The power of the weak: A social work intervention through combining complementary needs and potentials

Djuka Stakic, Ph.D. Professor
Human Development and Family Studies
Penn State University

This project represents a specific social work response to challenges of a series of special, social circumstances and events in Serbia during a period of deep internal, social disorganization and international isolation and sanctions. The project represents a small segment of a wider, rather spontaneous, social action movement that attempted to lessen the consequences of social disorganization and advance the social status of vulnerable groups in the country. Those initiatives were innovative specifically in the way they were looking for a solution out of the box. The progressive deepening of the discrepancy between the peoples’ increasing needs and deterioration of the ability of the public system to respond adequately, has resulted in a creative solution that literally made virtue of necessity. The Project is, at the same time, an expression and an agent of change of these social circumstances. By skillfully using the human potential of vulnerable groups and resources available, the project aimed to make a miracle. All parties involved in this project, the research team and teachers, students and professionals, volunteers, and clients, have not only cooperated actively and vehemently, but have ended up enriched by a valuable experience. So, the project was a clear demonstration of the power of the weak and their ability to thrive when organized through appropriate social work interventions. At the same time, this and many other similar projects created in Serbia, and other counties in democratic transition and crisis in Eastern Europe, have marked the onset of endless processes of the development of alternative, nongovernmental social work initiatives in this part of the world that were created from inside of an existing formal system. The Project and other initiatives were discussed at the Social Work and Clinical Intervention Course of the IUC, School of Social Work Theory and Practice, as a basis for analyses of key features of holistic, multilevel and dynamic social work interventions.


This project is an example and is written in recognition of numerous rather small, endemic and ephemeral, but creative initiatives and projects that had to achieve what was referred to as the mission impossible. This experience represents the purview of the frontline spirit of social work interventions that used to, and still continue to, grow out of extremely challenging circumstances that produce human suffering, with no sufficient resources available, no external support provided and no previous experience or knowledge. Due to the emergency characteristic of intervention, the dedication to alleviating suffering and the improvement of the wellbeing of those involved, and the necessity for engaging in many other urgent initiatives in a time of crisis, most of those projects were never methodologically polished and theoretically conceptualized. Authors, participants and experience gained through those projects assisted the people in getting through difficulties, opened the doors for social protection system improvements and became an intellectual and ethical ingredient for the development of evidence-based practice. However, they were never published and, thus, stayed anonymous and unrecognized.

This paper is written with the intention of honoring and stressing the importance of the efforts of all those who had the courage to stay close to their clients, even while they were exposed to the same traumas as those they served. They felt loss and pain, but more importantly they were able to recognize the power of the weak: their human potential and their will to survive and thrive. So most of those initiatives and programs were born in the midst of chaos and social disorganization, and were inspired by the old Latin proverb, Vis unita foritor, (United we stand), demonstrating that even the weak, when united, may become strong.

It is also my strong intention to promote initiatives and projects like this one through my work as the IUC, Social Work (SW) & Clinical Interventions course director. I think that it is our responsibility to equally cherish formal and informal, long-lasting as well as ephemeral, governmental as well as nongovernmental, and regular and alternative forms of interventions to increase our ability to respond to the diversity of the needs and potentials of the population served. I do believe that good theory is the best way to good practice, but also that good practice is the safest way to good theory. Research and methodology are there to make that round trip possible. At the same time, good theory and evidence-based practice would increase the capability of SW to respond to challenging situations for which there were no support in previous experience; but, urgent intervention is needed.

The Social Background

The process of deep, social change, known as a Democratic Transition, that followed the fall of the communist regime in the Soviet Union and the fall of the Warsaw Alliance and the Berlin Wall, have opened opportunities for progressive social changes in all countries of Eastern Europe, as well as for free economic and open cultural exchange between the east and west. This process started with the hope for further progressive improvement of human rights, well being and the quality of life for people in the region. However, in some of those countries, instead of smooth democratic transition, social changes have turned into chaotic and bloody power struggles that have resulted in deep and long lasting social crises, poverty, suffering and the death of innocent civilians, including children. The case of former Yugoslavia was especially dramatic and tragic. Unfinished business from past between states, ethnic and religious groups and the accumulation of suppressed tension have quickly escalated into severe conflicts; the falling apart of the Yugoslav Federation; the horror of the civil war; the destruction of the economic infrastructure, cultural, religious, and historic heritage; ethnic cleansing; replacement of tremendous number of civilians, and ignorance of the human rights of minorities.

