A Brooklyn Family Tale

 Assignment 2: A Brooklyn Family Tale

By: Rickard Jean-Noel

FORDHAM UNIVERSITY GRADUATE SCHOOL OF SOCIAL SERVICESWGS 6324: Social Work Practice with Families and Groups Across the Lifespan

February 24, 2020

 

Often time when it comes to working with families, we see several different individuals with many different personalities, but yet are all connected. Often times, they have their individual problems, but they also have the problems that they all share amongst them. The film, “A Brooklyn Family Tale” directed by Roger Weisberg and Murray Nossel; produced by Murray Nossel and Roger Weisberg (New York, NY: Filmmakers Library, 1992), depicts a multi-generational blended family that is currently living in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. The family in the center of the film is the family of a former gang member by the name of Francisco “Cisco” Santiago. According to the films narrator “Twenty years after completing our film about juvenile crime, we returnedtoSunset Parkand discovered thatSister Geraldinewas still working with the sameSantiago family that terrorized this neighborhood two decades ago” (Nossel, Weisberg, Weisberg, && Nossel, “Brooklyn Family Tale”). The narrator goes on to state that “Ciscoleft the gangs to become a police officerand now helps his sisterRosa intrying to prevent her children from making thesame mistakes he made. We followed the next generation ofCisco Santiago’sfamily for three years, chronicling their hopes,struggles and continuing relationship withSister Geraldineand theCenter for Family Life” (Nossel, Weisberg, Weisberg, && Nossel, “Brooklyn Family Tale”, 1992). This is the basics for the film, and this is the family in which we will discuss in this paper.

 

  • Family Strengths

 

According to the Saleebey, D. (Ed.). (2013). The strengths perspective in social work practice, sixth edition. Boston: Pearson, “The Strengths Perspective is an approach to social work that puts the strengths and resources of people, communities, and their environments, rather than their problems and pathologies, at the center of the helping process. It was created as a corrective and transformative challenge to predominant practices and policies that reduce people and their potential to deficits, pathologies, problems, and dysfunctions. The Strengths Perspective emphasizes the human capacity for resilience, resistance, courage, thriving, and ingenuity, and it champions the rights of individuals and communities to form and achieve their own goals and aspirations. While acknowledging the difficulties that clients experience, the Strengths Perspective never limits people to their traumas, problems, obstacles, illness, or adversity; rather, it addresses them as challenges, opportunities, and motivators for change”(“Strengths Perspective”, 2019).

The individual members of the of the Santiago-Castro-Cruz family have many different strengths. If we were to start off with one of the older members of the family which is Francisco Santiago, we would see that he was an ex-gang member that has now become a police officer and is attempting to help repair the same neighborhood that he once was responsible for helping to destroy. He is always attempting to help his family to become better, which is a huge strength. Luis Castro, which is Francisco’s nephew strength would be his determination. He understands that he is not in the best of environments, yet he is wise enough to move his family to another state for a better living. Even though his biological father is not in his life, he is able to forgive him and still love him but is also able to be in the life of his own son and be there for his family. Elena Castro, who is Luis sister grew up without knowing her biological father, however she is able to obtain employment and provide for herself and her child. Rosa Santiago Cruz is the mother of Lui and Elena. She raised her first two children on her own and now she is married to Benny Cruz. Mrs. Cruz was not only able to raise her first two children; she was also able to help raise her grandchild because her daughter Elena had a child at such a young age.

In the film, it is stated by Elena that she does not believe that Mr. Cruz will be there for her mother’s new baby because he was not in the lives of his previous children. Mr. Cruz explains to Luis and Elena that regardless if he is not their biological father, he loves them and is there for them. He provides them with advice to the best of his ability. In the family as a whole, their greatest strength is staying close together and keeping that family bond. Even when they go through their difficulties, they are still able to work through them and stay together.  Identifying the strengths of the family is very important because it helps you to recognize the strengths of the individuals and the strengths that they have as a family It is also a way of helping them to identify their strengths and applying them to help themselves and those around them.

 

  • Family Resilience

According to the article “Resilience Skills, Factors and Strategies of Resilient Person” by Leslie Riopel, MSc, she is quoted defining resilience as “the process of being able to adapt well and bounce back quickly in times of stress” (Riopel, “Strengths Perspective”, 2019). Simply put, you are able to survive the odds, and still remain positive and even win. Often times we are pounded to the ground by this thing called life. We suffer from a lost of income, family issues, medical problems, financial problems, and the list continues over and over again. Many people quit during this difficult time because they feel that they are not able to make it out of the hole that they find themselves in. Others will continue to fight until there is no muscle left and they know that they have given all that they got. Those individuals are what we call resilient, and they often times have the best testimony to share.

