Abstract: Revitalizing Relationships Among Self-Help Groups and Social Work Professionals (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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264P Revitalizing Relationships Among Self-Help Groups and Social Work Professionals

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Carol S. Cohen, DSW, Professor, Adelphi University School of Social Work, Garden City, NY
Azahah Abu Hassan Shaari, PhD, Assistant Director, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY
Background and Purpose: Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are effective mechanisms for support, well-being, advocacy, development, and change internationally. Although social workers and (SHGs) have a rich history of partnership, relationships have substantially diminished in frequency and effectiveness. While SHG members know what constitutes helpful relationships with professionals, they are rarely consulted about how to best serve them. Concurrently, many social workers have limited education and experience with SHGs, contributing to disjuncture through inappropriate and ineffective practice, and sparse supporting research. Renewing these relationships is critical to establishing socially just and healthy communities.

The study purpose is to understand and recast the current nature of SHG/professional partnerships internationally by asking successful SHGs about experiences with professionals, and based on their reports, collaboratively design and advocate for revitalized practices. Rather than perpetuating traditional researcher/subject or worker/client relationships, this project privileges group members' position as experts, and casts social work researchers as scribes, collaborators, and educators advancing how social workers learn about, partner and support SHG achievement.

Methods: This participant action research study connected Self-Help Groups and social work scholars from Bangladesh, China, Germany, India, Israel, Malaysia, Scotland, and US. Exemplary groups were nominated locally, and focus group were conducted by non-related scholars, using a common interview guide.

Thematic analysis suggested that more productive alliances with social workers could occur, but substantial change was needed in professionals’ conceptualizations of these relationships. Collectively, the international research team analyzed findings, considered cross-cutting themes, and drafted six promising principles. These were brought back for SHG deliberation, and underwent further editing based on feedback.

Results: While examples and narratives differed by groups’ purposes and contexts, consensus emerged on conditions supporting positive relationships. The following promising principles were identified: (A) Social workers should build relationships with SHGs out of the group’s issues and desires for professional consultation; (B) Social workers should focus on needs directly stated by members, and address these as very important in a time-sensitive manner. The members own their needs – not the worker; (C) Social workers should make arrangements and work in ways that are locally rooted and responsive; (D) Social workers should be flexible in ways/structure, and what/content of their consultation; (E) Social workers should understand and work in recognition of the SHGs’ stage of organizational development; (F) Social workers should have knowledge about, and understand social networks and resources, sharing this with groups as needed.

Actions, Conclusion and Implications: Through this research, a flexible, non-imperialistic model of SHG and social work partnership, which maximizes group self-determination is emerging. The principles and attendant narratives are currently being shared and reviewed internationally in social work education and professional training, linked with international standards and NGO networks. The research process itself served to demonstrate the aspirations of the social work and SHG partners about how collaboration could be restructured.

Conference attendees may provide feedback and consider how this project can inform their work with and in SHGs, as well as how this research and engagement model may be used in other areas of inquiry and change.