Families and Deinstitutionalization: An Application of Bronfenbrenner's Social Ecology Model

Essay by sharonulyssesA, December 2008

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Bronfenbrenner's social ecology model is applied to families that include a member with a developmental disability who are involved in the process of transition from institution to community. An overview of the model is presented as well as discussion of counselors' use of it in providing services to families in this situation. The social ecology perspective can be applied to enhance understanding of the families and to provide a framework for structuring family support during the community transition process.

Two mothers were discussing their young sons, new first graders. The first mother, whose son is rather shy and cautious, announced that her son had volunteered to be in the first-grade play. The second mother reported that her son, a very outgoing and social little boy, did not want to be in the play. Both mothers were surprised. The explanation for their sons' choices may be found by examining the ecosystem of these children.

The classroom in which these boys spend many hours had influenced their behavior. The teacher had managed to "sell" the project and reassure the shy child but had failed to catch the fancy of the more outgoing little boy.

The influence of social ecology on human behavior (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) is receiving increased attention in the fields of psychology, sociology, and related disciplines, and it provides a theoretical expansion to the work on family systems theory (e.g., Minuchin, 1974). Social ecology provides a framework for viewing difficult issues involving individual and family adjustment to societal change, including adjustments faced by individuals who have developmental disabilities and their families.

An adjustment currently facing more and more of these families is the transition of their son or daughter from a large state institution serving persons with mental retardation to a community-based setting. During the last 25 years, there has been...