If we are to take a deeper look into the Santiago-Castro-Cruz family, we will see how resilience they are as individuals and as a family. Francisco Santiago is one of the oldest in the family and given his background, that in itself is a testament to his resilience. During his youth, Francisco was a gang member and he was headed towards a negative path, but with the assistance of Sister Geraldine and the Center for Life, he was able to turn his life around. He expresses to his nephew Luis how he was shot at and chased by gangs. He explained to his nephew that he is lucky to be alive. Francisco has since joined the police force and has gotten married, showing his maturity and resilience to not fall victim to his circumstances. Luis Castro has also showed his level of resilience throughout the film. In the film, Luis Castro states that “its like a war, every day e go outside we’re trying to survive” (Nossel, Weisberg, Weisberg, & Nossel, “Brooklyn Family Tale”, 1992). Luis understands that the best way he is able to overcome his many obstacles is to leave. He then moves with his child’s mother to Ohio, where he is able to obtain employment that has benefits and he is able to care for his family. He later returns home and explains that the change in environment has helped him to be able to not only provide for his family, he also has a better relationship with his stepfather.

The women in the Santiago-Castro-Cruz family are also very resilient. Rosa Santiago Cruz was able to raise two children on her own and help her daughter raise her grandson, while she was pregnant herself. In the film, Mrs. Cruz is pregnant, and her baby dies a few days after birth due to a heart condition. Mrs. Cruz shows resilience by not allowing herself to fall into depression. She keeps herself busy by taking care of her grandson and cleaning the house. She eventually becomes pregnant again with Mr. Cruz and they have a baby boy. Mrs. Cruz daughter also shows a high level of resilience. She does that by continuing going to work, right after the birth of her child. She expresses that she needs money to care for her and her child and so therefore she chooses to go to work instead of attending school. Mr. Cruz is very resilient in regard to his ability to not give up on the two older stepchildren. Even though they fight and argue, he is still there for the family and is attempting to provide the children positive advice.

 

  • Assessing the Impact of the Environment on the Family

According to the site Sociocultural factors. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://psychology.wikia.org/wiki/Sociocultural_factors, Sociocultural Factors are “larger scale forces within cultures and societies that affect the thoughts, feelings and behaviors”. The factors might include rituals, religious practices and beliefs, the family structure, race, power, ethnic identity, discrimination, and culture. If we are to apply this principle to the family, we would see that their environment and the socio-cultural factors are playing a huge role in their struggles. The family is from a long income neighborhood that is filled with crime. They also come from a large low-income family. At one point they were all living in the same apartment and that caused conflict amongst them. There is also a teen pregnancy issue amongst them as well. During the film, Mrs. Cruz and her two children were all expecting babies around the same time. Mrs. Cruz daughter was only 14 at the time of her pregnancy and her son was only 16. In the film this appears to be a regular thing, because no one seems too surprised.

The education level of the family also seems to be very low. We do not know the details of the older family members education level. However, we do know that Luis Castro dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and his sister stop attending school at 14. By the end of the film there is no indication that neither one of the children returned to school. The lack of education will eventually mean limited options in the future for job placement. We see later in the film that Luis is able to obtain a trade and is now able to provide for his family.

The family seem to be Catholic because at one point of the film, we see that Mrs. Cruz is baptizing the child in a church. We also see that they have a deep connection with Sister Geraldine Tobia, who is nun. The family seems to have a large amount of respect for Sister Tobia, and we see that she is often times in their home and interacting with the family. The family seems to live in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. Because the family has a huge Puerto Rican flag in their home, it would be safe to assume that they are from Puerto Rico, or of Puerto Rican descent. The two older children of Mrs. Cruz did not grow up with their father and it is plain to see the outcome of this. Mrs. Cruz daughter, Elena, is sexually active at a very young age. Her son Louis is also often times in trouble and rebels often. Both children have gotten into confrontations with their stepfather Ben, which resulted in both children leaving the home. Louis left permanently and moved to Ohio, and his sister Elena moved out temporarily when she was placed in a group home for several days.

It is very important to assess the impact of the environmental factors of the family because it helps us to apply the Nature v. Nurture concept. The most perfect example of this would be Luis. He was a high school dropout with a child on the way. He did not have a college education, a job, or direction. He was living in an environment where he felt that he was fighting for his survival every day. He would often times get into trouble and was hanging out with gangs. It would seem as if he did not have a future until he decided to move to another state. Upon his moving, he was able to obtain a trade, a job with benefits, and provide for his family. An opposite example would be his sister Elena, who is 14, a high school dropout, teen mother, and has a bad attitude. She would rather hang out with her friends all day then to go to school and come home and take care of her baby. She leaves this responsibility heavily on her mother, who is stuck caring for her daughter.

