Key principles of group work, Consider the barriers to effective group wrk with young people

Group work is a common strategy used for supporting the personal, social and political education of young people. It can be used as a facility to give young people a wide range of transferable skills that can aid them in day to day life and potentially change their future prospects. Group work is the main intervention used when thinking about implementing social change and uniting people.

When groups are facilitated effectively the opportunities for young people to develop and hone communication, leadership and social skills are massive. When young people feel safe within these groups they are more comfortable about making the mistakes which will allow them to grow. Once the dynamics of the group have settled and people are assured of their roles within the group it is possible to allow young people to use and practice their new skills in more demanding activities. Group work has an essential role in ensuring that young people are able to function successfully in society as they grow up.

The motivations of individuals to join groups are varied. In most cases you either choose to belong to a certain group or you are a member of the group because of circumstance. Human beings are generally considered to be social animals and it is therefore natural for us to form groups. When people are excluded from groups/society it affects their well-being and opportunities for success. It is therefore beneficial for people have a sense of belonging and purpose.

Being a member of any sized group can instil this feeling within people. A further way of doing this is removing the sense of isolation and finding joy/comfort in the fact that other people share similar lifestyles or interests with you. When people feel happy groups, and the people within them, are more likely to perform and thrive.

Groups such as these also allow people to form new friendships which can result in making the group stronger and more likely to reach their goals. When you are a member of a group by default it is often more difficult to envision change or growth. However in these circumstances the skills that people develop are often different to those that choose to be part of a group. In these situations we are often forced to interact with people who are different to ourselves.

This gives us opportunities for personal growth through either accepting or challenging behaviours/traits. Skills such as tolerance and patience have to be learnt in order to reduce the likelihood of negative conflict. Having positive conflict with people can lead to change and helps people to hone their communication skills.

In order for people to grow emotionally, personally and politically it is important to meet people who are different from themselves, that challenge their views and potentially teach them something new. Identifying similarities within others that they originally assumed to be entirely unlike themselves and accepting people’s differences is an essential part of young people’s development. Experiencing this helps to create a strong unit that can be both successful and rewarding.

To ensure the success of groups it is important to ensure that they are facilitated effectively. The dynamics of groups vary massively depending on the individuals present. It is the role of the facilitator to ensure that the group achieves its aims and objectives whilst enabling all the individuals in the group to feel like they can participate equally. In order to do this the facilitator must not be dominant or bias. They must recognise each individual’s rights to contribute.

This can mean that the facilitator may have to encourage more reluctant members of the group to join in to ensure an equal representation. When facilitators are dominant, bias or self-orientated this has a negative effect on group members and will take power away from individuals. If a facilitator behaves in this manner it can lead to irritation and resentment which will affect the outcomes of the group. Conflict is more likely to arise as people feel frustrated in not being allowed to have their say; it may also result in some members of the group becoming more withdrawn. So this does not happen it is important to ensure that groups are led fairly and openly with a platform for members to review the role of the facilitator.

The facilitator has to put this in place to ensure the democratic running of groups. Allowing people to have a say in the organisation and facilitation of groups will empower them and create a positive atmosphere. When groups form young people have to engage with people that they haven’t encountered before. Young people in this situation need time to get to know each other before they can begin to function effectively.

A lack of confidence or suspicion amongst members will ensure that the group will not perform. To create a positive group dynamic it is important to give young people opportunities to get to know each other. This can be done through warm up games and icebreakers such as ‘would you rather’, ‘positive statements’ and name games. In doing this a facilitator is ensuring that the young people are talking to one and other whilst learning how to positively interact with each other.

Taking young people out of their comfort zones with trips such as ‘Challenge4Change’ enables them to drop of their guards and make mistakes in front of each other. This is done to encourage other members of the group to provide words of support, advice and encouragement to each other. Therefore improving the dynamics and relationships within the group.

This should help to improve their bond. Trips like this can highlight areas for growth to facilitators. Inspiring confidence within young people is an essential role of the facilitator. Creating opportunities to show young people that they are trusted ensures that they develop this quality. This could be done by allowing young people to organise events, use kitchen equipment, and facilitate activities or explore places independently.

Allowing young people to have these responsibilities aids young people in developing independence skills which will give them confidence in performing tasks. It will also aid the facilitator in developing positive relationships. Logistical problems such as the location, organisation and changing staff can affect the effectiveness of the group. Changing staff can be unavoidable however to ensure as little disruption as possible it is important that there is a process for the entrance and exit of people within the group.

One example of how this can be done is to ensure clarity when explaining why people have left/are joining. In the case of joining staff it is important to ensure young people have opportunities to get to build relationships and are aware of their role within the group.

When people leave young people should be made aware that they are not responsible and where possible of the reason they are leaving. Involving young people in these occurrences reduces the risk of uncertainty. Uncertainty can also be created when groups are not organised correctly. When groups are not organised properly young people find it difficult to engage with services and have less confidence in the facilitator/service. This results in poor attendance from young people or disruptive behaviour within sessions.

The facilitator is responsible for organising the location, staff and running of sessions however wherever possible it is important to involve young people. Doing this empowers young people, resulting in positive action. Supporting the group to create ground rules in the early stages of the group helps when dealing with disruptive behaviour. Allowing young people to be involved in the planning of the sessions improves their sense of ownership of a project, empowers them and teaches them new skills. When groups are run effectively it is a great opportunity to empower young people.

Encouraging young people to work cooperatively with each other gives them a facility to share ideas and implement changes without fear of mistake or of being held in contempt. A fair, inspiring and democratic facilitator can ensure that everyone in the group is included and the group achieves its goals. Being well organised and having procedures in place helps young people feel secure and reduces the risk of uncertainty. Through effective group work youth workers are able to ensure that young people experience the benefits of working cooperatively with others.