The agony of social turmoil has affected Serbia severely. For years Serbia has been exposed to NATO bombing, economic sanctions and cultural isolation from the international community, and internal rankling from the unscrupulous fighting of neo-socialists and nationalists to keep political power. The country was completely destroyed; the people were exhausted and poverty-stricken, while vulnerable groups (children, youths, the elderly, minorities, refugees, the poor, etc.) were endangered beyond all acceptable limits. The number of people in need of social support dramatically increased as their needs accumulated towards the point of irreversible damages. The situation, therefore, could best be described as having a gradually increasing discrepancy between the urgent and increasing needs of vulnerable groups and the progressive deterioration of the ability of the social-protection system to appropriately respond to those existential needs of its citizens.

Having been confronted with such challenges, the standard, rigid governmental social-protection system collapsed and became dysfunctional. Social workers, however, did not. In Serbia, unlike many other countries, the initiative for change and the first steps toward Alternative Interventions and further NGO sector did not come from the outside, such as from International Nongovernmental Organizations, but from the inside. They came from SW professionals who felt that they needed to get out of the system, out of the box, so they broke the eggshell of their governmental, professional framework and started a journey following the needs of the people they were serving. The Program that will be described here is only one among many others that were created and performed in this time of crisis. Today they serve as a guideline for initiatives and programs that belong to a massive, alternative movement in Serbian SW; they were never published or recognized for their creative and pioneering work. More importantly, while doing evaluations of nationwide reform projects in Serbia and Montenegro over the last few years, I was impressed with the growth and expertise of young professionals and scholars who were previously involved in those initiatives as assistants or volunteers. Today they are highly competent promoters of the best that SW can offer.

The Problem

Among many other vulnerable groups of people attempting to survive and thrive under those extraordinarily depriving social circumstances were abandoned elderly people living in self-owned, small farms in close proximity to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and a huge number of families of workers in Belgrade who had just lost their jobs due to economic sanctions. The first group represents those vulnerable groups that existed before the crisis, but whose situation worsened due to social disorganization. The second group represents those who had never dreamed that they would become a “social case.” For both of these groups there was no appropriate solution in the standard repertoire of the governmental social-protection system.

Elderly farmers’ famines

Belgrade is surrounded on three sides by a fertile valley (Vojvodina). This traditionally agricultural area consists of individually owned farms (Salash). During the period of collectivization (1945 -1955/60; moving private properties to communal) and industrialization (moving from agricultural to industrial-factory production and employment), the Salashs became either part of huge, government-managed agricultural giants or stayed untouched and left to owners who were so attached to the land that they exposed themselves to the risk of being considered anticommunist. Over the years they became too old to take care of the land and gradually became segregated from the rest of society, including from their own children who moved to industrialized and administrative centers all over the country. The regular solution for them was either to be placed in huge, alienating and overcrowded, assisted-living facilities or to stay on their farms and wait to die, without support of any kind.

Families of unemployed workers

Under the pressures of economic sanctions, most factories in the country were closed overnight. As a consequence a tremendous number of skilled workers, over 85,000 in Belgrade1 alone, suddenly became unemployed. Most, if not all, where sole providers for their families, usually consisting of three to five members. Standard social aid was rather pitiful and proceeded to melt down due to galloping inflation.

1 According to the 2002 census data, Belgrade’s population is slightly over 1 million people.

Core problem

The core problem encountered for this Program can be stated as: a dramatic discrepancy between the complex needs of specific social groups and the drastically compromised social capability to respond to them adequately. More precisely the problem was that the progressively weakening government was unable to prevent the increase of poverty amongst the active, employable population or to provide adequate assistance to vulnerable senior citizens in rural areas and farms around Belgrade. These two serious problems could not be alleviated through the regular system of care.

