Broken Windows Theory & Social Work Practice

The “broken windows” theory gives social workers insight into the way the physical environment both directly and indirectly affect (Abdullah et. al, 2015) the populations we work with. 

Physical environments that display; broken windows, trash, litter, a lack of maintenance to green space or architecture are thought to produce actions that resemble the environment; higher rates of crime, vandalism, & “delinquent” behaviors to name a few. 

It’s interesting to dig into the theory of human-behavior as a direct result of the infrastructures a person navigates.

I guess my question to social workers is how do we engage in our practice knowing this information: 

  1. Do we take on roles in micro practice and support a client towards understanding that their action may be a result of the environment (supporting self actualization)?  
  • Do we find ways to advocate for this seriousness of the “broken windows” hypothesis through policy?  
  • Who do we hold accountable? The child that gets a ticket for spray painting an already abandoned building OR the structures that led to the “abandoned” landscape?  

How do we come together as social work professionals to integrate the physical environment into our practice? The best approach I see is investigating new theory that can be applied to our Person-In-Environment framework. 

When we fail to understand the human-behavior theory in terms of intersecting layers that come as a result of the mistreatment of the physical environment – we fail the services provided. We are then limited. 

For the micro social workers reading… I’m sure you can see the layers of self-empowerment that would come when; reflecting to a mother that her child in not acting delinquent because she is a “bad” mother but suggesting that the child is simply acting in a way that is symbolic of their environment. 

Published by Gabrielle Francis Amlicke, MSW

Advocate for Environmental Social Work & CEO Founder Environmental Social Work LLC

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