When tuning-in to group care it would be useful to first of all, provide a definition for what is meant by the term ‘group care’.
Ward (2007:13) describes group care as “a place that people attend for some form of organised and purposeful social work help on either a daily or a residential basis”. Group care can be distinguished from other methods of social work practice such as fieldwork, group work or community development. For example, group care places emphasis on the “”shared living arrangements in a specified centre of activity” (Ainsworth and Fulcher 1981: 8).Furthermore, group care is a distinctive method of social work practice which employs methods that are not typically found in fieldwork such as “the ongoing and creative use of incidents and exchanges arising in everyday life, and the maximising of these informal opportunities to offer constructive help” (Ward 2007:14).
Teamwork and the ‘use of self’ are pivotal to the work carried out in group care settings.Saleebey (2005) describes this sort of team as “interdependent”, where workers depend on each other during the day to day running of residential care and day care. Quality of group care will be influenced by how the team interact and support each other. In contrast, other forms of social work practice involve separate case loads with individual cases and less reliance on the ‘team’ except for occasional support.
Ward (2007) emphasis the ‘use of self’ in a group care setting by combining social work knowledge, values, and skills with aspects of the personal self, including personality traits, values and personal experiences in life. This approach values the importance of working in the life space and being creative when working in group care.Ward (2007) describes six distinctive elements of group care practice as: the coordinated use of time, the focus of work, the interdependent team, multiple relationships, public practice and the organisation of space. Additionally, the main difference between residential care and day care is that residential care provides care 24 hours a day with members of staff ‘sleeping in’.
Members of the team work on a shift basis where the end of the shift involves providing an up to date verbal and written account of the prior shift to the new members of staff beginning their shift.Group care settings share common features with other methods of social work practice such as assessment, planning, reviewing and maintaining records (Parker and Bradley, 2003). Social work practice in a group care setting can be likened to the social work process framework that has a start; middle and end (Payne, 2005). However, group care can be described as having numerous beginning, middle and endings when working with individuals and groups.
Coulshed (1991) describes how assessments are never complete but rather an ongoing process. This is true in the case of residential care where the assessment process is never a one off event. They are ongoing in the day to day activities with the service users.Group care settings can be beneficial since there is the opportunity to form positive relationships between service users and workers.
Social workers in a group care setting have more time to get to know each service user on an individual basis. Therefore, they are able to sense when something is wrong by observing changes in behaviour and body language. Schulman (1999) discusses how it is important to be able to pick up indirect cues of service users and respond to them directly. Workers can then address the situation and provide the service user them with an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings.
Key issuesWard (2007) highlights three key issues that present themselves when working in group care. Firstly, power operates at varies levels within a group care setting where services users are often left feeling that they have little choice or control over their lives. It is therefore the responsibility of the group care worker to address this power imbalance and be aware of how power differentials operate in a group care setting. Secondly, prejudice and feeling stigmatised are common challenges for servicers within a group care environment.
Norman (1985) notes how individuals in group care may experience multiple disadvantages and are at risk of further stigmatisation. For example, for young people who come to live in residential care the label attached can leave them feeling embarrassed to admit that they live in a children’s home. Lastly, the literature on dependency for service users across social work settings revolves around avoiding or reducing dependency.Ward (2007) argues that dependency in group care can be experienced in different ways for different service users.
In terms of residential care for young people they may not have developed a sense of dependency prior to entering the care system. Smith (2009: 149) argues that “children can only become properly independent when they have experienced appropriate dependency”. The very nature of a group care setting goes against the grain within social work practice were service users are dependent on group care workers.Methods of InterventionThere are a number of intervention strategies that can be applied within group care practice.
Task centred – Epstein and Brown state that “task centred practice is a technology for alleviating specific target problems perceived by clients, that is, particular problems clients recognise, understand, acknowledge, and want to attend (2002: 93). Therefore, task centred work enables the service user to identify what practical areas they would like to address. The task centred model of intervention aims to develop problem solving skills so that service users can improve their ability to deal with problems in the future (Payne 2005). Task centred interventions are short term with a focus on specific practical problems rather focusing on emotional difficulties.
