Individual, family, and community systems are interrelated. The community provides the geographic context for the family as well as the opportunities and environmental stressors that impact family life. Individuals and families, through their actions, may also influence the larger functioning of the community.
While working with the Brickville Youth Leadership Group, you are introduced to the Stone family. The immediate expressed need is around housing. New redevelopment is threatening to price them out of their current living situation. Specifically, the Stones have struggled to keep up with rising property taxes on the home where they live, as the valuations of housing in the surrounding community increase. The real estate developer who has approached them about selling their land has provided forecasts that these increases will be even steeper in the next year, as development accelerates. The Stones have some friends who your CDC helped to find affordable housing. The family is hoping you have some options for them, as well. As you talk with the Stones, you uncover unresolved issues of grief related to past events and the changes in the Brickville community, as well as several individual circumstances that complicate the family’s lives and search for housing. As you work with the family, you must also attend not only to their individual and family dynamics—including shared trauma—but also to the changes in the community and to the family’s potential to affect the systems around them. As a community-based social worker, in many ways both the family and the community are your "client."
Demographics of the family of Virginia Stone (see Stone Family Ecomap and Genogram)
- Virginia Stone has two living children (David and Cherie). Her daughter Stella died in a house fire in Brickville 20 years ago. Ms. Stone is currently single and has been through three divorces. Virginia has two siblings and lives in her grandmother’s home.
- Virginia's sister, Estella Brantley, is married with children, works as a nurse, and lives in a middle-income suburb in the metropolitan area. Her three children (Philip, Stuart, and Bianca) died in the house fire 20 years ago that also killed Virginia’s daughter Stella. Estella and Virginia talk frequently.
- Virginia's brother, Raymond Harris, joined the military as a young man and has not lived in Brickville since. He is now retired from the military and considering relocating back to his hometown, but he has had little contact with his family over the past two decades.
- Stella Long, Virginia’s grandmother, died three months ago. She owned the home in which Virginia is currently living.
- Winifred Harris is Virginia's mother. She is a frail older adult suffering from multiple physical health limitations. She is currently being cared for by her daughter, Virginia, in the home her mother owned.
- David Whitley is Virginia's adolescent son. He currently lives in the home with his mother and grandmother.
- Cherie Whitley is the daughter of Virginia and the mother of Tiffany and Suzanna. Cherie has a serious mental illness and has been intermittently homeless throughout her young adulthood. Her two young children, Tiffany and Suzanna, live with Virginia.
- Tiffany Jones is Cherie’s daughter and is currently under Virginia’s physical (but not legal) custodial care. Tiffany’s father maintains legal custody but has agreed to allow Tiffany to remain with her sister, Suzanna, while being cared for by Virginia. Tiffany sees her father at least once every few months, and he also provides money to Virginia when he can, to help with Tiffany’s expenses.
- Suzanna Whitley is also Cherie’s daughter; however, Virginia has legal custody of Suzanna, whose father’s whereabouts are unknown.
Current Issues for the Family
- Virginia Stone is the mother of David Whitley, an adolescent in the youth leadership program of Brickville Community Development Corporation, a community-based social service agency. Virginia fears she is going to be displaced as part of the redevelopment process, as she already struggles to make property tax payments on her grandmother’s home and lacks the resources to secure legal representation to investigate and secure the title. Even if she can the make property tax payments, Virginia fears her future in the house is tenuous, as surrounding property values rise and other homes are demolished to make room for more expensive construction. Although the developer has promised relocation assistance under the redevelopment plan, Virginia may be ineligible if she is unable to prove that she owns the house. Virginia lives with and cares for her mother, who has lived in the house her entire life and is ill. Virginia is afraid that moving might kill her.
- In addition to caring for her own son and mother, Virginia is also responsible for her two granddaughters; further, when Cherie reappears, Virginia is accustomed to dropping everything to try to get her into mental health treatment. Virginia does not see a way to enlist other family members to help with caregiving, given her distance from her brother and her sister’s own grief and strains. Virginia recently divorced her third husband, which was an important step for her safety and well-being but is exacerbating her stress and anxiety. She feels that her life is a mess and worries about what a disruption in their housing situation would mean for the family.
- A fire that occurred in the community about 20 years ago impacted this family. On a winter night, a fire broke out in the middle of the night at a neighborhood residence. The house was full of children attending a birthday party sleepover. Five people died in the fire, including four members of Virginia’s family: Virginia’s daughter Stella, a niece and two nephews. One neighborhood resident (adult) died when he went into the house to try to rescue the children. Although the family believes that the fire was set (arson) by someone who was angry at their family, the case was never solved. For the past two decades, Virginia and her family have continued to question the lackluster investigation and the lack of any legal justice in the case. The family also believes that the fire department was too slow in responding to the fire and that the children’s lives could have been saved by a more effective response. Other community activists see this as consistent with a pattern of inequitable public service for some neighborhoods within Brickville.
In the months following the tragedy, The family and neighborhood raised funds and convinced the city to dedicate an existing neighborhood playground in memory of the children who died in the fire. In recent years, the playground has fallen into disrepair through lack of upkeep and now serves as a further reminder to Virginia and her family of what they have lost. The playground is among the public spaces slated to be razed and redeveloped in the new community plan.
The family continues to struggle with the emotional pain of the fire and the perceived racism by the justice and emergency response systems. Shortly after the fire, Estella and Raymond moved away from the neighborhood. Today, they both find it difficult to return. Although she and her sister remain emotionally close, Estella’s help with her mother is provided from a distance (sending money, making health care appointments, and providing advice to manage health challenges). Raymond’s visits are infrequent, but he has helped financially during previous crises. He is now retired from the military and is considering relocation back to his hometown. While he has mixed feelings about returning to an area that evokes pain, he is feeling drawn to helping his family. Even as the strain of caregiving weighs on Virginia, both her siblings have voiced strong concerns about Winifred being cared for outside the family.
Questions to consider:
- What strengths do you observe in the Stone family? How could your work with Virginia begin from this asset perspective?
- Summarize the main issues the family needs to resolve. How would different family members view the priorities differently?
- List three short-term goals in resolving issues of family grief. How could progress on these items motivate family members to continue working on their challenges?
- In what ways does the community context support and stress the Stone family?