I have a sense that child and youth care has lost or is losing the art and skill of group work with children and youth in group care settings. My first professional qualification was in Youth and Community Work. Training was delivered via a group work approach. Students and tutors met together to plan and review learning. It was a co constructed learning environment. Because I came to that programme via residential child care rather than community youth work my reading took me to Redl, Willis, Knopka and Balbernie etc. as well as to recommended reading such as Wilfred Bion and Homans.
I was fortunate to have a rich experience grounded in group work that I believe equipped me well for leading in group living. I say this to provide context for my assertion that child and youth care (particularly) in residential settings has or is loosing the craft, knowledge, art and skill of therapeutically – as opposed to manipulatively, using the group to process and plan events so that children and adults can learn together.
I see evidence – at least in UK and Ireland – of programmes of care organised on an individual basis, I see – in Ireland – a trend toward single occupancy residential care provision. I sense a fear of 'the group' among Child and Youth Care workers and evidence of strategies of 'divide and conquer'. Do others share this perspective or am I 'off beam'? What are members’ experience of training in Child and Youth Care or in Social Work or Social Care – was / is there a group work component? What knowledge, skills and attitude is required to successfully and confidently work with groups of troubled children and youth? I'm involved in a writing project about this theme and would greatly appreciate input from the Child and Youth Care community.
Johnnie (in Ireland)
Some ideas to add to the mix:
1. In the “old days” (I started child and youth care work in 1959) I think that the living circumstances into which we were bringing children coming into care were essentially group living situations, which (apart from boarding schools) were unusual for children from most previous home situations. Sure, some kids had been living at home in bedrooms of perhaps two, three or four, but now they were moving their lives into far bigger living groups than they had been used to, and so were faced with having to manage and survive groups requiring from them more skills, resilience, tolerating, making allowances, … (you name it) than previously. Moreover, for “convenience”, most children’s homes would divide children into age-groups for many obvious reasons, but such age groupings inevitably exposed the children to more competition (for goods, attention, approval, etc.) so that being able to coexist in groups was not just a more comfortable or “tidier” arrangement! For reasons like these, “groupwork” skills were essential tools in the child care worker’s arsenal!
2. As we looked around for other analogous group (growth and co-operation) situations, our eyes naturally fell on sports, where people through the years who had gone before us (in the education business, for example) had already worked out optimal sizes for teams, required skills, rules of engagement, etc. Here we recognized some ready-made models for use in life-space situations. I don’t mean extracting from sports and sports teams ideas which could make group living less warlike and competitive, but actually introducing the sports of various kinds into the curriculum of the children’s institution. In the general population, sports were already normally grouped into age groupings, and more ingeniously they were already governed by strict and clear rules whereby murder and mayhem were forbidden and punished by logical penalties (one’s whole team lost a point or lost the services of one of their players for a period, which affected the whole team’s progress or success.)
3. In soccer, for example, one person (the referee or the coach) was able to manage the varied skills and activities of 22 young people, two teams of 11, for an hour or more which was filled with excitement, exercise, achievement, experience-building, fellowship, mutual support … you name it! Not to mention the co-operative and learning time spent on practice about strategy, ball-skills, etc. An extraordinarily profitable use of time and energy.
4. And the portability of all this into the future lives of the youngsters into a world where there is already a well-established framework of sporting codes, leagues, age-groupings, fellowship – not only for soccer but countless other sports and games, from table-tennis to rugby!
Just another way to think about “group work”.
I think the key to answering your question is in further exploration of what is meant by the term 'work' with children in care. In my view (and experience) there is a very wide range of differing opinion and understanding of what the work actually is, particularly when we use the terms 'therapeutic' or 'professional' in relation to care practice.
Of course the emphasis in on divide and conquer and with the best will in the world, in very many agencies it doesn't matter one bit whether the workers have skills or abilities in the 'craft of care' or 'facilitated personal development group work', because everything about the ethos and philosophy of the majority of res care services in Ireland (even some of those claiming to provide therapeutic care) suggests that the aim (at least from a Government/service level agreement perspective) is to warehouse kids until they are 18 so that they can be turned over alive to adult services!
Sorry if that sounds deeply cynical but there is lots of evidence there to support that hypothesis and there is no sign of it changing any time soon.
With very best wishes,
John Byrne (also in Ireland)