medication Paula took throughout her pregnancy.
Legal History: Previously, Paula used the AIDS Law Project, a not-for-profit organization
that helps individuals with HIV address legal issues, such as those related to the child’s father . At that time, Paula filed a police report in response to Jesus' escalating threats and successfully got a restraining order. Once the order was served, the phone calls and visits stopped, and Paula regained a temporary sense of control over her life.
Paula completed the appropriate permanency planning paperwork with the assistance of the organization The Family Center. She named Miguel as her daughter’s guardian should something happen to her.
Alcohol and Drug Use History: Paula became an intravenous drug user (IVDU), using
cocaine and heroin, at age 17. David was one of Paula’s “drug buddies” and suppliers. Paula continued to use drugs in the United States for several years; however, she stopped when she got pregnant with Miguel. David continued to use drugs, which led to the failure of their marriage.
Strengths: Paula has shown her resilience over the years. She has artistic skills and has
found a way to utilize them. Paula has the foresight to seek social services to help her
and her children survive. Paula has no legal involvement. She has the ability to bounce back from her many physical and health challenges to continue to care for her child and maintain her household. David Cortez: father, 46 years old Paula Cortez: mother, 43 years old Miguel Cortez: son, 20 years old Jesus (unknown): Maria’s father, 44 years old Maria Cortez: daughter, 5 years old
Jake Levy Identifying Data: Jake Levy is a 31-year-old, married, Jewish Caucasian male. Jake’s
wife, Sheri, is 28 years old. They have two sons, Myles (10) and Levi (8). The family resides in a two-bedroom condominium in a middle-class neighborhood in Rockville, MD. They have been married for 10 years.
Presenting Problem: Jake, an Iraq War veteran, came to the Veterans Affairs Health
Care Center (VA) for services because his wife has threatened to leave him if he does not get help. She is particularly concerned about his drinking and lack of involvement in their sons’ lives. She told him his drinking has gotten out of control and is making him mean and distant. Jake reports that he and his wife have been fighting a lot and that he drinks to take the edge off and to help him sleep. Jake expresses fear of losing his job and his family if he does not get help. Jake identifies as the primary provider for his family and believes that this is his responsibility as a husband and father. Jake realizes he may be putting that in jeopardy because of his drinking. He says he has never seen Sheri so angry before, and he saw she was at her limit with him and his behaviors.
Family Dynamics: Jake was born in Alabama to a Caucasian, Eurocentric family
system. He reports his time growing up to have been within a “normal” family system. However, he states that he was never emotionally close to either parent and viewed himself as fairly independent from a young age. His dad had previously been in the military and was raised with the understanding that his duty is to support his country. His family displayed traditional roles, with his dad supporting the family after he was discharged from military service. Jake was raised to believe that real men do not show weakness and must be the head of the household.
Jake’s parents are deceased, and he has a sister who lives outside London. He and his sister are not very close but do talk twice a year. Sheri is an only child, and although her mother lives in the area, she offers little support. Her mother never approved of Sheri marrying Jake and thinks Sheri needs to deal with their problems on her own. Jake reports that he has not been engaged with his sons at all since his return from Iraq, and he keeps to himself when he is at home.
Employment History: Jake is employed as a human resources assistant for the
military. Jake works in an office with civilians and military personnel and mostly gets along with people in the office. Jake is having difficulty getting up in the morning to go to work, which increases the stress between Sheri and himself. Shari is a special education teacher in a local elementary school. Jake thinks it is his responsibility to provide for his family and is having stress over what is happening to him at home and work. He thinks he is failing as a provider.
Social History: Jake and Sheri identify as Jewish and attend a local synagogue on
major holidays. Jake tends to keep to himself and says he sometimes feels pressured to be more communicative and social. Jake believes he is socially inept
and not able to develop friendships. The couple has some friends, since Shari gets involved with the parents in their sons’ school. However, because of Jake’s recent behaviors, they have become socially isolated. He is very worried that Sheri will leave him due to the isolation.