From the social work-intervention perspective, the dilemma could be formulated as: how to accomplish more with less? Or: how to cut the “shrinking pie” so that even more hungry people could be satisfied. This is something that all social workers and international helping professionals in countries in crisis and transition are facing on an almost daily basis. This article is one example of what magic is necessarily for that miracle to happen.

The Solution

Our careful analysis of resources, needs and potentials showed that the needs and potentials of the two groups of people mentioned above were somewhat complementary. What one group lacked, the other had, and vice versa. If they leaned on governmental support, they would not be helped. But, if they leaned on each other, they would be able to use their potentials. In other words, it was obvious that they possessed capabilities to help each other a great deal. That was the main intention of this small project: assisting the people in helping each other with no cost to or interference from the government.

The solution was to contact both groups of people and ask them if they would be interested in joining together to farm, produce and sell farm products and split the income. Planting onion was taken as a metaphoric expression of the spirit of this project. If one worker’s family from the city wanted to plant onion it needed to do several sequential visits to the farm in certain periods of time. By doing that, the farmers’ families and the factory workers’ families were able to establish and enhance their personal relationships. The more they progressed with their relationship, the more they widened their collaboration and activities. One farmer’s family, depending on the size of the farm, may have a few worker families in order to be able to take care of the land and produce whatever their farms could produce. In return they would have friends and some sort of extended or informal foster family to take care of some of their needs. In turn, factory workers’ families got an opportunity to beat the economic depression by engaging in lawful, productive activities. The best thing was that everything could be done without the active involvement of governmental institutions, with the exception of the project-intervention team. Everything was done on a voluntary basis and was fruitful as soon as the project began.

The Project Description and Methodology


The aim of this Project was to create a win-win scenario by connecting the complimentary needs and potentials of two vulnerable groups of the population so that they could help each other; thus escaping dependence on the inadequate government-based standard care solutions.

Potential benefits

The project aimed to accomplish the following:

  • The elderly farmers would get to stay in their homes and keep the land where they belong. They would be provided with high quality, yet informal, support and care. Thus, their feelings of alienation, abandonment and insecurity would diminish, but well-being and general mental health would be enhanced.
  • The workers would have the opportunity to aid their own families, through their own work, and mobilize their family system. The family system’s structure and organization which are decompensated were to be reestablished and improved. At the same time, the families would experience satisfaction related to the fact that from the position of losers, they were then able to help others who needed support.
  • The society in disorganization would be faced and challenged with a new, alternative form of protection. This is in line with the spirit of democratic transition strategy in all countries that embraced democracy, decentralization, diversification and deinstitutionalization as a main goal of the reform of the social protection system.
  • Undergraduate students engaged in this initiative would receive an opportunity to learn through helping and to advance themselves by doing something they consider meaningful and beneficial.

The intervention team

The intervention team is here seen as the creator (by noticing the complimentary needs and potentials), initiator and organizer (connecting two complimentary vulnerable groups) of the initiative, with focus on establishing, structuring and supervising relationships of mutually agreed co-assistance. All else, including relationship development, evolved according to mutual interests and agreements between the two parties involved. Simply put, the role of the intervention team would be best described as that of a catalyst. The project does not require special financial or material aid, which are unavailable in any case, or long-lasting engagement of overwhelmed and expensive professionals.

The Project team consisted of the principal investigator, two principal investigator assistants, professionals from the country’s social work centers (16), and students (115). The students were recruited through an offer to those who signed up for the course Methods of Work with Juveniles (400 level) to take the course in its standard form or through participating in the Field Research Curriculum Module. All students accepted the offered possibility. The course lasted two semesters, for a total of six weekly class hours. The course lecture topics followed a previously established syllabus, but labs were adjusted to fit the needs of acute issues with which the team members were dealing at the time. The students were not paid for their work, but they did receive a free card for public transportation, lunch when they were in the field, and the use of the telephone, fax and computers in the county social work centers. Those expenses were covered by the City of Belgrade Center of Social Work. Signing the informed consent for participating in the Project was a novelty for all students involved. The professionals from the local Centers of Social Work were also involved and, as soon as possible, the principal investigator’s duties, including supervision of the students’ performance, follow-up and support, were transferred to them, as they were legally responsible for social protection of the elderly people involved.

