Family eco-map

In social sciences and health sciences, it is often necessary to know in which environment the family of the patient or patients lives in order to know what the origin of their problem is. Both the other members of the family and their interaction with the sociocultural environment in which they live can motivate different intra- and inter-relational dynamics that lead to problems for their members. A good way to know how a family relates to its environment are family eco-maps , tools that we are going to discover below.

What is a family eco-map?
Among the multiple instruments for evaluating individuals, families and communities in the health and social branches applied to the family environment is the ecomap. The family eco-map is a tool that allows us to appreciate the structure of a family and what connections there are between its members, also exposing what the extra-family support is if it exists or is absent.

These tools are developed as a graphic representation to quickly identify the interrelationships of the family with the environment and its sociocultural context. Ecomaps are prepared when a family is evaluated with the intention of knowing that there is a mutual influence between it as a social unit and the other systems with which it is related , be it the extended family, health systems, educational centers, the neighbors, the neighborhood, the friends of the family.

Based on its definition, we can understand that it has a certain resemblance to the familiogram or genogram, only that instead of focusing solely and exclusively on the family, it also shows its external relationships, the main characteristic that differentiates it from genograms. However, like familiograma, family ecomaps are easy tools to develop. Added to this, they have a wide applicability and serve to plan, evaluate and intervene with families seeing how they relate to other social nuclei.

Example of a family eco-map
Utilities and functions of the family ecomap
The family eco-map presents certain facilities to the family therapist when it comes to treating a family nucleus and understanding what possible problems are occurring within them . Among the utilities of the main family ecomaps we have:

Identify extra family resources that act as a protection factor.
Detect shortcomings in the family.
Work on the aspects that are weak or absent in the family relationship.
Detect problems in family dynamics.
Detect cases of family isolation due to migration and other problems with their community.
How to carry out an ecomap?
To create an eco-map we need at least a piece of paper and a pencil or pen, in addition to the information provided by the family and that which we have observed both in its internal relational dynamics and with the systems external to it.

To carry out the ecomap we can follow the following steps.

Step 1. Prepare the familiograma
We draw a circle in the center of the family. Within this circle we will prepare a small familiogram , that is, the members that make up the reference family unit. Although it is possible that grandparents, uncles, cousins or other second and third degree relatives acquire an important weight in the studied family unit, as a general rule we will focus on the most central family, that is, the couple and their respective children.

When making this small family tree, it is necessary to know that men are represented with squares and women with circles. Marriages are represented by connecting the spouses with two vertical lines and one horizontal, from which the couple’s children are connected with their respective vertical lines. Also Read: Causes And Consequences of Stress From Parenting

The sons are represented by squares, and the daughters by circles. In the case of a pregnant woman, the unborn child is represented by a triangle. If there have been abortions, they are represented either with a black dot (spontaneous) or with an X (provoked). The twins are represented by two lines that emerge from the horizontal line at the same point. If it is a marriage the line is continuous, if it is a premarital union the line is broken and if it is a separated or divorced couple the horizontal line is “cut” with one or two diagonal lines. If a parent has custody of one of the children the diagonals are drawn near the parent who does not. In case the custody is shared, the diagonals are drawn in half .

Step 2. Add personal information
In case we have more information and enough space, we can write the names, dates of birth, date of marriage, separation and / or divorce, deaths and any other important family event . Information related to particular individuals can go within or together with their symbols, while details of relationships between family members will be indicated on the line connecting them.

Step 3. Draw the external systems
Having already prepared the familiograma, we proceed to consider what external systems influence the family or its members . These systems can be of all kinds, and those that are significant for the family nucleus and that significantly influence it should always be considered.

Work, school, church, friends, the neighborhood, the health system are some examples of external systems that can be of great importance for the evaluated family. Each of these external systems will be represented with their corresponding circles around the main circle.

Step 4. Represent external influences
Once we have decided which are the most important external systems, it is time to relate them to the main family unit. For this, we are going to connect them with the central circle, either as a set or specific individuals in case they are especially significant for specific members of the family .

These connections are represented in different ways depending on the type of influence they exert, Example, a solid line represents a strong connection; two or three solid lines represent a strong connection; a dashed or dotted line represents a rather modest connection and a wavy or broken line represents a conflicting connection.