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Parenting a Child With a Disability: The Role of Social Support for African American Parents Essay Sample

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Parenting a Child With a Disability: The Role of Social Support for African American Parents Essay Sample

This article examines the impact upon the physical and mental health of African American parents, who have children with disabilities and live in an urban environment; it also examines the impact of social interaction, positive or negative, with family members other than the spouse, to see if this helps increase or decrease the parents ability in adapting to having to care for a disabled child. Social Concern, Main Point and Argument

The main social concern in the above article would be parental physical and mental health, with the human behavior issues coming from nonspousal systems of support. The authors’ primary argument is that African American parents with a disabled child are more likely to have more somatic symptoms than that of their counterparts who have no disabled children, arguing that additional challenges come with caring for a child with disabilities. They hypothesize that having a disabled child does in fact impact upon the physical and mental health of the African American parent living in an urbanized community, and that this impact is reduced as a result of receiving increased positive feedback and support from family members. The articles primary purpose is to encourage practitioners to understand the implications that their study presents for practice, such as the importance of engaging family members to have increased positive interactions with these African American parents since the outcomes of their research has shown that this results in enhancing the family system’s functioning ability and the interchange of support (Ha, J., et al., 2011).

The outcomes also implied that tangible support was just as important as emotional support, and encouraged practitioners to seek out these resources on behalf of the child and parent, whilst keeping in mind that the overall wellbeing of the parent is a crucial element in this support system. The authors attempt to bridge a gap between current and previous research as they acknowledge that up till now most of the research done has been more ethnocentric and focused on White samples. The authors argue that given the racial, social and environmental differences in their study, the population they are researching may have additional challenges and lack of opportunities than those of their White counterparts. In relation to this, the author wants the reader to be aware of the fact that the differing culture and value system the African American’s come from, may also show divergent coping and stress management skills amongst this population when it came to assessing the main social concern of the physical and mental health of these parents, and the behavioral response from within their family systems. Application of Theoretical Concepts

The application of the Systems theory and Ecological perspective to the social concern and human behavior within the family support system, helps provide a framework from within which professionals such as social workers can look at the interactions between people and their environment. Having said this, the systems approach initially helps us understand the different systems that exists in these African American parents lives, because it’s only when you start looking at the clients micro (e.g. African American parent dealing with their physical and mental health issues), mezzo (family, urban area, African American ethnicity/culture, institutions/ professionals involved with disabled child etc.) and macro (e.g. policies/ procedures relating to disabled child and physical/mental health) systems, are you really able to start understanding the impact the environment has on your client and vice versa. The ecological perspective allows practitioners to look more specifically at the relationship between individuals and their family systems, which would apply to the African American parents of a disabled child, or more particularly at forces that are motivating factors for the given behavior (Hepworth, 2003) of these parents within the context of their environment – known as the ‘Person-In-Environment’ approach.

This concept is rooted in the ecological theory and could help practitioners comprehend some of the reasons leading to the physical and mental health issues experienced by these parents. Together, these theories help provide more of a holistic picture of the situation, enabling practitioners to view the social problem in this article through different lens in order to help them better comprehend the situation. For example, ethnocentricity in previous studies is highlighted by the authors as an issue, and as practitioners, it is important to remember that there are ethnocentric values in the systems and ecological theories that could impact upon the service delivery to African Americans.

In the Afrocentric worldview, their acknowledgement of “affective reality as well as rationality, strives for system maintenance rather than individual material gain, and views humanity collectively through shared concern for others’ well-being” (Daly, Beckett, Jennings, & Leashore, 1995), enables the practitioner to appreciate the concept of homeostasis in relation to the African American population and their family networks. The families have been able to adapt to their situation and have created a homeostatic family system, but practitioners need to be competent in acknowledging that by a system being in a steady state, it does not necessarily mean it’s a positive state. According to Beresford, 1998, families continue to remain vulnerable despite finding ways to in which they learn to cope and manage adapting to their situation, (Zastrow, 2013), thus may need that additional support from other systems such as the grandparents as identified by this article in ensuring that the family system remains homeostatic and functioning.

Needs are continuously changing and evolving, and as human beings we learn the art of adaptation and coping within the environment that we exist. By looking at the article from this perspective, it could potentially help in identifying the African American parents who appear to have better coping mechanisms that enable them to adjust to their environments as opposed to those who do not seem to be able to survive within their current situation, and continuously struggle, without really ever overcoming the problem or issues at hand. This helps the practitioner identify where possible interventions can take place in order to enable a parent to develop certain skills that could help them survive the changes that continuously take place, especially given the disability of their child and all that comes with caring for them in an urban setting. The article provides a great example of ‘goodness of fit’, when talking about how ‘parents with greater social support show more positive parenting behaviors and lower levels of parenting stress’, (Ha, J., et al., 2011).

