Social mapping tool helps strengthen support networks for abused children

Social mapping tool helps strengthen support networks for abused children

24 Apr 2008

Children traumatized by abuse are being assisted towards recovery with the use of a social mapping tool being refined by La Trobe University researchers in partnership with clinicians.

Social mapping was developed in the United States more than 18 years ago as a tool to assess the emotional and social well-being of adults. La Trobe University is believed to be the first to extensively trial it to help assess the well-being of traumatized young people, some as young as six years of age.

The maps are being trialled as part of the University's research into the effectiveness of the Victorian Government-funded Take Two program. (Take Two provides therapeutic interventions for children and young people who have suffered trauma and disrupted attachment due to severe abuse and neglect.)

Associate Professor Margarita Frederico, Head of La Trobe University's School of Social Work and Social Policy, and Principal Consultant Research and Evaluation at Take Two, says some children on the program are being asked to draw a map of their social supports to help assess the degree of post-traumatic stress they are experiencing – and to help evaluate their progress.

"If you accept that social supports are important in our social and emotional wellbeing, then we can use these maps to evaluate what the children's support networks are at one stage and then re-evaluate them at another," Professor Frederico says.

For example, when asked to draw a map of the important people in his life, 11-year-old 'Shane' did not mention friends, and put his Mum on the outer as someone who failed to provide him with emotional and practical support. Two years on, after regular and intensive help to deal with trauma caused by abuse, Shane's social network map was radically different, reflecting the fact that he had been able to return home to live with his Mum and had begun to control his anger to the point he could make, and keep, supportive friends.

"Shane (not his real name) is now a young person who is doing so much better. He is stable at school, has friends, and is out of the trajectory of moving from placement to placement, and his social network maps reflect these changes through his own eyes," Professor Frederico says.

Shane is one of a small cohort of 102 children at Take Two to benefit from the trial of social mapping as an assessment and evaluation tool. Of 1,232 young people up to 18 years who have been assisted by the Take Two program since its inception in 2004, Shane and the other children in this pilot group are the first to be invited to contribute to their recovery process with the assistance of social mapping.

Here's what the children's social maps have revealed so far:

  • Family members are highly significant to a child's view of the world, even to children not living with their families, with 68 per cent of children including their mothers in their social maps, when only eight per cent of those children were living with one or both parents.
  • A range of family relationships are deemed important, including family members the children live with as well as those they rarely see – and most frequently, they list siblings: with 90 per cent of children listing one or more siblings.
  • Parents are not even on the social radar for some children. Many children in this cohort did not list either parent, although all children had at least one living parent - and more than half the children did not mention their fathers.
  • Friends are often described as being unsupportive, with only 26 per cent of children describing one or more friends providing practical support.

Professor Frederico says the maps drawn by children highlight the importance of family connections.

While more extensive trialling of the social mapping tool is needed before its usefulness as an assessment tool can be fully determined, Professor Frederico says anecdotal evidence from Take Two clinicians has been positive about its role in providing a base-line assessment of young people's social supports, allowing them to open up about the relationships that are important to them. This and other feedback had helped to further adapt the tool to make it more "child - friendly."

She hopes that further research will lead to it becoming a valuable tool for professionals working with children in foster care and other out-of-home care situations.

The Take Two program aims to help the children and young people improve their safety, connectedness to the community and their social and emotional well-being. It is funded by the State Government under the auspices of Berry Street, in partnership with La Trobe University's Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Social Work and Social Policy, the Austin Hospital Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Mindful (Centre for Training and Research in Developmental Health) and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency.

Further information

Professor Margarita Frederico, Head, School of Social Work and Social Policy, La Trobe T: 9479 2407 E: m.frederico@latrobe.edu.au
Thelma Williams, School Administration T: 03 9479 2293 E: thelma.williams@latrobe.edu.au

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