Saturday, 17 May 2014

Social Group Work in India

Group work as a method of social work came to India with
the introduction of professional social work education in
1936, a decade after it was acknowledged as formal method
of practice in the West. Even though there is evidence of
the group approach being used in various contexts – in
delivering charity services, imparting religious education
through oral tradition, in mobilising people for the freedom
struggle against the British, in social reform strategies as in
the Sarvodaya and Bhoodanmovements. However, there is
very little documentation or hardly any theorisation based
on it.
All the schools of social work in India teach a course/paper
in social group work (alternatively titled as “social work
with groups”) at both the graduate and the postgraduate
levels. There was a brave attempt to develop some
indigenous materials in group work by the then United
Nations Social Welfare and Development Centre for Asia
and the Pacific and the Association of Schools of Social
Work in 1979. Compared to casework and community
organisation, contributions in developing indigenous
materials on group work could be traced back to the 1960s.
The Association of Schools of Social Work jointly with the
Technical Cooperative Mission (USA) laid down minimum
standards for group work practice acted a benchmark to
the developments in India. VD. Mehta (1987) and Helen
Joseph (1997), two social workers who attempted to trace
the historical development of group work in India, agree
that the theoretical perspective taught in the schools of
social work in India and the practice models are primarily
American as in the case of social work itself.
The practice of social group work in India is generally limited
to correctional and other residential institutional setting,
hospitals and so on in the urban areas. The general activities
undertaken were recreational, educational and cultural in
character. Group work method was also practiced in
community work, as in the case of mahila mandals and
yuvak mandals, but it was primarily recognised as
community work. Practice of group work is also given
emphasis through the fieldwork programme in some
schools. Students placed in agencies and open communities
work with groups of children, youth, adults and elderly who
are either ‘sick’ or healthy in urban and rural areas. For
instance, the student of social work in Kerala placed in
open communities are engaged in organising groups for
children (balasamithis) and also for adult women
(kudumbashree self-help groups) in the disadvantaged
neighbourhoods. Such groups have a combined objective of
socialisation, structured recreation, functional literacy,
awareness generation on diverse issues such as effective
parenting, health and hygiene, environment and local selfgovernance
as well as other socially relevant issues. In
the recent years, groups of adolescent girls and boys too
have been organised in the villages to deal with issues
pertaining to life skill development including home
management, reproductive and sexual health, sexuality,
family planning methods, etc., considering the social reality
that majority of them will be getting married at an early age.
This brief review of historical trends in group work practice
is intended to enable you to understand current trends in
group work practice from a broad perspective. At present,
a remedial approach focusing on improving the functioning
of individual group member continues as the preferred
method of practice. This model of practice is based on
problem identification, assessment, and treatment. The
emphasis on mutual aid characteristics of group work
also continues, where the worker’s role is to mediate
between the needs of group members and society. Mutual
aid and shared, reciprocal responsibility are appropriate in
such settings such as short-stay homes and nari niketans
that are designed to helping women in distress to live
together, to support each other and to cope with distressing
life events. It is also useful in community groups like mahila
mandals, youth clubs and other community groups where
reciprocal sharing of mutual concerns and the giving and
receiving of support are central purposes. Professional
social workers are also involved as consultants or
facilitators of self-help groups that emphasise the mutual

aid characteristics of a group.