This thesis represents an attempt to understand something of the many and varied needs of families which have a handicapped child and to explore possible ways in which those needs might be met, considering, in particular, the contribution of social work. Throughout, in making assessments and valuations of professional performance, it draws extensively upon the parent or the consumer viewpoint. The research project falls into three parts. The first stage is an exploration of the current situation. Details of all the families in Plymouth City which had a handicapped child were card indexed and then an approximate quarter sample was made. This constituted the Contras t Group. Sixty families were interviewed personally with a research questionnaire and wherever possible the interview was tape recorded. From these parents was learned much about the existing provision and the areas where improvements in the services were needed. The second stage was to implement some of the parents’ recommendations together with more recent conceptualisation concerning systems, crisis, loss and bereavement with another group of parents. This comprised all those families which, during one twelve month period in one paediatric department had either a handicapped baby or a child who at a later stage was subsequently diagnosed as being handicapped. These families formed the Experimental Group. The third stage of the project was an evaluation of the experience with these parents a year after their first contact with the hospital, again using the research questionnaire and tape recording the interview. The findings of the two surveys are presented comparatively and some deductions made about their implications for social work practice. The whole project is concerned with exploring a social problem, developing some innovatory ways of practicing social work which might make it more effective, and collecting data to extend the professional 11 knowledge base and expertise in this area. It represents an attempt to put into practice some of the theoretical underpinning of an Integrated Approach dependent upon systems thinking, and to evaluate the possibilities and potential of this as a way of doing social work, particularly in connection with irreversible conditions.

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