Phases and Activities

The project has had two phases: the initial and the evaluative.


The initial phase was, in fact, the main phase. It took place during the midst of social disorganization in Serbia (1993-1994) and was a quick response to the urgent needs of the two previously-described vulnerable groups. The main activities in this phase included: needs and potentials assessment, thorough analysis of risk and benefits of being engaged in the initiative, informed consent collection from participating families, and providing and establishing connection between two groups. Follow-up support was provided by professionals with responsibility of the entire initiative transferring directly to project participants.


The evaluation phase took place 10 years after the initial phase, during my Fulbright fellowship in Serbia (2003-2004). The main purpose was the evaluation of sustainability and the possibility for dissemination of the initiative. The project was evaluated with the hope of being used as the best-practice model for deinstitutionalization, decentralization and diversification reform strategy.

Initial Phase: Activities and Results

The initial phase included the following project activities:

  • Needs assessment and assessment of the potential of vulnerable groups. An assessment of both groups was conducted from the perspective of the nature and intensity of their needs for assistance and protection. In addition, students were directed and instructed to search for positive assets or remaining potentials and strengths, as well as successful coping strategies. A list of needs and potentials was established for each analyzed group, which included assessment of the adequacy of the standard care and examples of positive coping mechanisms.
  • Full attention was devoted to existing standard ways of solving problems with the focus on exploring possibilities for adaptation and building on these solutions.
  • Searching for (alternative) solutions. This part of the Project was based on brainstorming exercises with students and families. Although the author already had a proposed solution, the discussion was left open to the end so that the students and families could have a live experience of creating a solution and could, of course, propose something new, or simply refuse to participate in the proposed Program.
  • Exploring consequences for each relatively acceptable solution. Utilizing all available theoretical knowledge and methodological skills, the team carefully and responsibly re-examined the possible gains and downfalls of each alternative, which was examined as a possible solution. The same was done with each family from their perspective.
  • Choice of solutions and intervention planning. After the solution was formulated, or the goals and objectives were defined, we moved to planning the implementation of the Project, the allocation of responsibilities, education, instruction and ensuring supervision and support.
  • Preliminary contact. On the basis of evidence from responsible centers for social work, vulnerable families were identified and located. The students were divided into two groups. One group consisted of those who were from rural areas or who came from the families of farmers; they were scheduled to work with the elderly farmers’ families. The second group consisted of students from Belgrade and/or workers’ families from other cities; they were scheduled to work with the unemployed workers’ families. The first contact included presenting the project idea and receiving permission for further contact and conversations.
  • Connecting families and Informed Consent. In this phase two students and two families organized the first meeting under the supervision and guidance of a social worker from a local center for social work. The Initiative was presented one more time, informed consent was given by all parties and families were presented with a draft of the collaboration contract, with advice on whom to contact in the case of possible misunderstandings or problems.
  • Follow-up and support. Discretely, students offered their support and assistance in mediating potential difficulties. However, this issue was not stressed too much as one of the key factors of the project was minimal professional intervention or help to self-help.

Needs and Potentials Assessment Analysis and Conclusions

The analysis of the social status and coping mechanisms was done separately for both elderly and unemployed families, so the results will be presented in the same manner.

Elderly families’ needs, potentials and coping mechanisms

During the crisis period, a large number of the elderly farmer population was confronted with the following problems:

  • The progressive deterioration of work capacity, resulting in neglected farms and an inability to ensure minimum resources for meeting their own personal needs.
  • Isolation from the world, loneliness and lack of everyday human contacts and support.
  • Feelings of vulnerability, abandonment and helplessness. The fear that, due to advanced age, they would die alone on their farms, forgotten and neglected.
  • Depressive mood and suicidal ideation.
  • Resistance to leaving their own farms, homes and the “land of their ancestors.”

