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“Family Systems Theory” and “Ecological Systems Theory”: Case Study of Somalian 70+-year-old Lady

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This case study is about a Somalian 70+-year-old lady, Salma, who came to Australia with her grandchildren. Her husband, son, and daughter-in-law were killed in Somalia by the army. I met Salma in Dallas Neighborhood Housing during my field placement. In this paper, I will discuss the main difficulties that the lady and her grandchildren are facing and how different social work theories and frameworks can be applied in this case. There are a couple of social work theories that can explain the social condition and circumstances Salma and her two grandchildren are going through. The practice models will demonstrate in what way we can bring a change in their lives. This case study will include social work theories and important practice models which are an important part of social work practice. While a social work theory explains how a person reacts to the situation or the surroundings, a practice model demonstrates how social workers can implement different theories for bringing a change. (Leeman, n.d.) I will use “Family Systems Theory” and “Ecological Systems Theory” for explaining Salma’s and her grandchildren’s behaviors. I will explain how these theories are compatible with Salma’s story and these theories will show Salma’s life from a social perspective. The therapies and practice models that can be implemented to improve Salma’s and her grandchildren’s situation are “Crisis Intervention”, “Task-centered practice” and “Narrative Therapy”. I will conclude with recommendations involving these practice models for Salma’s and her grandchildren’s life problems and how these theories and frameworks can be carried out to avoid any future social problems.

Case Study

Salma is a 70+ years old Somalian lady who came to Australia with her two grandchildren, Fatima, 17 years old, and Rafiq, 14 years old. The army in Somalia killed Salma’s husband, son, and daughter-in-law. Therefore, she had to move to Australia with her remaining family which consists of her two grandchildren. She had to face a lot of difficulties with her visa condition. She now lives in Broadmeadows and is much dependent on community hub services. The money she gets from the Centre link is not enough for taking care of her grandchildren. She is completely dependent on the food parcel program for food. She cannot understand or speak English also which is a very huge communication barrier for her over here. Salma has gone through a huge trauma as she lost her husband, son, and daughter-in-law and now she is left alone with her two grandchildren. She is an old lady who must take care of the two teenage kids. Fatima and Rafiq are also going through immense stress and trauma as they have lost both of their parents. It is a huge loss for them and seeing their parents being killed by the army leaves an everlasting deadly impression on kids’ minds. After losing her most of the family in Somalia, Salma decided to move to Australia for a better future of her grandchildren. But she had to go through hardships in getting a visa also. After facing numerous difficulties in requiring a visa, when Salma reached Australia, she decided to start a new life. She is a lady with great courage and determination.

She is living a very hard life with miserable conditions where she cannot even afford to provide food for herself and her grandchildren. She gets her food from the community center but this does not break her courage. She is striving hard only for the sake of her grandchildren. She wants her grandchildren to have a better life and get a better education. The armed conflict did not only damage the mental health of children, but it also had a worse impact on the family system and caused complexity in migration, displacement, and resettling in a new place and community. The role of a stable family is very important in the upbringing of children. But in Fatima’s and Rafiq’s case, they only have their old grandmother, therefore, they need psychosocial support. Their lives are full of grief, confusion, and troublesome challenges right now and they are going to have exceptional experiences, educational challenges, and other behavioral changes in the future. Children who are exposed to armed conflict become more vulnerable to psychological trauma, illness, and exploitation. (Kadir, Shenoda, & Goldhagen, Effects of armed conflict on child health and development: A systematic review, 2019) Deadly experiences can cause negative effects on children’s mental health which will result in poor academic progress as well as worsen their life opportunities. (Kadir, Shenoda, & Goldhagen, Effects of armed conflict on child health and development: A systematic review, 2019) The military in Somalia killed Fatima and Rafiq’s parents which can cause posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and stress. Displacement with financial issues and then living in low-income areas with very few basic facilities can also cause social isolation, mass trauma, and loss of social status. There are also chances of facing discrimination. These kids can also have learning problems accompanied by traumatic experiences, communication barriers, bullying, discrimination, and low expectations from teachers. (Kadir, Shenoda, Goldhagen, & Pitterman, The Effects of Armed Conflict on Children, 2018)

I met Salma in Dallas Neighborhood Housing during my placement and conducted an interview with her in which she told me about the difficulties and hardships she had been facing. The old lady, Salma, and her grandchildren need attention and social help. Social work intervention with older people can include various social work theories and frameworks which are helpful for professional practice. Concerns of older people are closely related to their surroundings people whether they are living with their family or in a care center.

Social work theories for this case study

Family Systems Theory

In this case study, there is a huge breakdown seen in the family system. By using the Family Systems Theory, we can assess the cause of the conflict and the effects of the breakdown in the family. ((SIGA), 2011) Dr. Murray Brown, who was a psychiatrist formulated Family Systems Theory. According to this theory, a family is a single emotional unit. (Kerr, 2003) All the members of a family are dependent on each other and we cannot assess them in isolation. The behavior of a family member causes changes in other members’ behaviors. Salma lost the most important members of her family, therefore she must take responsibility of her grandchildren now. This abrupt change in the family system has caused stress and anxiety in the remaining three members of the family. All the incidents that happened with these family members have lead to dysfunction.