This concept is taken from the ecological ‘person-in-environment’ perspective, and helps the practitioner to recognize where the match between the individual’s needs, and the quality of their environment in its ability to meet these needs, provides a healthy, or in this case a desired outcome. The concept of Synergy helps the practitioner identify what the author is referring to in this article when encouraging practitioners to focus on positive transactions within or between human systems, such as the disabled child’s parent and grandparent, whereby providing education and direction for the grandparent would in turn help them provide the positive feedback and support for the parent that this article suggests, therefore leading to the idea of enhanced creativity and fulfilment for the parent, (Robbins, 2011). Given this concept, it implies the outcome of decreased physical and mental health issues would be attained within African American parents caring for a disabled child.

Taking this further, the systems approach could also see this situation as facilitating the ‘exchange of support’ (Ha, J. et al., 2011) which would enhance the functioning of any given family within this population, hence coinciding with the concept of equifinality where it is suggested that the same outcome can be achieved regardless of the starting point. The cultural values and beliefs shared by the African American community help us to understand the opinion of the authors when they talk about the interdependence between the African American parents and the disabled child’s grandparents. The value of the immediate family and extended family is prioritized and research has shown that the survival of this community has roots deep in their historical background. Comprehensive Summary

The systems theory is based on the strengths perspective, which is why it is a great application to the social concern of physical and mental health, especially given that the article identifies that strength based intervention such as positive re-enforcement from family members have shown to directly impact the individual’s physical and mental health. Through this perspective practitioners are able to identify those systems that would work or go against the African American parents. Having said this, despite the biological and psychological processes being seen as essential components of human behavior (Hepworth et al., 2003), they have received very little if any elaboration in this article. As a parent in this study, being given the opportunity to express other areas of my life that have resulted in the current situation would enable the practitioner to implement strategies in place to help resolve the problems I have identified as opposed to what society see’s as a social problem. For example, genetics could play a huge part in having developed the disability experienced by a person, but this aspect is not even mentioned here. This would help identify what other factors play a role in the construction of this social problem and highlight areas within which the practitioner could focus.

Therefore equifinality was not really identified in this article, since the sole concentration was on the interaction between the nonspousal family systems providing support to a family to be able to meet its goals. The article did not really look at how the goal of physical and mental wellbeing of an African American could also be met by other means. Given that oppression and coercive power exist in most institutions and having a disabled child meant most likely that the interaction between these systems would occur more frequently for these parents as opposed to others, it would have been interesting to see if the objective of wellbeing of the caregiver could have had direct correlation between the type of support they needed, and whether they were more apt, or not, to get it in relation to the White studies that had been done previously. This build up on previous studies would most likely have shown mezzo and macro systems having more of an adverse effect on this population as opposed to nonspousal family members.

Although this article talked about looking at this population within its urban habitat, there was hardly any mention of or discussion regarding the element of coercive and exploitive power that exists due to the fact that this group of people differ from the mainstream dominant culture, or within the institutions that surround a family who are from the African race, therefore have inherent historical oppression. It did not take into account that the additional labels such as mental and physical health issues, or having the stigma attached to them for having a disabled child further adds to the element of discrimination and oppression, which increases their susceptibility to the negative connotations they bring, resulting in making them more vulnerable. Other ideologies derived from the ecological perspectives such as stress theory, field of anthropology, humanistic psychology, dynamic systems theory and the dynamics of power concepts are just some additional concepts that would help the practitioner to better understand some of the problems faced by the African American parent within the urban setting having to care for a disabled child.


Daly, A., Beckett, J. O., Jennings, J., & Leashore, B. R. (1995). Effective coping strategies of

African Americans, Social Work, 40(2), 240-248.

Glasgow, D. (1972). Black Power Through Community Control, Social Work, 17(3), 59-64

Hepworth, D.H., Larsen, J., Rooney, G.D., Rooney, R.H., & Strom – Gottfried, K. (2006). Direct

Social Work Practice: Theory & Skills. Belmont, CA: Thomas Learning, Inc.

Russell, F. (2003). The expectations of parents of disabled children. British Journal of Special Education, 30(3), 144-149.
Zastrow, C. H., Kirst-Ashman, K.K (2012). Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment (9th ed.). Belmont, CA. Thomas Learning.

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