Working With Children and Adolescents: The Case of Claudia
Claudia is a 6-year-old, Hispanic female residing with her biological mother and father in an urban area. Claudia was born in the United States 6 months after her mother and father moved to the country from Nicaragua. There is currently no extended family living in the area, but Claudia’s parents have made friends in the neighborhood. Claudia’s family struggles economically and has also struggled to obtain legal residency in this country. Her father inconsistently finds work in manual labor, and her mother recently began working three nights a week at a nail salon. While Claudia is bilingual in Spanish and English, Spanish is the sole language spoken in her household. She is currently enrolled in a large public school, attending kindergarten.
Claudia’s family lives in an impoverished urban neighborhood with a rising crime rate. After Claudia witnessed a mugging in her neighborhood, her mother reported that she became very anxious and “needy.” She cried frequently and refused to be in a room alone without a parent. Claudia made her parents lock the doors after returning home and would ask her parents to check the locks repeatedly. When walking in the neighborhood, Claudia would ask her parents if people passing are “bad” or if an approaching person is going to hurt them. Claudia had difficulty going to bed on nights when her mother worked, often crying when her mother left. Although she was frequently nervous, Claudia was comforted by her parents and has a good relationship with them. Claudia’s nervousness was exhibited throughout the school day as well. She asked her teachers to lock doors and spoke with staff and peers about potential intruders on a daily basis.
Claudia’s mother, Paula, was initially hesitant to seek therapy services for her daughter due to the family’s undocumented status in the country. I met with Claudia’s mother and utilized the initial meeting to explain the nature of services offered at the agency, as well as the policies of confidentiality. Prior to the
SOCIAL WORK CASE STUDIES: CONCENTRATION YEAR
meeting, I translated all relevant forms to Spanish to increase Paula’s comfort. Within several minutes of talking, Paula notice- ably relaxed, openly sharing the family’s history and her concerns regarding Claudia’s “nervousness.” Goals set for Claudia included increasing Claudia’s ability to cope with anxiety and increasing her ability to maintain attention throughout her school day.
Using child-centered and directed play therapy approaches, I began working with Claudia to explore her world. Claudia was intrigued by the sand tray in my office and selected a variety of figures, informing me that each figure was either “good” or “bad.” She would then construct scenes in the sand tray in which she would create protective barriers around the good figures, protecting them from the bad. I reflected upon this theme of good versus bad, and Claudia developed the ability to verbalize her desire to protect good people.
I continued meeting with Claudia once a week, and Claudia continued exploring the theme of good versus bad in the sand tray for 2 months. Utilizing a daily feelings check-in, Claudia developed the ability to engage in affect identification, verbalizing her feelings and often sharing relevant stories. Claudia slowly began asking me questions about people in the building and office, inquiring if they were bad or good, and I supported Claudia in exploring these inquiries. Claudia would frequently discuss her fears about school with me, asking why security guards were present at schools. We would discuss the purpose of security guards in detail, allowing her to ask questions repeatedly, as needed. Claudia and I also practiced a calming song to sing when she experienced fear or anxiety during the school day.
During this time, I regularly met with Paula to track Claudia’s progress through parent reporting. I also utilized psychoeduca- tional techniques during these meetings to review appropriate methods Paula could use to discuss personal safety with Claudia without creating additional anxiety.
By the third month of treatment, Claudia began determining that more and more people in the environment were good. This was reflected in her sand tray scenes as well: the protection of good figures decreased, and Claudia began placing good and bad
figures next to one another, stating, “They’re okay now.” Paula reported that Claudia no longer questioned her about each indi- vidual that passed them on the street. Claudia began telling her friends in school about good security guards and stopped asking teachers to lock doors during the day. At home, Claudia became more comfortable staying in her bedroom alone, and she signifi- cantly decreased the frequency of asking for doors to be locked.