Organization “Friends Outside La” – Social Learning Theory


Friends Outside Los Angeles County is an organization dedicated to providing services to families and children, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated family members. The main office is located in Pasadena. They have five co-locations, three in Los Angeles, one in Pasadena and one in Inglewood. I am placed at one of the Los Angeles locations. Friends Outside LA provides supportive services to the families of those incarcerated and link them to other needed services provided by community organizations and government programs. We support inmates and ex-inmates on making a successful transition into society. Services include an after-school program for children with incarcerated parents, job assistance, emergency food, emotional support, support groups, client advocacy, and information about the criminal justice system and resource referrals. We are here to help our clients become more self-sufficient and to reduce recidivism. Recidivism refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime (Merriam-Webster, 2018). We are here to replace it with more cost-effective responses, which have a less damaging impact on families. This is what we attempt daily.

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Case Study

Client X is a nineteen-year-old, male, Latino. Client X was referred to our facility after he was released from the country jail about a month ago. Client X spend six months in county jail due to a “beer run” which is considered petty theft. A petty theft is considered a misdemeanor that carries up to six months in county jail and/or a thousand dollar fine. Client X is currently living with his mother and father. Client X parents are not supportive of their son’s return to society. Client X was referred to our facility by his parents. Client X grew up surrounded by gang violence and several other traumas. Client X grew up in a low-income neighborhood located near downtown Los Angeles. The neighborhood lacked resources to support Client X throughout his developmental growth as a child and adolescent.

Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory states new patterns of behavior can be acquired through direct experience or by observing the behavior of others (Bandura, 1971). Children observe the people around them behaving in numerous ways. Based on the Social Learning theory, Client X learned that drug use and illicit activities were normal. The Social learning theory proposes that most learning is gained by people seeing behavior going around them and thinking about what they see (Payne, 2005). Client X grew up seeing his older sibling, peers do illegal doings, and now he ended up modeling the same behavior. The famous Bobo doll experiment is also a good illustration of observing the behavior of others. The experiment involves 36 boys and 36 girls who were enrolled in the Stanford University Nursery School. The age range from 37 to 69 months (Bandura, 1961). In the experiment, half the subjects were exposed to aggressive models and the other half was exposed to nonaggressive models. Client’s X had numerous influential models, such as his parents, siblings, and peers. These models provide examples of behaviors that were observed and imitated by Client X. The negative behaviors portrayed by the models were embedded into Client X.

Critique of Social Learning Theory

The Social Learning Theory believes that individuals, especially children imitate or copy modeled behavior from observing others in their environment (Bandura, 1971). However, Social Learning Theory does not take into consideration how the combination of Client X gender, socioeconomic status, race, class, and sexual orientation plays out in multiple settings. Unlike Social Learning Theory, Critical Race Theory looks at all these underlying layers in Client X and tries to understand the many oppressions he is facing.

Critical Race Theory has five basic tenets that guide its framework. Intersectionality is one the tenets within Critical Race Theory. According to Delgado, “intersectionality means the examination of race, sex, class, national origin, and sexual orientation, and how their combination plays out in numerous settings” (2001). Intersectionality is an important tenet in pointing out that CRT is critical of the many oppressions people of color are facing and does not allow for a one-dimensional approach to the difficulties of our world. If Client X had grown up in a wealthier neighborhood as a white male, he would not suffer. Bandura’s theory of Social Learning failed to show the diversity in intersectionality.

Life Course Paradigm

Based on the Life Course Paradigm, Client X’s timing of lives can influence his past. He grew up in a low-income environment, where resources were limited. His parents are both immigrants who no former education. Because both his parents worked full-time jobs during the day, Client X was exposed as a child to violence and trauma, incarceration, addiction, and poverty at an early age. The timing in lives refers “to historical location or time, the social timing of transitions across the life course, the synchrony of individual careers and the lives of significant others, and one’s life stage at the point of social change” (Elder, 1994). Client X was initiated into a gang at the age of thirteen. His unstable childhood influenced Client X to build unhealthy relationships and use drugs as an adolescent. Client X ended up incarcerated for six months in jail due to a “beer run”, which is categorized as petty theft at the age of nineteen. According to Merriam-Webster, petty theft is defined as the crime of stealing something that does not have a high value (2018). The crime carries up to six months in jail and/or a thousand dollar fine. Client X is a nineteen-year-old, male, Latino and high school dropout. The expectations for a nineteen-year-old male is to have graduated high school, maybe in the first year of college, a part-time job, living at home with parent(s). It is important that I as his social worker find a program suitable for Client X. An expectation for Client X is to complete his GED or an equivalent certificate will allow him to gain useful skills. The action steps will be discussed in further sessions with the client.

Linked lives nurture the idea that everyone is connected in one way or another in society (Elder, 1994). Client X was born into a family where gang membership, drug use, and dealing drugs were put on a normal footing. Models are important in the socialization of children and adults. Language, social values, and family customs, as well as educational, political and social practices, are model in countless situations. His trigger is past family circumstances and childhood experiences. Client X learned from close family members, extended family, and friends. Behaviors enacted by them often did reinforce or punish. Bandura refers to this as “vicarious learning”. Client X spend a lot of his time outside of his home hanging out with peers who negatively influence him. He was exposed to many unhealthy behaviors as a child and adolescent. For example, not attending school consistently, staying out past his curfew, and dealing drugs.

Human agency refers to one’s capacity to make choices that will affect their life (Elder, 1994). Client X made decisions in his life that have negative consequences. Client X conducted a “beer run” with another person. A “beer run” refers to stealing beer from convenience stores, sometimes using intimidation, and taking off. Sadly, this misdemeanor will stay on Client X record. It will make it hard for him to apply to a job because once he fills out an application and every time it asks him if he has a misdemeanor and he marks “yes” he will need to explain the “why”. Due to the negative decision the client made in the past it is important to look into the details and work towards improvement. This can be addressed in further sessions with the Client X.

Social change refers to transforming human lives by changing relationships and, thus, the nature and effectiveness of socialization, views of self and others, and life course regulation or social control (Elder, 1994).

Social Work

As a social worker, is important to listen to the client and work with them. Many clients have multiple problems on multiple levels. It is easy to think we can solve all of them but as a social worker, I have to be able to identify the problems that are most significant to the client. As a social worker, I recognize that the desperation of poverty often leads to harmful and illegal behavior. It is my responsibility to work in partnership with my client and prioritize the problems in order of importance to be able to attend the high priority one first.

Although I am cultural competent about his culture and particular events in the client’s life I need to emphasis on what the client wants to change rather than focusing on the “why” and ask the client what he wants to change in his life in order to decrease the likeliness of recidivism.


It is important for all social workers to have an understanding of the struggles offenders face to become productive members of society. It is important for social workers to have an open mind because the offenders who come out face discrimination when applying for jobs, applying for government programs, and applying for housing. It is important to have the right support ready for them once they are out, if not they will fall back into negative ways. Offenders can become recidivists and fall back to their used to previous roles. 

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Organization "Friends Outside La" - Social Learning Theory. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved December 6, 2022 , from

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