What is Ecological Social Work?

The practice of ecological social work has been around since the late 1970s, and as environmental awareness has increased in society, social workers have taken on a bigger role in caring for the environment.

The main idea behind this concept is the notion of a person-environment fit, which implies that there is at least one type of ideal environment for a society to live in. It's more likely, though, that there are several types of ideal environment.

What Ecological Social Workers Do

Most people outside of social work think of this profession in terms of social programs, such as child protection services and drug rehabilitation, but it goes beyond this limited definition to include all aspects of society and human ecology. The job of social workers is to improve the living conditions of a society, and a large part of that work involves studying and reshaping the surrounding ecology.

See: 30 Inspiring Urban Renewal Projects

The four types of ecological social systems are the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and macrosystem. The microsystem is the simplest type of human-ecological system, and it consists of the direct relationships between an individual and his or her environment. An example of this system is the effect a person has on the environment by driving to work, dropping trash on the ground or participating in city beautification projects.

A mesosystem is a relationship between systems, such as the effect a social group has on another social group. An example of this type of system is the overall effect a group of people has on a public park or recreational facility. An exosystem is a more generalized type of system that has to do with the effect one group has on the interactions between other groups. An example of an exosystem is the effect a particular family has on the interactions between other families visiting a public place. Lastly, a macrosystem is a top-level system in society, such as the culture, government, politics and religion of a group of people.

How Ecological Social Work Benefits Society

Ecological social workers are attuned to these systems and especially to the societal oppression that exists within these systems. The number one goal of social workers is to identify causes of oppression in society and work to alleviate their effects. Professional sociologists have developed a system called a life model to foster the ideal person-environment fit. Under the life model, social workers can examine the interrelations of microsystems, mesosystems, exosystems and macrosystems to determine the optimal environmental improvements to be made within an ecological system.

In addition to finding the causes of oppression, social workers look for problematic instances of stress in the environment. Stress normally occurs within an individual, so most attention is given to the kind of stress most people think of when discussing stress. However, environmental stress can also exist in a more generalized sense within social groups and the impact they have on the environment. For example, one important job of social workers is to help families adapt to their new surroundings after immigrating to the United States or moving from one state to another.

As populations grow and become more diverse, the need for social workers increases. There will always be a need for people to help families transition from one place to another, both metaphorically and geographically. The most effective methods for this task lie in the field of ecological social work.


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