Differentiating between Group Work and Case Work
The use of group work in settlement houses and casework in charity organisations was not accidental. Group work and the settlement houses where it was practiced, offered citizens an opportunity for education, recreation, socialisation and more importantly community involvement. Unlike charity organisations that primarily focused on the diagnosis and treatment of the problems of the poor, settlement houses offered groups to the participant
citizens as an opportunity to join together to share their views, gain mutual support and to exercise the synergy developed as part of the group association, as an opportunity for social change.
Unlike casework,where there is a sharp distinction – in expertise, power and resources – between the giver and the receiver, group work evolved largely out of the idea of self-reliance, self-help of a group nature. This mutual self-help as the name implies, developed from the need for mutual aid and support. As compared to caseworkers who relied on insight developed from individual oriented, psycho dynamic approaches and on the provision of concrete resources, group workers relied on programme content and activities in order to spur members to action.
Programme activities of all types became the medium and vehicle through which group attained their goals. Group oriented activities such as camping, singing, group discussion, games, as well as arts and crafts, were increasingly used for recreation, socialisation, education, support and rehabilitation. Unlike casework, which largely focused on problem-solving and rehabilitation, group work activities were used for enjoyment as well as to solve problems. Thus, the group work method that developed from the settlement house work had a different focus and a goal distinct from the method of social casework.
The difference between casework and group work can also be clearly seen in the helping relationships. Caseworkers sought out the most underprivileged victims of industrialisation, treating ‘worthy’ clients by providing them with resources and acting as good examples of virtuous, philanthropic, hardworking citizens. Although they also worked with those who were impaired and the poor, group worker did not focus solely on the poorest cases or on those with the most problems. They preferred the word (group) members to client. They emphasised on working with member’s strengths rather than their
weakness. Helping was perceived as a shared relationship within which the group worker and the group members together worked for mutual understanding and action regarding their common concerns for the community in which they lived. As concerns were identified, group members acted to support – material as well as psychological – and to help one another. The worker on his part, acted as am ediator between the demands of society and the needs of group members.
There was a feeling of ownership among group members over the activities undertaken, while the group worker officiated as a facilitator. Shared interaction, shared power and shared decision making, placed demands on the group worker that were not experienced by caseworkers. Group workers frequently had to act quickly, especially during complex and often fast paced group interactions, while remaining aware of the welfare of all group members. The number of group members, the fact that they could turn to one another for mutual help, and the democratic decision making process that were encouraged in groups, all meant that group workers had to develop skills that were versatile and much different from those possessed by caseworkers.
Case work began in charity organisations in England and the United States, in the late nineteenth century, while group work evolved largely in English and American settlement houses. Group work was also later incorporated for therapeutic purposes in the state run mental institutions (asylums). However, much of the interest in group work stemmed from those who had led socialisation groups, adult education groups and recreation groups in
settlement houses and youth service agencies.