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Group Work – It’s Importance to Youth Work

Youth Work Ireland Tipperary ensures that theory underpins our work and shapes the service that we deliver. During the past year my own focus has been on the use of group work within the youth work setting and the theoretical underpinnings of this practice. This process has provided a validation for using group work as a methodology and here I will discuss three group work theories that inspire me.

  • Josephine Brew McAlister on education in groups – McAlister stated that education occurs in spaces where young people feel comfortable and at home, and also that education can happen in every human activity. As a youth worker, I live for the unplanned conversations with young people. Conversations where ideas are sparked and unintended learning takes place. I’m also a believer that the culture of a space is crucial, that young people should have ownership over the space and that coming into the project should feel like coming home. McAlister’s writings cemented these group work ideas for me.

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  • Group as a Mini-Society – McAlister also suggested that groups should have a diverse membership. In this way, the group space becomes almost like a mini-society where young people have a safe space to negotiate relationships and pro-social behaviour. As a youth worker, this affirms the importance of a drop in or youth café type space. I also like Putman’s ideas that group space can be a place where bridges are created between people or difference. This marries with my own way of thinking of youth work, a place where difference is celebrated and respected.
  • Habermas and communicative action – In groups, I believe that the ideal situation is where the young people themselves are expressing ideas and debating opinion. Habermas refers to this as communicative action. The youth worker is not necessarily the problem solver, but rather someone who poses questions that the young people can work out together. This is a further reason why group space is important. It’s the opportunity to place power in young people’s own hands and enable them to become critical consumers of their worlds.

Joyce Brennan – Templemore Youth Project

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