Social Work Practice: Adolescents on Probation


The following paper presents a case study of A.J. – a 15-year-old girl put on probation due to numerous arrests for simple assault and underage drinking, caused by psychological trauma and addiction issues. The motivation behind highlighting the following case lies within today’s relevance of the issue of neglecting foster children within a large family, leaving them to deal with their mental issues on their own. As a result, both lack of proper social education and the absence of parental affection contribute to the adolescents’ development of antisocial behavior and issue with law enforcement facilities at an early age. The paper contains a detailed overview of the case, including the application of theoretical frameworks and biopsychosocial assessment of the child’s environment and overall development patterns. The following example, along with the intervention plan, is based upon my experience with counseling A.J. when I worked as a social worker assigned to the probation unit.

Biopsychosocial Assessment

Reason for Referral

A. J. is a 15-year-old girl placed on probation for simple assault charges, accusing her of attempting to hurt a young man on the street as a result of an ongoing verbal conflict. The charges were outlined for three more young yet adult individuals from A. J.’s surroundings, who have been arrested together multiple times already. The following charge is one of the numerous assault attempts performed by the girl over the last year, followed by allegations for underage substance abuse and illicit drug possession in small dosages. The girl’s extremely young age and complicated family background have saved her from being incarcerated a few times without A. J.’s realization that one more charge might become the last one before she is transferred to the adult court.

Present Concerns

A. J. was encouraged to undergo a series of appointments with social workers in order for her to have a chance to define the roots of her violent behavior and save her from a potential prison sentence. According to the information in her last allegation file, A. J., with her friends, provoked a young man into a verbal conflict by yelling at him and making him buy the company alcohol. Once he refused to act according to the “guidelines” provided, A.J. and her friends started to employ physical strength against the complainant. The prevalence of physical aggression in the context of the girl’s behavioral patterns over the last years has risen significantly. Hence, it became evident that it was necessary to conduct a full-scale assessment of her environment and its influence on her mental health, as researchers claim them to be extremely interrelated (Davies & Troy, 2020). As a result, some of the crucial influence factors were outlined in the course of the assessment.


In terms of physical and psychological examination of the client, I concluded that A. J. did not obtain any severe physical abnormalities besides numerous bruises and scars that appeared as a result of frequent fights. However, the psychological evaluation has become a revelation in terms of studying the adolescent’s behavior. At the very beginning, I asked A. J. to answer some basic questions concerning her family and relationship with peers, as these were the exact ecological factors that later create a significant impact on the children’s mental development (Webb, 2011). To my astonishment, the kid was explicitly open when sharing her personal history, which is quite rare with children who have a complicated life story.

Thus, in the process of the dialogue, I figured out that A.J.’s biological parents were heavy drug abusers who were deprived of parental rights when the girl was eight years old due to the neighbors’ complaints to the social services. Having spent three years at a foster care facility, she was then adopted by a large family at the age of 11. Although the girl was provided with all the necessary things in order to have a normal teenage life, her new parents failed to provide her with the required amount of attention, as they had three own children. As a result, A. J., who was already struggling with major mental issues, became lost and found support in the company of minor offenders who were seeking affection and self-fulfillment on the streets.

Taking into consideration the following information, one might conclude that the case presented is a challenging task in terms of intervention planning, as it should have been started a lot earlier. According to Bronfenbrenner’s model of human development as a social habitat, a person should be exposed to all kinds of social interaction to an equal extent in order to create a beneficial development ecosystem since early childhood (Webb, 2011). In the case of A. J., the very beginning of the ecological system development was violated by the absence of an adequate immediate environment, making it necessary to apply the multisystemic-ecological approach as a theoretical framework for further assessment.

Client – Worker Relationship

In the course of our interaction, I have established a working pattern of communication with the client, making her feel safe around my company. As a result, she started to share personal information crucial for further intervention planning. Moreover, the peculiarities of her behavior, which I managed to observe contributed to creating a theoretical framework, which included a multisystemic-ecological approach and cognitive-behavioral therapy as key components. Hence, the series of appointments has launched a starting point for creating for A.J. a life that she truly deserved.

