Uri Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model does a great job of helping to display that child abuse is not an issue that is isolated to the home, but rather a problem that can be confronted on multiple levels. Through his use of a “target-like” diagram, he is able to show that each systems builds on each other and are interrelated. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model consists of five, linked systems, the Chronosystem, the Macrosystem, the Exosystem, the Mesosystem, and the Microsystem. To better understand Bronfenbrenner’s model, a walk through each layer of the model using explanations and examples from Dave Pelzer’s memoir, A Child Called “It”(Pelzer, 1995) is necessary.
With the Chronosystem, Bronfenbrenner introduces the idea and understanding that a child’s development would be effected by any major life event that happens to or around the victim that would effect their livelihood and well-being long-term. For an example of this in A Child Called “It” (Pelzer, 1995), a Chronosystem would be when Dave’s Father no longer stood as Dave’s protector, this is most blatantly seen around the time that Dave’s Mother stabbed him. Dave’s Father had grown “blind” and desensitized to the actions his wife was taking on their child. Around this same time, Dave’s Father began to not only back away from the issues and problems associated with Dave, but Dave’s Father began to bow out of the issues concerning the entire family. Dave’s Father spent more nights and days away from the house, packing “overnight” bags, even when Dave knew his Father wasn’t working that night. The actions that his Father took at this crucial time would set Dave up for unending beating and lashings from his Mother. He would no longer be able to find a safe haven in his Father’s arms or ease in the fact that his Father was just down the hallway. Dave’s protector was gone and Dave’s Mother had lost her love and idea of harboring a perfect family.
In the Macrosystem, Bronfenbrenner displays a community’s overarching beliefs, attitudes, and values toward the growth and development of a child. In Pelzer’s memoir, this system can best be seen through Dave’s Mother’s own beliefs and attitude toward family. In the chapter, Good Times, from the book (Pelzer, 1995), Dave recalled once living in an extremely loving household with a loving Mother and a terrific Father. Dave’s Mother would often cry, stating how happy she was that she finally had a real family. From this information, it can be inferred that Dave’s Mother came from an unloving household. She may have grown up not truly knowing the meaning of unconditional love and family. She wanted so much for her own family to be perfect, that one negative “slip-up” would send her on a violent rage. Perhaps, if Dave’s Mother had grown up under and around a healthy family relationship, Dave’s early, elementary life could have been much different.
Through the Exosystem, Bronfenbrenner includes the economic system, political system, education system, government system, religious system, neighbors, social services, and mass media into the mix of systems that can influence a child’s development and can be held responsible for a child’s upbringing. In Dave’s memoir, there are many examples of this part of Bronfenbrenner’s model, one example of a neighbor that could have offered aide to Dave would have been Dave’s Boy Scout Den Mother. It would have been clear to the Den Mother that Dave was in utter distress and torment when he ran up to her door to explain why he could not make it to the troop meeting. However, the Den Mother did not seem phased by Dave’s appearance and simply told him she would see him at the next meeting. Another example of this part of the model can be demonstrated through the educators and teachers of Dave’s elementary school when Dave’s mother comes to meet with the professionals of the school to talk about Dave’s wounds and bruises.
Dave’s Mother explains to them that Dave had made up these stories with his imagination and was hurting himself because he was trying to gain his parents attention after Dave’s Mother gave birth to her most recent child, making Dave no longer the “baby” of the family. Instead of sending Dave’s Mother for further questioning, the education professionals took Dave’s Mother’s word for it and dropped the case. In the second to last portion of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model, Bronfenbrenner forms a link between the Exosystem and the Microsystem; linking of religion, school, and/or healthcare with the family home life. This all occurs in the Mesosystem. An example of this system is demonstrated by the fact that Dave’s principal does not confront Dave’s mother about his concerns and Dave’s injuries anymore. In his memoir, Dave recalls a time that his principal did, in fact, confront Dave’s mother about Dave’s injuries, however after doing so, Dave went home and came back to school the next day with wounds and bruises that were even worse than the ones that the principal had originally called to confront Dave’s Mother about. Ever since then, Dave’s principal did not try to contact Dave’s mother about his increasing amount of injuries.
Last, but not least, is Bronfenbrenner’s section on the Microsystem, he works to involve the family, peers, school, workplace, church, and/or health services in the development and assessment of child abuse outside the home. For this, there are many examples within Dave’s memoir, such as, when Dave’s peers at school reject and ridicule him based on the way he dresses, looks, and smells, instead of sensing that something was terribly wrong. Of course, the children in Dave’s class were young, like him, and may not have fully understood Dave’s situation, however, a substitute teacher, one day, in one of Dave’s classrooms, joined the other children in the humiliation of Dave. She fanned her nose and held out his assignment at arms length. The teacher should have known better and should have been trained to spot the warning signs of abuse. Another good example of a Microsystem working in Dave’s story would be when Dave’s brothers walked past Dave standing and staring at himself in the mirror, reciting, “I’m a bad boy!” over and over again. Instead of saying something to their Father or Mother, they shrugged off the action and continued to play as normal.
As the brothers grew, they continued not to intervene when Dave’s Mother would beat Dave. In fact, there were some instances when they would even make the situation worse for Dave. Dave understood that they were probably just trying to save their own skin from their Mother’s wrath, but as the children grew, they should have known better. Together they would have been able to team up and get the help to their Mother that she truly needed. All in all, Uri Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model does a wonderful job of displaying the systems of child abuse in a way that helps one to understand that child abuse is not just isolated to the home, but is instead a problem that can effect and needs to be confronted on many different levels. His model does so by having each larger system build on and link to the systems below. This shows that every link is interrelated and each issue/problem builds on one another. When a community works together to notice and bring attention to a child that is suffering abuse, that is when true progress can be made to get that child and family the help that they need.
Pelzer, D. (1995). A Child Called “It”. Health Communications, Incorporated.