However, these units possess the following unused potentials:

  • Fruitful land, buildings and means (tools) for agriculture
  • Experience, knowledge, and passion for farming and working the land
  • Dedication to life and work on the farm
  • Willingness to help others and to cooperate with people interested in farming
  • Physical proximity to Belgrade: nearby, inexpensive, suburban mass transportation
  • Motivation for being part of the Project among the first sample of families was high.

Coping mechanisms: It was also noted that the elderly people who had strong ties with a support system from outside of their farms did the best. The ones who still had a link with their children, family or friends continued, with their help, to be able to work the land, to be productive and make money.

The standard modes of “protection” of the elderly became long-term placements into elderly-care institutions. On the other hand, most of the elderly who were traditionally attached to their farms and homes stated that they would rather die than leave their homes and live in institutions.

Unemployed worker families’ needs, potentials and coping mechanisms

These families dealt with the following problems:

  • Unemployment and the inability to find other regular work or a possibility of supporting their families.
  • Experiencing rapid decline of quality of life, and even reaching edge of poverty.
  • Feelings of injustice, personal failure, despair and being trapped.
  • Degradation of the role of the head of the family in a traditional, patriarchal family system organization. As a consequence some changes in family structure and dynamics, especially in power and influence, took place.
  • Culmination of problems. Having no opportunity to provide for family through regular employment, many fathers became involved in “shady” business (illegal import, small crimes, black market, etc.). Alcoholism, drug use, depression, domestic violence, divorce, child misbehavior, etc. close the circle and lead to further disorganization of the family system as a whole.

However, these families still possess the following unused potentials:

  • Ability and willingness to work
  • Strong motivation to “stay in the driver’s seat” and to change the situation through their own work and efforts
  • Relative mobility
  • The possibility to mobilize and organize the entire family system to accomplish extraordinary jobs or assignments as needed
  • Motivation for being part of the Project among the first sample of families was high.

Coping mechanisms

However, it was noticed that families who had established support systems outside of the metropolitan areas did not have as much need to use social services. Families that had relatives or friends in the country were in a position to collaborate with them- to work on their farms, sell produce and ensure incomes.
The standard form of social protection (financial assistance or assistance with food or clothing) became worthless due to galloping inflation and an increased number of users.

Second Phase: Activities and Results

The idea for the second phase came up during my teaching/research in the Fulbright fellowship in Serbia (2002-2003). Besides serving as a special advisor to the Ministry of Social Affairs of the Republic of Serbia (I helped with the Reform of the Social Protection System in Serbia), I also served as a visiting professor at the University of Belgrade, School of Special Education.

When the new democratic government took power in Serbia, the Ministry of Social Affairs of the Republic of Serbia immediately initiated a thorough reform of the social protection system. The strategy was to keep proven good practices and to introduce new policies and programs. They also looked back to find good ideas and the best practices that were abandoned or rejected by the previous government, but that deserved to be refreshed and promoted. In that context this project was evaluated with the hope of being used as the best-practice model.
Beside that, the idea for the second phase also stemmed from my need to engage undergraduate students at the University of Belgrade in organizing service-based, field-research experience. At the same time, during the period of several reform initiatives in Serbia, a real social need existed for engaging all available resources in order to establish the circumstances for change and to promote these. The exhausted and overworked professionals could not deal with a wave of new problems and cases. Thus, students were called to help, and their engagement was welcomed. Finally, the University of Belgrade students were the most radical advocates of change from the very beginning of the social disorganization. Many of them had years of experience in organizing and participating in protests, demonstrations and grassroots movements. This experience, a high level of social and political consciousness, and social activism were attributes of the generation with which I had the pleasure to work. They were interested in neither lectures nor in dry, timeless, theoretical and methodological discussions. They were already motivated for action and only needed organization, direction and support. Thus, the model of action research seemed the most appropriate way of utilizing both the students’ potential and blending the teaching process with the necessary processes of social changes. This time students were engaged in visiting families and evaluating effectiveness and sustainability of the Initial Project from 1993 to 1994.

