The Standards for Social Work Practice with Groups were developed by an expert panel of group work educators, practitioners, and researchers. The IASWG recognizes that social work practice with groups reflects a broad domain of professional practice. These Standards reflect the distinguishing features of group work and illuminate the unique perspective that social group workers bring to practice.

An international team of IASWG members* updated the Standards in 2022 to include online considerations. English and French versions of the online considerations are available at the links below. Translations are being done into Spanish and German.

*Members of the team included Andrés Arias Astray, Samuel Benbow, Judit Castro Diez, Lorrie Gardella, Charles Garvin, Será Godfrey-Kaplan, Mark Macgowan, Barbara Muskat, Reineth Prinsloo, Mamadou Seck, Shirley Simon, Mark Smith, & Greg Tully. For questions about the development of the considerations, please contact Mark Macgowan.

Standards for Social Work Practice with Groups is available in English, French, and Spanish

There have been many publications on the Standards, including a special issue of Social Work with Groups dedicated to the Standards. Click here for the references to the empirical research and articles on the Standards. For educators, teaching tools have been developed, which can be helpful. 

Highlights of the Standards for Social Work Practice with Groups (Created by the Massachusetts IASWG Chapter)

These standards reflect the distinguishing features of group work as well as the unique perspective that social workers bring to their practice with groups. Central to social work practice with groups is the concept of mutual aid. The group worker recognizes that the group, with its multiple helping relationships, is the primary source of change. The group worker’s role is one primarily of helping members work together to achieve the goals that they have established for themselves.

By design, these standards are general, rather than specific. They are applicable to the types of groups that social workers encounter in the full range of settings in which they practice. Further, the standards allow the individual practitioner to apply a variety of relevant group work models, within the more general mutual aid framework.

Section I. identifies essential knowledge and values that underlie social work practice with groups. In Sections III. through VI., worker tasks in the pre-group, beginning, middle, and ending phases of the group are identified, as is specific knowledge that may be needed by the worker in each phase.

I. Core Knowledge and Values

    • Familial, social, political, cultural context of member identity, interactional style, and problem
    • Members are viewed as citizens
    • Members are capable of change and capable of helping one another
    • Attention to the whole person systems perspective used in assessment and intervention
    • Person and environment
    • Bio-psycho-social perspective
    • Member-in-group
    • Group-in-community

II. Competency-based assessment

    • Emphasis on member strengths as well as concerns
    • Mutual aid function
    • Group consists of multiple helping relationships
    • Worker’s primary role is one of helping members to help one another
    • Groups characterized by democratic process
    • Members are helped to own the group
    • Equal worth of members and worker
    • Worker is not all powerful “expert”
    • Worker to group and worker to members relationships characterized by egalitarianism and reciprocity
    • Emphasis on empowerment
    • Group goals emphasize individual member growth and social change
    • Group worker promotes individual and group autonomy
    • Worker’s assessment and interventions characterized by flexibility and eclecticism
    • Small group behavior
    • Group as an entity separate and distinct from individual members
    • Phases of group development foster change throughout the life of the group
    • Recognition of how group process shapes and influences individual member behavior
    • Groups formed for different purposes and goals
    • Group type (e.g., education, problem-solving, social action) influences what worker does and how group accomplishes its goals
    • Monitoring and evaluation of success of group in accomplishing its objectives through observation and measurement of outcomes and/or processes

III. Group Work in the Pre-Group Phase


    • Identify common needs of potential group members
    • Plan and conduct outreach, recruitment of members
    • Secure organizational support and sanction for group, if needed
    • Address organizational resistance to groups, if needed
    • Screen and prepare members for group, when appropriate
    • Secure permission for members’ participation, when needed
    • Develop compositional balance, if appropriate
    • Select appropriate group type, structure, and size
    • Establish meeting place, time, etc. that promotes member comfort and cohesion
    • Develop and articulate verbally and/or in writing a clear statement of group purpose that reflects member needs and, where appropriate, agency mission
    • Develop and articulate clear statement of worker role that reflects the group’s purpose
    • Use preparatory empathy to tune into members’ feelings and reactions to group’s beginning

Knowledge Needed:

    • Organization’s mission and function and how this influences nature of group work service
    • Social and institutional barriers which may impact on the development of group work service
    • Issues associated with group composition
    • Human life cycle and its relationship to potential members’ needs
    • Cultural factors and their influence on potential members’ lives and their ability to engage in group and relate to others
    • Types of groups and their relationship to member needs
    • Specific types of individual and social problems that lead to a need for group

IV. Group Work in the Beginning Phase


    • Provide clear statement of group (and, if necessary, agency) purpose and worker role
    • Elicit member feedback regarding perception of needs, interests, and problems
    • Encourage members to share concerns and strengths with one another
    • Facilitate connections between members and members and worker
    • Encourage awareness and expression of commonalities among members
    • Monitor group for manifestations of authority theme and, when needed, respond directly
    • Assess impact of cultural differences between members and between members and worker and address directly when needed
    • Assist group in establishing rules and norms that promote change and growth
    • Use of self to develop cohesion among members and comfort with worker
    • Assist members in establishing individual and group goals
    • Clarify link between individual and group goals
    • Help members to establish a beginning contract which provides clarity and direction to their work together
    • Promote individual autonomy and empowerment of members
    • Create and maintain environment of sociocultural safety

Knowledge Needed:

    • Group dynamics in beginning stage of group
    • Causes/manifestations of resistance to change among members and in external environment

V. Group Work in the Middle Phase


    • Point out commonalties among members
    • Reinforce connection between individual needs/problems and group goals
    • Encourage and model supportive, honest feedback between members and between members and worker
    • Use here and now/process illumination to further group’s work
    • Help members use role playing, behavioral rehearsal, and other verbal and non-verbal activities to accomplish individual and group goals
    • Monitor norms that govern group’s work
    • Assess group’s progress towards its goals
    • Re-contract with members, if needed, to assist them in achieving individual and group goals
    • Identify obstacles to work within and outside group’s boundaries and deal with directly
    • Clarify and interpret communication patterns between members, between members and the worker, and between the group and others external to the group
    • Identify and highlight member conflict, when needed, and facilitate resolution
    • Summarize sessions

Knowledge Needed:

    • Group dynamics in the middle phase
    • Role theory and its application to members’ relationships with one another and with worker
    • Communication theory and its application to verbal and non-verbal interactions within group and between group and others external to group
    • Member interactions as manifestations of sociocultural forces of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
    • Member interactions as manifestations of psychodynamic factors
    • Purposeful use of verbal and non-verbal activities

VI. Group Work in the Ending Phase


    • Identify and point out direct and indirect signs of members’ reactions to ending
    • Share worker’s ending feelings with members
    • Assist members in sharing their feelings about endings with one another
    • Help members identify gains they have made and changes that have resulted from their participation in the group
    • Assist members in applying new knowledge and skills to their daily lives
    • Encourage member feedback to worker
    • Help members honestly reflect on and evaluate their work together
    • Develop plans for continuation of service or referral of members, as needed
    • Assess individual member and group progress
    • Evaluate impact of group experience on individual members and external environment

Knowledge Needed:

    • Group dynamics in the ending phase
    • Formal and informal resources which maintain and enhance members’ growth
    • Influence of past losses and separations in lives of members and worker on group’s ending