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So far, you have developed a wide range of understanding and skills to assess families at risk. You have studied the behavior and attitudes of family members and have thought about stress, depression, value problems, and other personal issues. Your learning has included identifying specific signs of risk and seeing how they are experienced by family members. You now have a good feel for people, families, and their problems.

You also have learned about assessing how people get along. You are able to focus on relationships, communication, problem solving, and decision making. Additionally, you now know how to use some tools and shortcuts to determine the risk level for your family.

It is now time to bring your understanding and skills together. Here is an extended narrative of a family at risk. As you will see, the people in the narrative behave and reflect attitudes that are sometimes helpful and sometimes very risky. Your challenge is to identify the elements of risk, understand how bad outcomes follow from actions and events, and assess the risk for the family.

The narrative is divided into seven sections reflecting critical periods in the life of the family. The underlying events are true. This is the way it really happened. Many of the details and descriptions have been changed to protect the family’s anonymity.

Were this a fictional family, all the motivations, events, and details would have been carefully crafted to answer all the reader’s questions and to eliminate all gaps and inconsistencies. Real life is not so neat. You will need to use your developing insight and skills to fill in the gaps, understand the inconsistencies, and to somehow make sense of life in the real world.

You may want to skip the Risk Points sections your first time through the narrative. This will enable you to have the full picture in mind as you consider the points of risk.@ It also will facilitate your dynamic understanding. You will better see that a family is not static nor is it best understood as one event followed by another. Rather, your family grows and changes over time, with everything shaping and influencing everything. What happens today shapes tomorrow but also shapes your perception and understanding of what happened yesterday. In this sense, you never fully understand but have a dynamic understanding that shifts and changes over the years.

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