There are essential social work methods and inventions that all social workers should have the knowledge and skill to apply in a variety of settings.
Social work has a long tradition of applying different approaches to help people achieve the best possible life outcomes. Much of this work is carried out with individuals and their families. It is essential social workers are equipped in using one to one approaches with individuals of whatever age.
Likewise, family approaches – including those applied to systemic and family group conferences - must be a part of every social worker’s tool kit.
However, group and community social work methods are also essential if we are to be well placed to respond to the changing landscape of health and social care needs in our society.
A while ago, I was pleased to attend a social work book club at University of Central Lancashire facilitated by senior lecturer Amanda Taylor. Her recent paper demonstrates how important group work skills are becoming as methods for learning and supporting people to live better lives:
On the one hand it engages students, within their initial social work training, in a group experience and on the other, through the group, makes explicit the knowledge and skills essential to effective group work for practice.
In my first student placement way back in the 70s, I was privileged to be involved in an inpatient group for people with mental illness. Even after all this time, I can remember the positive impact this approach had for the people who attended.
We all gained something from being with each other rather than learning or receiving support alone. The relational aspect of group work makes this approach different from being in a classroom or a meeting.
Promoting individual change through group work methods can be very successful. There are many examples of course, some of which include working with youth offenders, parenting programmes, skills and confidence training for young people in care, to name a few. I remember working with teenage girls on supervision orders (I hope I'm not the only one who can remember supervision orders!) and it was much more effective than trying to work individually.
Whilst it was the heady days of feminist social work, it definitely helped to work with them in peer groups to address issues such as understanding and accepting their sexuality, building self-confidence and keeping safe. Support groups for people with shared experiences are now common place and include carers groups, people with substance misuse issues, dementia and so on.
Social workers are also involved in supporting groups where the primary purpose is to promote change and further social justice. We see this in the form of user led groups for people with learning disabilities, care leaver forums and local community groups challenging issues such as a lack of neighbourhood facilities or adequate provision for specific needs. This of course crosses over into community social work approaches.
I know that in a number of mental health contexts, the need for social workers with group work skills is more important than ever. Only recently, I was in discussion with a senior manager of a mental health trust who was keen to see practitioners using group work approaches with confidence.
I hope we can consolidate these methods, particularly as we move away from just considering individualised assessment and care management approaches. Additionally, community social work based on a local development model usually takes a more strengths and assets based approach to enabling people to find solutions that matter to them.
The Care Act has clearly signalled the need to take a more strengths based approach to working with people at individual, family and community levels. I will return to this subject at a later date.
In the meantime, I would love to hear about any group work approaches that social workers are using in their practice today. I hope that sufficient input is provided for students to gain foundation knowledge and skills in this area and that continuing professional development programmes support social workers in enhancing their knowledge and skills in group work methods.