It should be stressed that a classic evaluation was not implemented. However, the students visited 15% of families and talked about effectiveness and further program development that eventually became the responsibility of the clients. A process evaluation was also conducted, the experience gained was analyzed and the pedagogic component was scrutinized. Evaluation of the team work, including that of the author of this Project, as well as of all students (through testing knowledge, assessment of practical work on projects, assignments, an oral assessment and defense of the student assignment) was implemented.

Main Findings and Conclusions

When the students’ engagement in the first phase ceased, the families continued to collaborate and to develop activities that were not previously planned. Only 12-15% of families continued with the original program. Many of them stayed involved even when they did not need such support any longer; they could not break the human ties that they had established. Some families recommended the Program to other families, who became involved in the Program, but they themselves got out of it. According to the system of informal self-organization, it was estimated that the number of families involved with the program grew from the original, but that they changed the focus and the way of collaboration. There were no reported major conflicts, abuse or exploitation involved. Using this initiative as a model, additional projects were developed. Most significantly, a large number of students continued with professionally-based social activism through involvement with different nongovernmental organizations and voluntary projects.

The Elderly

The initiative brought to life neglected farms. The land is now worked, the fields are green, animals are fed, food and wine is available, and dinner guests from the city are plentiful. The elderly gained friends that they could contact if they needed help or if they had to visit a doctor in the city and needed a place to spend the night. They had someone who visited them, worked together with them and accomplished joint benefits. The elderly also enjoyed the feeling, not only that they were being helped, but also that they were needed and that they could still do good deeds and aid others.

Families from the City

Families from Belgrade and other cities reported feeling as though they were in a position to build their own future, and they could once more provide for their families to overcome the crisis and live a decent life.

They gained friends for whom they cared, they felt better because they were not receiving help or degrading government-subsidized assistance, and that they could pick the fruits of their own work. They had something to do, they were not bored and did not feel worthless or hopeless. The atmosphere and relationships within their households improved, the structure of their family systems was re-established, and the family unit managed to resist the temptations of social disorganization. In terms of families involved in the initial session, the following cases were noted: a small number of initially-involved families remained in the program, some families remained even when they needed no additional support at all, some new families became involved and clusters of families working together were established. The most interesting contribution of this initiative was that it became one, temporarily solution for refugee families from Bosnia, Kosovo and Croatia, in particular for those who are from similar, agricultural backgrounds and are still in Serbia with an uncertain date for returning to their homes.

Students’ Experience
Analyzing their own experience with the research team, students stressed the following:

  • They liked the proactive position, the possibility to move from the passive and marginal position into that of the main actor, assisting the vulnerable families and contributing to the Reform as a major social movement.
  • They especially appreciated engagement in a real problem and a meaningful initiative, not just in a fictional, empty project that was specifically envisioned for student practices.
  • They enjoyed a “total experience”, a clear experience of dialectical unity and mutual enrichment of theory, pedagogy and practice in real-life situations.
  • They were honored with opportunity to be involved in the entire project and a variety of related activities in all phases of work, regardless of which segment of the project they worked on.
  • They were impressed with modeling and the opportunity to observe their professor at work noticing, searching for solutions, and proposing and solving real problems as they arose.
  • They liked the social learning process that took place through open exchange of experiences between students, professionals, project leaders and the families involved.
  • The experience of utility and feeling of satisfaction- knowing that the profession for which they are preparing may change the status of an individual family and influence the better organization of a community.
  • They were grateful for gaining useful contacts and networking- for the chance to meet experts and become familiar with the institutions in which they will complete internships and seek employment.