Mental Health History: Jake reports that since his return to civilian life 10 months ago,
he has difficulty sleeping, frequent heart palpitations, and moodiness. Jake had seen Dr. Zoe, a psychiatrist at the VA, who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Zoe prescribed Paxil to help reduce his symptoms of anxiety and depression and suggested that he also begin counseling. Jake says that he does not really understand what PTSD is but thought it meant that a person who had it was “going crazy,” which at times he thought was happening to him. He expresses concern that he will never feel “normal” again and says that when he drinks alcohol, his symptoms and the intensity of his emotions ease. Jake describes that he sometimes thinks he is back in Iraq, which makes him feel uneasy and watchful. He hates the experience and tries to numb it. He has difficulty sleeping and is irritable, so he isolates himself and soothes this with drinking. He talks about always feeling “ready to go.” He says he is exhausted from being always alert and looking for potential problems around him. Every sound seems to startle him. He shares that he often thinks about what happened “over there” but tries to push it out of his mind. Nighttime is the worst, as he has terrible recurring nightmares of one particular event. He says he wakes up shaking and sweating most nights. He adds that drinking is the one thing that seems to give him a little relief.
Educational History: Sheri has a bachelor’s degree in special education from a local
college. Jake has a high school diploma but wanted to attend college upon his return from the military.
Military History: Jake is an Iraqi War veteran. He enlisted in the Marines at 21 years
old when he and Shari got married due to Sheri being pregnant. The family was stationed in several states prior to Jake being deployed to Iraq. Jake left the service 10 months ago. Sheri and Jake had used military housing since his marriage, making it easier to support the family. On military bases, there was a lot of social support and both Jake and Sheri took full advantage of the social systems available to them during that time.
Medical History: Jake is physically fit, but an injury he sustained in combat sometimes
limits his ability to use his left hand. Jake reports sometimes feeling inadequate because of the reduction in the use of his hand and tries to push through because he worries how the injury will impact his responsibilities as a provider, husband, and father. Jake considers himself resilient enough to overcome this disadvantage and “be able to do the things I need to do.” Sheri is in good physical condition and has recently found out that she is pregnant with their third child.
Legal History: Jake and Sheri deny having criminal histories.
Alcohol and Drug Use History: As teenagers, Jake and Sheri used marijuana and drank. Both deny current use of marijuana but report they still drink. Sheri drinks socially and has one or two drinks over the weekend. Jake reports that he has four to five drinks in the evenings during the week and eight to ten drinks on Saturdays and Sundays. Jake spends his evenings on the couch drinking beer and watching TV or playing video games. Shari reports that Jake drinks more than he realizes, doubling what Jake has reported.
Strengths: Jake is cognizant of his limitations and has worked on overcoming his
physical challenges. Jake is resilient. Jake did not have any disciplinary actions taken against him in the military. He is dedicated to his wife and family.
Jake Levy: father, 31 years old Sheri Levy: mother, 28 years old Myles Levy: son, 10 years old Levi Levy: son, 8 years old
Helen Petrakis Identifying Data: Helen Petrakis is a 52-year-old, Caucasian female of Greek descent
living in a four-bedroom house in Tarpon Springs, FL. Her family consists of her husband, John (60), son, Alec (27), daughter, Dmitra (23), and daughter Althima (18). John and Helen have been married for 30 years. They married in the Greek Orthodox Church and attend services weekly.
Presenting Problem: Helen reports feeling overwhelmed and “blue.” She was referred
by a close friend who thought Helen would benefit from having a person who would listen. Although she is uncomfortable talking about her life with a stranger, Helen says that she decided to come for therapy because she worries about burdening friends with her troubles. John has been expressing his displeasure with meals at home, as Helen has been cooking less often and brings home takeout. Helen thinks she is inadequate as a wife. She states …
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