The best way of assessing the impact of the environmental factors on the family is to remove them from that environment and see how well they do in a different environment. Luis was able to do this successfully. Towards the end of the film, he expresses that his relationship with his stepfather has improved because he is no longer living in the home. He explains that the amount of people living in one apartment was not good for any of them and that he needed his independence to grow. His sister Elena expresses that she felt that her stepfather Ben was trying to push her out of the home as well, and that her mother and Ben would often threaten to place her in a group home. They felt that perhaps the change in environment would be best for everyone. After returning back from the group home, it seems that Elena began to behave better.

 

  • Engaging and Working with Families

In the film “A Brooklyn Family Tale” Sister Geraldine is quoted stating that “I go beyond the act. I try to find that person behind the act, then look for who is this person, what is it that they have, what’s brought them to this point in their life. That’s really social work –learning what brought them to where they are” (Nossel, Weisberg, Weisberg, && Nossel, “Brooklyn Family Tale”, 1992). This is a powerful statement because it conveys that there are several layers to people and their problems. We often time look at the reactions, but we never question what occurred to bring them to this point. Often times when people are upset, we blame it on their attitude or state that the person is acting out. We never try to exam the other layers that might be the source of pain. This is a very important attribute to social work practice that is a necessity for success.

During her work with the Santiago-Castro-Cruz family, Sister Geraldine attempts her best to find the underlying problem that is causing the reaction on the surface. An example of this would be when she spoke to Luis about his anger. She explains to him that he does have control of his anger and that the choice of his actions are ultimately up to him. When speaking to Mrs. Cruz about the death of her baby, she shows empathy for her and states that she understands that it is a very difficult time and that she sympathizes with her pain. Towards the end of the film when he is speaking to Elena about her behavior, she reminds the parents that Elena is still just a child and that she is in a great deal of pain. She understands that Elena’s behavior and attitude is a result of that pain and she attempts to make the parents aware of it. Sister Geraldine is so loving that she puts her own personal health second to helping the families in need.

Based on the material covered in class on engaging and working with families, we see several skills and approaches that would be important in engaging and working with this family. According to the week 5 lecture slides, there are several core concepts in family work. One of those concepts are “a change in one family member affect other family members and the family as a whole”. We saw this in display when Elena became pregnant. Her pregnancyhas affected her entire family. Her brother was ready to find the guy that got his sister pregnant, perhaps to harm him. Mrs. Cruz was left with the responsibility of watching the child, and stepfather Ben ended up providing Elena with money to care for herself and her child. As a social worker, I would show the family how their actions affected each other. Another concept that we would apply and remind the family about it that “family members behaviors are circular rather then linear”. A prime example of this would be the fact that the mother, daughter, and son were all expecting babies at the same time. Another important concept found in the week 5 lecture slides is: Key Aspects 1of Family Assessment”. One of the principles is “focusing attention on the family environment interactions”. The family at one point all lived together in the small apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and there were often times conflict both in and out of the home.

It would also be beneficial if we learn “How Practitioners Can Incorporate the Ecosystem Perspective, found in the week 5 lecture slides. Important concepts included in the incorporate of the ecosystems perspective would include: :”viewing the person/family/environment as inseparable, seeing ourselves and the family as equal partners, and assessing life situations that transitions that induce high stress levels” (Fordham Lecture Slide week 5, Green & Ephross, 1999). Another slide that we can apply from the Week 5 lecture slides is the “Sources of Caregiver Stress” which includes emotional, physical, and financial. These were things that the entire family struggled with throughout the film. Another concept from the lecture slides that we can apply for use in assisting the family is the “Two Models of Grieving Process” by Kubler-Ross, found in the week 7 lecture slides. During the time that Mrs. Cruz lost her child, she went through a stage of Depression and eventually reached the stage of acceptance. They also went through a grieving process after the death of Sister Geraldine. The concept found on page 8 of the week 7 lecture slides entitled “Social Workers and Cultural Considerations” would be useful in assisting the family in the sense that it states that “social workers need to be open and flexible in their attitudes toward diverse cultures”. Upon hearing that Elena was pregnant, Sister Geraldine did not try to judge but instead try to find a level of understanding. She states that at times an adolescent having a child might motivate the family to do better and in other situation the family falls deeper into poverty. All of the concepts mentioned would be important and helpful in engaging and working with the family.

 

  • Cultural Competence 

“Cultural competence is the ability of a person to effectively interact, work, and develop meaningful relationships with people of various cultural backgrounds” (“G1375 · Index: Youth & Families, Families”). Sister Geraldine displayed cultural competence in her work with the Santiago-Castro-Cruz family in many different ways. One way that she did it was by establishing ties to the family earlier on through the Uncle Francisco Santiago. She knew Francisco since he was a teen and has watched him grow. Francisco is a highly respected member of the family and her connection with him made it easier for her to work with the other members of the family. Her position a Co-Director at Center for Family Life helps her to establish a relationship with the community as well as the different families. Through her work with the center, she is able to help Elena obtain employment, which is very important for her because it allows her to care for herself and later on care for her child as well.