The majority of leading authors (Alissi, 1980; Hutchinson, 2007) identify the following three social work intervention models: the Functional or social-goals model, which focuses on the environment; the Healing or clinical model, which focuses on the individual; and the Reciprocal or mediation model, which focuses on relations between the individual and the environment. Pointing out the fact that each of these models encompass only one critical target-the individual, group or social community- Lang (1972) articulated the aims of many methodologists and tried to conceptualize a new, holistic model. Starting from the theory of social systems and the concept of semi-conductive boundaries between them, she divides relevant systems into: allonomous, authonomous and allonomous-autonomic. Classification is done based on the type of group-functioning control. Thus, the autonomic systems that are characterized by internal controls are equal to the social-goals model. Allonomous groups are controlled from the outside and they correspond to the healing model. In contrast, allonomous-autonomic systems represent a transitional form of mixed control and they correspond to the mediation model. Elaborating further on these ideas, Thompkins and Gallo (1978) tried to build one truly holistic, comprehensive model. The model attempts to equally evaluate the individual, group and community, their mutual relations, as well as subsystems behind these three key categories; it also stresses that those relationships are changing all the time. The social worker is directed to investigate the dysfunction of particular (sub) systems, as well as to examine the relations among the systems that may be dysfunctional as well, even when basic systems are quite adequate. Tension among systems occurs when the needs and expectations of any system element are not realized. The social worker’s task is to make a careful analysis, ideally with the participants themselves, and find out where there is harmony and where there is disharmony between or inside those three systems and why. Based on such an evaluation, the primary goal can be defined. In determining goals one should bear in mind two things. First, treatment will focus on those aspects of the system which are most charged with tension. But, if the tension is diffused or if it involves more system elements, then the goal hierarchy can be established. This means that it should go from basic (individual), via the group, to social aims. Second, the goals are defined in stages rather that as final entitles. This means that during the work, goals could possibly be substituted. The social worker will not prevent such development but will stimulate it. Acceptance of this model will enable him or her to follow the natural course of events, and not to narrow or break the process of change and elaboration. The through is that reciprocal relationship between person and environment has been clearly outlined by Marry Reachmod’s (1917) notion about dual focus of social diagnosis: social situation and personality of the client.

In contemporary literature and practice there are several different varieties of articulation

of social work interventions, with most of them are based on ecological-system theory ( Anderson and Carter,1974; Bloom 1984; Fraser, 2004; Germain, 1973; Hartman, Pincus and Minahan, 1973; Hutchison 2007) and inspired by Bronefrener’s (1999) graphic model: a holistic-developmental-positive view of human nature and active and dynamic-multidimensional relationships between individuals, groups and communities. Without such an open, comprehensive, evidence based (Lee 2006; O’Hare, 2005) and flexible model, social work interventions would not be able to fulfill the core and unique mission of SW professions. It is this spirit that we are going to nourish and promote through our work at the IUC, School of SW Theory and Practice.


Alissi S. A. (Ed.). (1980). Perspectives on Social Group Work Practice. The Free Press.

Anderson, R., & Carter, I. (1974). Human behavior in the social environment: A social system approach. Chicago: Aldine.

Bloom M. (1984), Configuration of human behavior: Life Span development in social environment, New York, Macmillan.

Bronfenbrener, U. (1999). Environment in development perspective: Theoretical and operational models. In S. Friedman & T. Wachs (Eds.) Measuring Environment Across the Life Span. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Cooper, G. M., & Lesser, J. G. (2005). Clinical Social Work Practice: An Integrated Approach, (2nd ed). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Fraser, M. (Ed). (2004). The ecology of childhood: A multisystems perspective. In M. Fraser (Ed) Risk and resilience in childhood: An ecological perspective (2nd ed). Washington, DC: NASW Press

Hutchison, D. E. (2007). Dimension of Human Behavior: Person and Environment, (3rd ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.

Lang, N.C, (1972). A Broad-Range Model of Practice in the Social Work Group. Social Service Review 46, 1. (p.77)

Lee, J. (2006). The empowerment approach to social work practice: Building the beloved community. New York: Columbia University Press.

O’Hare, T. (2005). Evidence – Based Practice for Social Workers: an Interdisciplinary Approach. Chicago: Lyceum Books, Inc.

Thompkins, P. R., & Gallo, F. T. (1978). Social Groupwork: A model for Goal Formulation. Small Group Behavior Vol. 9, 3 pp.307-317.

Whittaker, J.K., (1980). Models of Group Development: Implications for Social Group Work Practice. Social Service Review 44, 3.



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