Social workers work together with service users to identify specific problems. Where multiple problems have been identified they are prioritised and a set of goals are agreed with the service user.A contract is then formulated between the service user and social worker with an agreed time frame for goals to be accomplished. Goals are small, realistic and achievable in order to promote empowerment within the service user.
Within a residential child care setting task-centred work can be in the form of individual work such as key work sessions between key child and key worker or in the form of group activities.Therapeutic Crisis intervention – is an intervention method that is used for responding to challenging behaviour within residential care. The goal of therapeutic crisis intervention is to provide emotional support and teach better ways to cope. In residential child care TCI can also be used to inform life space interviews (LSI), individual crisis management plan’s (ICMP) and key work sessions.
When responding to a crisis situation therapeutic crisis intervention suggests that we should ask four questions:* What am I feeling now?* What does this young person need or want?* How is the environment affecting this young person?* How can I best respond? (T.C.I Handbook, 2001)Opportunity led practice – is a framework for intervention specifically designed for group care settings (Ward 2007). This approach is characterised by four phases, these include:* Observation* Decision-making* Action* ClosureWithin children’s residential care this opportunist approach involves responding to unplanned incidents in everyday practice and using this as an opportunity to communicate and offer support to young people in care.
Knowledge & PolicySocial workers are duty bound by legislation, policies and guidance which provide a framework for social work practice when working with service users. Key pieces of legislation provide a framework for social workers in group care settings. For example, The Human Rights Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act 1998 are key pieces of legislation that guide all fields of social work practice. Knowledge of legislation specific to the group care setting will also guide work undertaken with service users.
However, it would be useful to note that despite the law shaping and regulating the role of a social worker, I am aware that legislation is there to provide guidance in difficult situations.Thompson (2006) states that there are various layers of legal and policy framework that influence social work practice. However, social workers are still responsible for making decisions, judgements and being accountable for their actions. Furthermore, social workers are bound by guiding principles set out by the NISCC codes of practice.
These codes of practice provide a context for professionals to work from when working with service users in a range of settings weather it is fieldwork or a group care setting. Social workers in group care settings will also have to adhere to internal agency policy and procedures.Social pedagogy – a person-centred approach that is informed by and incorporates social pedagogy. The concept of social pedagogy is based on values such as trust, respect and unconditional appreciation.
Furthermore, the concept of ‘shared living space’ underpins social pedagogy thought. This includes living with the young person and sharing day to day experiences with the young person. This could be something as simple as watching TV together, playing games or baking together. I feel that social pedagogy offers a strong knowledge and value base that can guide professional practice.
Its aims are to improve the outcomes for children in residential child care by promoting a more holistic approach to practiceSkillsA range of skills are needed when working in group care. However, good communication skills are essential when communicating with other professionals, other members of staff as well as communicating with service users. Additionally, observation skills are instrumental for assessing the dynamics and cohesiveness of groups within group care. Actively listening and paying attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues of the group.
Curtis, et al, (2004) explains how being able to respond sensitivity is instrumental when working in a group activity. For example, participants may lack self-confidence and find it difficult interacting in a group environment.Good social work practice not only involves listening and communicating with service users but involving them in decisions. For example, in residential work with young people team meetings for should be held on a regular basis to provide an opportunity for young people to express their concerns.
Ward (2007:44) suggests that “most of all people in group care want to be heard – to be able to express their views and enter into dialogue with their carer’s and others about their situation”. Social workers within group care are committed to involving service users in assessment, decision making and the reviewing of outcomes of service user lives.A.O.
PParrott (2006:23) describes anti-oppressive practice as ‘a general value orientation towards countering oppression experienced by service users on such grounds as race, gender etc’. For social workers to work in an empowering way with service users they must understand the structural context whereby oppression takes place. Thompsons PCS model is useful for adopting anti-oppressive practice when engaging with service users. Thompson’s model helps the social worker to identify how multiple oppressions are perpetrated on a personal, cultural and structural level of society (Thompson, 2006).
Group care workers must have an awareness of the multiple oppressions experienced by those who attend or live in a group care setting if they are to achieve empowerment.