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Paula Cortez 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 fulltime 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

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 Theoryconsiders 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.

  1. Focus on the identified client within your chosen case.
  2. Analyze the case using a systems approach, taking into consideration both family and community systems.
  3. Complete and submit the “Dissecting a Theory and Its Application to a Case Study” worksheet based on your analysis.

Turner, F. J. (Ed.). (2017). Social work treatment: Interlocking theoretical approaches (6th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

  • Chapter 14: General Systems Theory (pp. 240–247)

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