Another way that Sister Geraldine displayed cultural competence is her ability to make herself available and comfortable around the family. In the film we she that she was often meeting the family in the home and holding the newborn babies. This was a sign that she was a welcomed guest in the home and that they had a level of trust for her as well as respect. Sister Geraldine also did not judge, and she always attempted to find the underlying problem. She was very compassionate in everything that she did. Another great example of her cultural competence would be her attendance at the local street fairs and parties. The film displayed her dancing in the street with members of the family.

I don’t believe there are arears in which she could’ve demonstrated greater cultural competence. If there was, I would say that it would be in regard to her keeping her cancer a secret. While the family was sharing so much of their lives with her, she was dying and holding that back from the family. Some can argue that she felt that was too personal to share, while others may say that perhaps she wanted to help others, more then she wanted to display her need for help. She eventually did disclose the information to the family and died soon after. Perhaps if she shared it earlier, they could’ve prepared better for her passing since in a way she was a part of the family.

 

  • Potential Countertransference and Responses

Countertransference, which occurs when a therapist transfers emotions to a person in therapy, is often a reaction to transference, a phenomenon in which the person in treatment redirects feelings for others onto the therapist” (“Countertransference in Therapy”, 2019). Based on the definition provided, I would say that countertransference issues would occurring mainly when working with the children in this family. The reason for this assumption is based on the children’s instability and emotional recklessness.

At the beginning of the film we see that Luis is often times getting in trouble because of his temper, attitude, and actions. When speaking with Sister Geraldine, he expresses that his anger is out of control, but she informs him that he is in control of his anger. Later on, when discussing the pregnancy of his sister, he states that he will find the guy responsible and Sister Geraldine reminds him that both the guy and his sister are responsible for what occurred. A similar situation occurred during which Elena is sharing her fears that her mother might put her out of the house because of her stepfather. Sister Geraldine reminds them that Elena is a child and she might be going through many different situations. Elena later confesses to attempting suicide to which Sister Geraldine explains that she is hurting and will need her parents the most during this time. Mrs. Cruz is also dealing with a degree of mental issues towards the end of the film. During her conversation with Mrs. Cruz about the recent passing of her baby, Mrs. Cruz attempts to brush it off, but Sister Geraldine reminds her that it is okay to morn the lost of a child and that it is a traumatic situation.

All of which were stated above were examples of countertransference, where the family felt one way or was reacting a way, and Sister Geraldine’s words made them react in a different way. If we were working with the family, we might have to deal with something similar because of all of their complex issues and different personalities. It is better for the therapist to reach an equilibrium with the family so that all sides are heard equally. The only foreseeable problem would be if the therapist was to take advantage of the family or if there was conflict due to the therapist reaction to the family’s transference. To mitigate these reactions, we would have to set boundaries at the beginning of services. We would also have to respect the boundaries and stay within the guidelines of the social work code of ethics. This would help maintain a professional working environment for everyone.

In conclusion, Sister Geraldine literally dedicated her life to helping families such as the Santiago-Castro-Cruz family. She was a caring and loving person that took her job very seriously and was dedicated to help others. With her assistance, the Santiago-Castro-Cruz family was able to see improvement in their lives. She accomplished this by helping the family to apply their strengths. The family was highly resilient and tried their best to overcome the obstacles of their everyday lives. Regardless of their environment, they tried their best not to fall victim to it. Sister Geraldine was able to apply her social work skills in the many different situations that she encountered with the family and was able to assist them the best way she knew how. Her work within the community helped impact the lives of the Santiago-Castro-Cruz family and many other families.

 

References:

  1. “A Brooklyn Family Tale” directed by Roger Weisberg and Murray Nossel; produced by Murray Nossel and Roger Weisberg (New York, NY: Filmakers Library, 1992)
  2. Countertransference in Therapy. (2019, September 25). Retrieved fromhttps://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/countertransference
  1. G1375 · Index: Youth & Families, Families. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/html/g1375/build/g1375.htm
  1. Resilience Skills, Factors and Strategies of the Resilient Person. (2019, July 4). Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/resilience-skills/
  1. Riopel, L. (2019, August 1). Strengths Perspective. Retrieved from https://socwel.ku.edu/strengths-perspective
  1. Sociocultural factors. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://psychology.wikia.org/wiki/Sociocultural_factors
  1. Fordham Lecture Slides SWGS 624 Week 5 & 7 (Green & Ephross, 1999)

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