Every child has a great attachment with his parents, same is the case with Fatima and Rafiq. They were very close to their parents and have suffered a huge loss. This has caused immense stress and anxiety for both kids. These children are having problems in settling in a completely new place, financial issues, social isolation, and facing communication barriers. All these factors have made Fatima and Rafiq vulnerable and will cause long-term damage. According to the Family Systems Theory, Fatima and Rafiq’s trauma of deprivation and socioeconomic crisis can lead to the development of uncertain attachments in the future. On the other hand, Salma, their grandmother, has become overprotective of the children. She has a loving attachment with her grandchildren and worries about their future. She has come all the way to Australia for their bright future and protection. It shows the sharing of emotional work in the family, where Salma is coping up with the hardships and protecting her grandchildren who are suffering from extreme trauma.

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Ecological Systems Theory

Urie Bronfenbrenner developed the Ecological Systems Theory which explains that different ecological systems affect human development. (Sincero, 2012) This theory helps in explaining a person’s relationship within a community and the surrounding environment.

According to the Ecological Systems Theory, the sudden migration in a new country and abrupt sad incidents have a negative effect on the human development of the children, Fatima and Rafiq. In this case, children are exposed to war and armed conflicts which can result into PTSD, stress, and anxiety. Children are struggling with settling down in a new environment where they can be bullied and suffer discrimination. Salma and her grandchildren are not natives and cannot speak or understand English. This communication barrier causes a huge setback for this family. All these reactions are hindering their development and disrupting their environment. In addition to this, they are exposed to poverty. An economic crisis can have psychosocial effects on adults as well as children. As Salma is completely dependent on Centre link money only, it is very difficult for her to fulfill the necessities of her grandchildren. The economic crisis may affect children in two ways: directly and indirectly. Poverty can affect the mental health of Fatima and Rafiq directly which can cause stress and anxiety. It can also affect their mental health indirectly through the influence of their grandmother’s impaired mental health who is coping up with the situation. For settling in a new environment and society, Salma and her grandchildren, Fatima and Rafiq, must make effort.

Social work practices and models

Crisis Intervention

Crisis Intervention Theory states that sometimes crisis situations occur suddenly to people and people face problems while handling those situations. Therefore, it is necessary for social workers to help them in coping with their difficulties. (Task Centred Approach And The Crisis Intervention Social Work Essay, 2018)

Salma is at the critical stage of crisis which can lead to dangerous illness or any life changes where the older people’s ability to deal with a crisis is not enough. The same is the case with her grandchildren. Their loved ones were killed by the army and they migrated to Australia after facing several hardships while acquiring visas. Here, crisis intervention is applied so that Salma and her grandchildren can come out of their current crisis and get ready to resolve further issues. My aim was to examine the situation and encourage Salma, Fatima, and Rafiq to learn new ways of coping with the situation. I assessed the crisis they were going through, evaluated their strengths, and helped them to achieve some goals by using those strengths. It helped in changing the perception of negative incidents that happened and it offered strategies for coping with difficulties. It also helped in lowering the stress level.

Task-centered Approach

Task-centered Approach is a method in which people set goals to achieve. (Leeman, n.d.) I collaborated with Salma to help her create strategies and decide the required steps for achieving those goals. First, we detailed and broke down problems into small pieces. Afterward, we prioritized the problems and started making strategies for resolving them. Our priority was to cope with the trauma the family was going through due to the sudden loss of other family members. As the center link money was not enough for her family, she needed to do some job so that she could earn money to support her two grandchildren. I suggested Salma to focus on her skills and abilities so that she can use them for earning money. Another problem that we evaluated was the communication barrier. She and the children needed to learn English so that they could be able to communicate with people around them.


In this case study, I have discussed about an old lady, Salma whose husband, son, and daughter-in-law were killed by the military in Somalia. Afterward, she moved to Australia with her two grandchildren, Fatima and Rafiq. She went through a lot of struggles to get the visa and now she is living in Broadmeadows. She faces difficulty while communicating with the locals as she cannot understand and speak English. She gets her food from the community hub services and is facing financial problems. Salma and the kids are going through mental trauma as they have faced the deaths of their loved ones and now they must settle in a completely new environment.

I used the following therapies and steps to minimize their pain and grief:

  • Crisis Intervention Therapy was applied to lower the stress level. It helped Salma and especially the kids with their struggles of life. They were able to find new strengths and abilities for handling their crisis.
  • The task-centered approach was used to evaluate Salma’s problems and then formulate strategies to resolve those problems.


  1. (SIGA), T. I. (2011). The Role of the Social Worker with Older Persons.
  2. 5 Social Work Theories That Inform Practice. (2017, January 7). Retrieved from Online Campbellsville:
  3. Kadir, A., Shenoda, S., & Goldhagen, J. (2019, January 16). Effects of armed conflict on child health and development: A systematic review. Retrieved from PLOS ONE:
  4. Kadir, A., Shenoda, S., Goldhagen, J., & Pitterman, S. (2018). The Effects of Armed Conflict on Children. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from
  5. Kerr, M. E. (2003). One Family’s Story: A Primer on Bowen Theory. Bowen Center for the Study of the Family.
  6. Leeman, D. G. (n.d.). Theories Used in Social Work Practice & Practice Models. Retrieved from Simmons University:
  7. Sincero, S. M. (2012, March 14). Ecological Systems Theory. Retrieved from Explorable:
  8. Task Centred Approach And The Crisis Intervention Social Work Essay. (2018, November). Retrieved from UK Essay:

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“Family Systems Theory” and “Ecological Systems Theory”: Case Study of Somalian 70+-year-old Lady. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
““Family Systems Theory” and “Ecological Systems Theory”: Case Study of Somalian 70+-year-old Lady.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
“Family Systems Theory” and “Ecological Systems Theory”: Case Study of Somalian 70+-year-old Lady. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
“Family Systems Theory” and “Ecological Systems Theory”: Case Study of Somalian 70+-year-old Lady [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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