Brain Development Aspects

Brain development, being one of the most significant aspects of individual development whatsoever, is often underestimated in terms of the influential factors that contribute to one’s cognitive abilities. In fact, when many people speak of the issue of brain development, they are quite sure that all the developmental gaps acquired in the period of adolescence could be filled within the next years and various life stages. While some of it might be true, the significance of the emotional and environmental contribution to neurological maturing is formed within the first years of adolescence. According to the researchers, the first seven years of a kid’s life are responsible for the formation of soma major cognitive processes, including speech, vision, language, vision, social attachment, peer social skills, and emotional development (Davies & Troy, 2020). Thus, while these neurological aspects continue to develop in the course of one’s lifetime, their initial formation patterns play the most significant role in the overall process.

When speaking of A. In J.’s case, it becomes evident that the patterns of her brain development cannot be similar to those of her peers due to a highly complicated influence of her ecosystem and parental behavior during the first seven years of development. Starting from the microsystem, the child’s environment was not beneficial in terms of developing social relations and acquiring moral values appropriate for society. Instead, her brain functions were limited to some basic human instincts that included survival and defense, paying barely any attention to the emotional aspect of development. As a result, A.J.’s peculiarities of brain development might be characterized as such that does not correspond to the basic expectations from the brain of a 15-year-old, making it necessary to comply with the communication patterns with her levels of cognitive skills.

Theoretical Framework

Having meticulously analyzed the peculiarities of A.J.’s case, I reached a conclusion that some of the most beneficial theoretical frameworks to work with is the ecological theory, and its branch of multisystemic-ecological (M&E) approach, and the fundamentals of cognitive-behavioral therapy. The first approach is closely correlated with the necessity to treat adolescents in the contextual environment of today’s society and its challenges in order to define the patterns of coping mechanisms developed in the course of treatment. The second theoretical notion is correlated with the necessity to define the existing psychopathologies within an individual through the empirical methods of research. In order to obtain a better understanding of the frameworks, each of them will be discussed in relation to the presented case study.

The Multisystemic-Ecological (M&E) Approach

The story of A. J. is a vivid example of how one’s environment might define the whole pattern of human cognitive and mental development. However, in terms of the following cases, some people pay attention to the individual’s behavior exclusively, some people regard the individual in the context of their close environment, and others consider the socio-economic background of the individual to calculate all the possible psychological contributions. Thus, the latter concept is known in terms of the ecological theory, which stands for one’s ability to consider any psychological experiences in symbiosis with sociopolitical peculiarities of the setting (Webb, 2011). To begin with, it is of crucial importance to apply such an approach to the issue of adolescent substance usage.

In fact, many modern teenagers do not consider substance abuse to be a social violation, as it has become a social norm in the 21st-century timeframe, perceiving it rather a must-have option of adolescence (Calix et al., 2018). As a result, the major fault of substance abuse in the context should not be considered through the prism of the family’s ignorance exclusively, as it tackles society despite social status and an immediate environment setting. Secondly, the question of violence should also be analyzed from the sociopolitical perspective given the fact that A.J. was exposed to violent patterns of behavior due to her parents’ Hispanic origin and frequent instances of implicit and explicit discrimination.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Being exposed to violent behavior and unhealthy lifestyle patterns since early childhood, A.J. should be closely examined on the matter of her thoughts and mental triggers that provoke aggressive behavior and desire to find oblivion. One of the most beneficial ways to define these triggers is to conduct sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which implies examining how certain thoughts directly influence human feelings and behavior (Davis et al., 2018). In reality, such a theoretical framework works based on the model of psychological analytics. In terms of working with adolescents, it is of crucial importance to establish a bind between the social worker and the children in order for them to be open enough, as many adolescents have trust issues when it comes to sharing trauma.

