Review by David Lane
A Classic Text Revised
Working in Group Care is a classic text, which was first brought out in 1996. A new edition has been eagerly awaited for some time. The Preface notes that “The book seems to have been valued by practitioners, students and academics”. This is not boasting, but an accurate assessment of the first edition. As a trainer commented to me, “My copy was so well thumbed that it fell apart.”
Adrian Ward has now updated the text, and included additional sections, such as that on opportunity-led work, as well as adding in new references. As with the first edition, for people studying in this field, this book is a must-read, and any comments below which pick holes in the book should be read bearing this overall judgement in mind.
The book is about 190 pages, plus nearly twenty pages of references and a good index. It is smoothly written, and is remarkably jargon-free, so that it is easy to read. This is particularly important for the readership of this book, as some residential and day care workers do not take to reading academic texts readily. They should not find a problem in reading this book.
The lack of jargon does not mean that Adrian Ward has avoided dealing with the fundamental concepts which underlie group care; he has simply explained them clearly. Equally, there is no lack of references to other texts, especially recent literature, and all his judgements appear to be well founded in research and corroborated by his own experience as a residential child care worker and manager.
A slight quibble here is that nearly all the references are drawn from books, despite this subject being a field where much useful material has been published in journals and reports from professional bodies. This may have been intentional, since students can probably access books more easily if they wish to refer back to sources, but it may mislead as well, since ideas often appear in books some time later than references in other material would indicate.
The book is in six main sections, which are really longer and more diverse than chapters. The first introduces the subject matter, looks at the practice and principles of group care, explaining why the book is shaped the way it is. The next four chapters take different viewpoints from which to consider the group care task. The second section looks at the various contexts within which group care takes place and the various angles from which it needs to be considered. The third follows clients through their stay, covering admission, the services they experience and their departure. The fourth looks at things from the workers’ viewpoint and what they experience during their shifts. The fifth considers practice in relation to the staff team as a whole. And the sixth and last section draws the different perspectives together, identifies further implications (for staff training, for example) and leads to a number of conclusions.
Between these sections, all the main angles on group care are covered. Other authors may of course analyse the material in other ways, but Adrian Ward’s choice is good, and readers who know the subject well will feel that he has dealt with the work as they know it.
The book covers all client groups, based on the principle that fundamentally group care is the same regardless of age or disability. It also covers both residential and day care on the basis of the commonalities in the work, though there are points where variations are noted, for example in the major impact that a change of domicile can have on entering residential care, as against entering a day service when the client returns home at night.
The result of this is that the book majors on generalities, the common factors and principles, and it makes out an excellent case for this approach. Some individual examples are given in the text, but the book might have had more bite and been of greater use to students if there had been examples drawn from different client groups throughout the text, since these could have demonstrated the similarities and differences. There would, of course, have been the risks of making the book very long, and of providing an imbalanced selection of examples. The outcome, though, of focusing on generalities and common ideas rather than examples is a certain blandness, when group care is a very practical unbland sort of work.
Despite this criticism, the book describes work in day and residential services as it is. Clearly the author knows what the work is like and people working in these settings will have no difficulty in identifying with the practices and problems described.
The book was first written when the social work model was well established in day and residential care. Since it was first published, we have been going through a phase in which the emphasis has been on social care and it is now possibly shifting towards social pedagogy or social education, – at least in relation to people working with children and young people, where their comparators are now increasingly being seen in education rather than in social work.
If the book is re-written again, it is likely that the comparisons with field social work would need to be dropped, as they already feel a little dated, and Adrian Ward’s analysis of the group care task stands quite adequately without the link to field social work.
The book remains a standard classic, and it will be of use to trainers and students preparing for work in day and residential settings for years to come – until well-thumbed copies again fall apart.
Ward, A., (2007) Working in Group Care: Social Work and Social Care in Residential and Day Care Settings BASW / The Policy Press, University of Bristol
ISBN-10 1 86134 706 5
ISBN-13 978 1 86134 706 0
ISBN-10 1 86134 707 3
ISBN-13 978 1 86134 707 7