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Paper

Traumatised children’s view of their social world: the application of the Social Network Map for children who have experienced abuse and neglect

abstract

Background. The Take Two program in Victoria, Australia was established in 2004 to provide therapeutic interventions for children who were clients of child protection. Its charter included the establishment of a research and evaluation strategy incorporating the use of outcome measures. As part of a suite of measures, the Social Network Map developed by Tracy and Whittaker (1990) was used to encapsulate the children's perspective on who was important in their life and their experience of support and closeness. This chapter will provide an overview of how the Social Network Map was utilised as part of the methodology for the evaluation as well as to inform practice.

Purpose. The purpose is to describe the use of the Social Network Map and the findings from this measure both as a description of children's social world in assessment and as a measure of change, through its use as an outcome measure.

As the social network map is a semi-structured qualitative measure it has enabled creativity and flexibility in application with children, whilst requiring clarity and conformity in implementation. Data analysed from the Social Network Maps can provide a description of the children's perception of their social world. A smaller data set shows the use of Social Network Maps to measure change, i.e. as an outcome measure. Case studies can illustrate examples of the children's views.

Key findings. Findings from the Take Two evaluation (Frederico, Jackson & Black, 2006) arising from analysis of 31 Social Network Maps includes:

  • the importance of family even when the children are not living with them. Only 8% of the children who completed a Social Network Map were living with one or both parents; however 68% of children included their mother in their map. Of the 28 children who listed one or more siblings in their network, 12 (43%) were not living with a sibling, and another nine (32%) were only living with some of their siblings;
  • the children listed a range of family relationships in their networks, including those they lived with and those they rarely saw. The most frequently noted family members were siblings, with 90% of children listing one or more siblings. They were also the family members the children had the most contact with. The importance of siblings for many of these children is clearly emphasised in the analysis of the Social Network maps. 82% of the children who listed one or more sibling described at least one of them as "very close";
  • nearly a quarter did not list either parent, all of whom had at least one living parent. The absence of fathers was particularly marked, with 52% of children making no mention of their father in their grid;
  • although teachers were often not described as very close, they were frequently acknowledged as providing support. School transition was a key theme for many of these children due to their age and changes in placement with 71% of children making some mention of people associated with their school;
  • many children were equivocal in their descriptions of friendships, where friends were often described as not providing support. 65% of children described at least one friend as "hardly ever" providing emotional support and only six (26%) children described one or more friends as "almost always" providing practical support;
  • children generally were able to distinguish the level of closeness of people in their networks, varying the level of closeness attributed to different siblings, friends or cousins. Children were also able to make the distinction between level of closeness and type of support offered. For example one child listed his father, whom he sees a few times a year, as "hardly ever" providing emotional support, however he was still listed as being "very close".

In terms of measuring change over time, it has been interesting to reflect on what changes one would expect for children of this age in their social network. A preliminary look at what changes were noted included: increased number of people the child described as close; lack of change in the type of support provided; and that most children had more than half of those they listed in their network change over the two time periods.

Implications and recommendations. Implications regarding the use of the Social Network Map include that it can be used with children as young as six years of age, although was most often used with children aged between 10 and 12 years. The approach to using the Social Network Map varied with the children's age and particular tools have been developed by clinicians and the research team to help the children understand the key concepts. Diagrammatic presentations of the child's social network have been developed as an aid for assessment and research, and also as a clinical aid to help the child understand their network.

An additional question regarding whether the people in the child's network have the same or different culture from the child has been piloted. This was included with Aboriginal children in mind, but has been found useful with children from various cultural backgrounds. In accordance with the action research approach by Take Two, the data has been interpreted for both clinical assessment and research purposes. There are challenges and advantages of this approach.

Issues raised include the use of this measure with elementary school age children, as well as adolescents; Aboriginal children; the balance between creativity and consistency of approach; and the importance of the broader social world for children whose experience is one of significant change in terms of where and with whom they live.

 Key references

Frederico, M., Jackson, A., & Black, C. (2006). Give sorrow words. - A Language for Healing, Take Two - Second Evaluation Report 2004 - 2005. Bundoora: School of Social Work and Social Policy, La Trobe University (www.berrystreet.org.au).

Tracy, E. & Whittaker, J. (1990). The Social Network Map: Assessing social support in clinical practice. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 171(8), 461-470.

Contacts: Annette Jackson, Berry Street Victoria, PO Box 167, Campbellfield Victoria 3061, Australia, E-mail: ajackson@berrystreet.org.au, Phone+ 61 3 9479 2742.

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