After creating a proper level of trust, it is the social worker’s duty to read one of the situations when the adolescents acted in a violent way or abused alcohol. During the situation examining, it is of paramount importance to estimate the specific setting that served as a trigger to direct aggressiveness. Once the trigger is defined, one should try to estimate its roots in order to eradicate the issue during further sessions. Hence, in such a way, the so-called “problematic kids” will be cured rather than punished for their actions, which were most likely to stem from severe psychological trauma.

Risk and Protective Factors

In order to find a way of positive influence on the individual, it is necessary to find which factors contribute to the probability of violent behavior exposure and the ones that help the individual contain the aggression. Researchers claim these prerequisites to be called risk and protective factors, respectively, making them one of the central aspects of one’s psychoanalytical description (Dubow et al., 2016). When speaking of A. J.’s case specifically, some of the major risk factors outlined include low parental involvement, history of parental rejection, substance abuse, lack of attention from the close environment, self-esteem issues, and implicit rejection by society. Such a variety of risks that lead to violent behavior exposure displays the necessity to interact with the child instead of treating her like a juvenile criminal.

Moreover, A.J. displays the desire to communicate with other adults in order to improve her behavior and avoid juvenile crime charges that might spoil her future. Thus, the protective factors in terms of the girl’s development include the presence of a proper close environment in the face of the foster family, desire to communicate with other adults in order to find the social attachment, and a rather optimistic coping style when compared to the precedents in her childhood. Thus, having the ability to attend school and become more engaged in the community lifestyle, A.J. is facing major difficulties in terms of having insufficient attention from her new family. Considering the fact that she is only a child, the dialogue with foster parents should be established in order for them to secure the availability of protective factors that would contribute to the kid’s development.

Intervention Plan and Conclusion

When speaking of the working intervention plan, the following aspects should be implemented:

  • Conducting a meticulous analysis of the client’s environment with her active engagement in the dialogue, as it is very important for adolescents to obtain a sense of autonomy and responsivity for their lives;
  • Immediate cognitive-behavioral therapy begins, so it is not too late to define how the formulated psychological traumas might be either eradicated or brought to the surface in order for them not to become integrated into A.J.’s behavior even deeper. In terms of the following therapy, some of the major behavioral triggers will be outlined;
  • Establishing a proper dialogue with foster parents and school administration on the matter of developing more protective factors for the child, given the risky environment. Thus, I would suggest A. J.’s parents engage her in the family endeavors so that she would feel needed in her ecosystem and loved by her caretakers. Having spoken with the client in advance, the decision was made to ask the school administration to help A.J. become more involved in community service and volunteering so that she would feel more involved in the life of the community rather than being an outcast.

Taking everything into consideration, it might be concluded that when dealing with adolescents, it is of crucial importance to treat them as individuals rather than as kids. In fact, the case study of A. J. has revealed that some 15-year-olds sometimes experience more than adults, making it inappropriate not to listen to their thoughts and social perceptions. Moreover, with a rapidly growing juvenile crime incidence rate, it is of paramount significance for law enforcement workers to become more engaged in the psychoanalytical aspect of adolescents’ behavior instead of simply charging them with felonies.


Calix, S. I., Garrett, K. C., & Fine, M. A. (2018). Evidence-based family treatment of adolescent substance-related disorders. In Adolescent Substance Abuse (pp. 173-190). Springer, Cham.

David, D., Cristea, I., & Hofmann, S. G. (2018). Why cognitive behavioral therapy is the current gold standard of psychotherapy. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 4.

Davies, D., & Troy, M. F. (2020). Child development: a practitioner’s guide. (4th ed.). The Guilford Press.

Dubow, E. F., Huesmann, L. R., Boxer, P., & Smith, C. (2016). Childhood and adolescent risk and protective factors for violence in adulthood. Journal of criminal justice, 45, 26-31.

Webb, N. B. (Ed.). (2011). Working with adolescents: a guide for practitioners. The Guilford Press.

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PsychologyWriting. "Social Work Practice: Adolescents on Probation." February 2, 2022.