For Instructors - Sanchez Family

The Sanchez Family

This case is for you if you want to demonstrate or illustrate the concepts of systems theory, or family systems theory. It is also intended to provide a window into the unique problems that surface when certain conditions are present (e.g. poverty, racism, disability, etc.). It can be confusing to try to keep up with all of the different problems demonstrated by each person in the family, so below I will provide a brief sketch of each person, as well as some of the potential teachable moments that each person demonstrates.

I have used this case in many different ways, both in class to illustrate important social work concepts (e.g. person-environment fit, or lack thereof, can be illustrated by the case of Roberto, the cousin who is undocumented and requires medical care, as well as a job that would contribute to the family’s finances), and as out-of class assignments. My preferred way, especially with undergraduates, is to assign them each a “character,” often as a final practice assignment. I have also allowed two students to work together on this. I do this because I want the case to have verisimilitude: in the practice world, an entry level social worker does not work in isolation. They have colleagues to bounce ideas off of, and they have supervisors. Two students working together, then, is a proxy for that experience.

The universal goal is for the student to link this family, or its separate members, to resources. Students are successful if they are able to add resources to the ecomap.

There are many other general issues that you can talk to students about as well. Here are a few:

  • 1. How does the town map highlight the importance of geography to social work?
  • 2. How is the genogram helpful?
  • 3. As they work the case, what are the ethical issues that arise?
  • 4. How will/did they measure success?
  • 5. How did working this case increase their understanding of the biopsychosocial/spiritual underpinnings of practice?

Characters in the Sanchez family, their problems and strengths

Celia Sanchez—Undoubtedly, she is the heart of the family, and of this case. In systems terms, she is the connector. Her relatively limited exposure to the culture outside her Latino/a community can be viewed as a source of both strength and weakness. She is the one who looks out for the whole family. But her lack of English proficiency is clearly a barrier to her ability to maximize that role. It may also be the reason why she wants to keep Carmen (who is deaf) so close to home, even when it’s clear that Carmen has the motivation and desire to leave the protection of the family. It may also be why Vicki (who is autistic) has never received all the services for which she might be eligible, and it is also a likely reason why she wants to keep Joey in the family home, rather than working with the system to enable him to return to his mother, Emilia. Furthermore, Celia’s inability to understand written English means that she is vulnerable to misinformation or exploitation. For example, is it really true that the landlord could have the family thrown out for housing Roberto, Celia’s nephew and an undocumented person? It may be so in your locale, but the point is that her inability to read English is preventing her being able to find out for herself.

Hector Sanchez—Hector is clearly a man under pressure. He has hypertension and adult onset diabetes, both conditions that are disproportionately common in the Hispanic community, a point that is worth highlighting. The stress of his work situation, with its racism and the uncertain economy, exacerbates the high blood pressure. He is also the patriarch of this extended family, which means that final decisions rest with him. This is why his wife, Celia, will not apply for food stamps for the family, and why she secretly obtains commodities from the Church pantry. His conflicts with Celia, particularly as regards Vicki (their autistic daughter) and Roberto (her nephew), are certainly worth exploring. Also worth exploring: his relationship with Emilia, the daughter who had a child out of wedlock and an abortion, allows you to discuss the concept of cut-off, as well as the cultural life of people of deep religious belief (in this case, Catholicism).

Alejandro Sanchez—When I wrote this character, I had hoped the student would question his sexual orientation: he is very attractive, but has never had a girlfriend; he is depressed; his interests are not conventionally masculine. It rarely comes up. It is something that you, the instructor might bring up as a possibility: Roberto is unlikely to believe his family would be supportive of him if he were to “come out”. And he may well be right. There are no obvious answers here, but the discussion is worthwhile.

Carmen—Carmen is profoundly hearing-impaired. She is smart and talented, and will be the first one to leave her family and community if she is able to go to college. To reach her full potential, she needs to do so, but she lacks specific information about educational supports. The social worker’s job here is twofold: as one who helps clients link to resources, and as one who supports this client’s aspirations. Clearly, the strengths perspective can be discussed in conjunction with this client.

Emilia—Emilia’s problems are serious, but not atypical of a person with the disease of addiction. She has never successfully completed an addiction treatment program. Even if she does, relapse would be likely (current thinking is that relapse is part of the treatment process). She is cut off from her family because she had an abortion at an earlier age (which invites discussion of culture). Thus, her support system consists of people on the streets. Emilia’s problems are great examples of family systems problems, [lack of] person-environment fit, and the idea that even positive change can result in system change that will not work for everyone (as an example of this, you might postulate that Emilia gets it together, cleans up, gets a good job, and now wants to be a parent to Joey. At that point, Emilia’s mother will have been acting as Joey’s mother for a good part of his life. Will the transfer of the parenting role be good for Joey? And given what the student knows about Celia, do they believe that she will relinquish that role?).

Gloria—Gloria’s situation invites an examination of the issue of domestic violence. Her husband, Leo, obviously beats her, but she is economically tied to him. Furthermore, the Catholic Church would frown on divorce.

There is a domestic violence shelter on the town map, not far from where she currently lives. How might the social worker intervene here? What are the limits of the worker? How does the proximity of the shelter to her home play out? She might be concerned that Leo would find her. On the other hand, shelter locations are supposed to be secret to the larger public.

Junior—Junior’s family is actually a separate case entirely. His father and he work in the same place, and can be supports to each other. But both are in tenuous job situations. More central to Junior’s case is his desire to go to college, and his wife’s desire to open a day care center. Their case allows you, the instructor, to discuss several things: new methods of delivering college education to those who want it, but for whom financial or geographic access is a problem; and the advantages and barriers to opening a home business, such as a day care (this case will require the student to research state regulations regarding home day care in your state).

Vicki—Vicki has been effectively isolated from the world outside. She has a diagnosis of autism, but she is far more sheltered than she needs to be, or even should be. This case invites discussion of how persons with disabilities may change as puberty hits (a good demonstration of how social workers must base their work on a biopsychosocial model). It also invites the worker to look at the other social needs of persons with this diagnosis, as well as their potential to contribute to the larger society.

Roberto—Social workers must know the legal ramifications of their actions, and Roberto’s case invites this. For example, who in the community might be knowledgeable about federal law governing Roberto’s presence in the house (there are usually agencies that can help with this—it need not be an immigration attorney, who the family likely could not afford). Also, Roberto has a health problem. Are there services in your community for indigent health care? Are they required to ask for proof of citizenship? These are things that the student ought to be aware of.

Joey—Because Joey is a child, any discussion of him has to take place in the context of the fact that he is a minor, and unable to make decisions for himself.

I hope this helps. The Sanchez Family is by far the most complex of the three cases we current have created on our website .

A Note to Instructors about The Sanchez Family Case
- Fall, 2011

by Alice A. Lieberman, University of Kansas

If You Have Any Questions or Comments About This or Any Other Case on Our Website, Please Contact Me Via Email. I Really Do Answer Very Quickly! My Email Is Alicel@Ku.Edu. Thanks!