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Group Work with Homeless Mothers: Promoting Resilience Through Mutual Aid

swThe “feminization of homelessness” is a growing social problem. In 2010, the last year for which such data were available, 37.2 percent of all homeless people were in families with children, and the overwhelming majority of these families were female-headed. Group participation provides homeless mothers with much-needed support and validation and promotes independence, resilience, and self-sufficiency. In a recent issue of the journal Social Work, Carolyn Knight, PhD, published an article which examines group work with homeless mothers, using case material from her experiences facilitating such a group in a 90-day shelter for homeless families. She promotes a resilience and strengths-based perspective on working with homeless mothers in group work. Her experiences are revealing.

She recommends that a worker who intends to facilitate a group for homeless mothers should keep in mind four important considerations:

  • a group worker must remain flexible, ready, and able to be responsive to the changing, often unexpected, needs of members and their shifting sense of urgency
  • a group worker should remain nonjudgmental and adopt a neutral stance
  • group workers need to be prepared to address differences that exist between the group members and themselves and members’ mistrust of them
  • a group worker need to identify and build on group members’ strengths

Keeping these considerations in mind allowed her to facilitate the group and gain insight into using a strengths perspective in group work. From this group work, Knight noted that several interrelated themes emerged:

  • Anger and/or resentment, which is directed at numerous sources, including the worker, the shelter or day program, or the homeless mother herself
  • A tendency to blame themselves
  • The stigma associated with being homeless
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed

Knight cites several illuminating examples to illustrate these themes of anger, blame, stigma and the sense of powerlessness, and models how she used strength-based perspectives to deal with these themes.
She concludes:

Facilitating a group for homeless mothers can be challenging, given the multiple difficulties they face, the limited resources available to them, agency constraints, and members’ self-defeating views of themselves. Yet group work is a natural vehicle through which homeless mothers’ resilience can be nurtured and their growth promoted. The mutual aid that results from members’ interactions with one another encourages members to share their challenges and receive support and validation. More important, it reveals members’ strengths, providing them with the incentive necessary to persevere in their attempts to improve their circumstances for themselves and their children.

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