Each worker needs to be aware of the psycho-social space in which he is operating and to be able to set boundaries to it where appropriate or alter limits to include or exclude other activities or persons. This is the ‘boundary consciousness’ skill which was referred to in the last chapter, and is probably comprised of the following components:

  • An understanding of the task of the group and an evaluation of this is relation to the total purposes of the unit.
  • An awareness of the characteristics of individuals in the group.

In a small group it is possible for a worker to know something of all the individuals in it. In a larger group the worker needs, at least, to be aware of those operating in it, actively or passively, at a given moment. Also to be aware of absent, but still significant others, who may be indirectly influencing the behaviour of individuals present in the group.

An awareness of interaction between individuals and of the pattern of group behaviour predominant at the moment. (This pattern is made up from the reaction of all individuals in the group, including the adults, but is, as a total pattern, more than the sum of its parts.) For example, a group may be larking about as a defence against facing something painful. One member may be rather quieter and give some indication, by his quietness or otherwise, that he is not wanting to join the flight from reality. The worker has to judge very sensitively how to deal with this situation: should he face the whole group with its behaviour or should he draw attention to the quiet one’s withdrawal at the risk of exposing him to hostility from the rest of the group, then or later?

Management of all this, with whatever co-operation is achievable from members of the group, to move towards the fulfilment of the task of the group to whatever extent this is judged to be possible. Or, where appropriate, to redefine the task of the group so as to be able to achieve some task fulfilment.

It will be seen that these components define at least some of the psycho-social skills of ‘group-work’. These skills amount to ‘leadership’, shorn of its authoritarian connotations, of some of its sociological ‘power’ connotations and redefined in psychological terms within the context of small groups


Beedell, C. (1976) Residential Life with Children. London: Routledge and Henley. pp. 105-106