A group contract is a fundamental set of rules for running any youth group, and it is particularly important for intercultural youth groups. The group contract should highlight the need for respect within the group, and the behaviour expected of each participant. It should also outline types of behaviour, language and so on that are acceptable and what is not, and what should be done in addressing specific incidents of racism and discrimination. Like any complaints procedure within your organisation, this should include various steps including warnings, suspension, membership revoked, redress for victim and so on. An anti-racism agenda should also be actively undertaken, for instance in terms of addressing commonly-held myths. Your group contract may need to include rules on the use of different languages in your organisation, as well as the use of specific terminology or names.
Good Practice in developing an Intercultural Group Contract…
When it comes to writing a group contract, there are many different practices among the projects featured in this resource. All groups had different styles of agreements. However, one thing was consistent – all groups had a code of behaviour on what was acceptable, or not, for members of the group covering issues of respect, language, bullying and communication.
All organisations used a combination of rules for the specific group of young people, while also relying on the ethos of their organisation as general principles of the work. In the case of the Localise multicultural school, they also utilised the rules of the school whose premises were used for the project. The VSI (Voluntary Service International) ‘Teenage programme’ also has a social contract, which is a printed list of the rights and responsibilities of the young person, and which is explained to and signed by the young person, and their parent or guardian if they are under 18.
VSI stated the need to allow sufficient time for discussion on the group’s rules which is very important in diverse groups. Young people have very different views on what is reasonable language or behaviour, and this is particularly true of groups with young members from a variety of cultural and family backgrounds. In the VSI residential programme, there is a Circle Meeting at the end of each day, whereby a talking piece is passed around the group, and everyone has their say. Whoever holds the talking piece can speak and the others must listen. This is a very useful way to tease out difficulties that happened during the day.
While most young people drafted the Charter themselves, youth leaders tend to input with regard to certain rules for the group. Some youth workers established the rules as a staff team, based on what issues had arisen before or were likely to become problems within the group. It is important that your group contract is wide-reaching and includes issues of racism and intolerance, even implicitly, so that racist comments or prejudices can be challenged immediately when they arise.
Most groups displayed the group contract when the group met. Galway Diocesan Youth Service (GDYS) displayed it at all times in the No. 4 drop-in centre’s kitchen and hallway. In the case of Bishopstown Youth Project (Ógra Chorcaí), the rules of the group are given to each young person to sign personally twice per year. No. 4 drop-in centre also give a copy of the ‘house rules’ to any young person using the service. The rules are included with the client registration form that all young people must sign to use the service.
Most groups found that the group contract was ‘self-maintaining’, in that once the young people had discussed and thought through the rules, they were more likely to govern respect of the rules themselves. YMCA Cork found that the young people would tell others in the Ninos club to speak in English during group work activities.
It is important to be aware of any racist or discriminatory behaviour and attitudes in your group. Some projects spoke of challenging young people through general chats and conversations, while others decided to address racism through participatory activities around identity, exclusion and self-esteem. When working in a mixed group, it is a good idea to split groups into mixed teams so they get to know other young people from different communities when doing activities.
“You can cut off a whole community really by one incident not being addressed properly”… “even small things”…”It would be very much nipping things in the bud, getting to the bottom of it immediately, nothing would be left to imagination or left to chance….. Be very clear about a zero tolerance policy in relation to bullying, any kind of bullying, any racist remarks, any harassment, anything like that”….“That would be really in keeping with the Gaf (Youth Café) policy, as well as Youth Work Ireland’s.”
(SPARK youth worker)
Some youth workers mentioned what they called ‘hidden racism’ or a potential for racism - something that the young people often didn’t notice but which came across in general attitudes. For instance, some of the language used alarmed the leaders but not the young people themselves. Some groups design specific sessions to work on these attitudes – ‘moving debates’ can help! It can also be useful to focus on the similarities between different young people, rather than ethnic differences that separate them.
In tackling racism, the SPARK project (Youth Work Ireland Galway) found that simply including young people from diverse backgrounds was not sufficient to become fully inclusive. As with all communities, a hierarchy existed among young people from particular countries having opinions about each other and actively buying into prejudiced attitudes or behaviour.We must always be aware that minority groups and marginalised groups have negative opinions and prejudices that must be challenged. Youth workers should not fall into the trap of believing that once minority groups are included in organisationsthat that is an end in itself with regard to inclusion, and tackling racism and inequalities.
Like any conflict with young people, there may be other reasons for tensions between ethnic groups, such as issues connected with the young person’s home, experience of school, lack of self-confidence and so on. It is important to work with young people on issues of anger which may manifest as racist comments or bullying. Individual work is fundamental to overcoming this.
Nonetheless, all groups should have a disciplinary procedure in place when someone violates the group contract. Dealing with conflict as soon as it arises was highlighted as crucial by all youth workers. This occurred between all young people, whether they were from different ethnic backgrounds, or of the same nationality. Racist comments or tension should be dealt with as any other breaches of discipline would. A no-tolerance approach to racist attitudes and behaviour is crucial. As staff, you should challenge any comments immediately. In some cases, young people may be suspended or asked to leave the programme.
Additional Resources/Training for developing an Intercultural Group Contract:
- NYCI Resource ‘Let’s Beat Bullying’ http://www.youthhealth.ie/fileadmin/user_upload/Bullying/bully.pdf-complete_and_final_copy. Specific training on this resource is recommended and available through NYCI; see www.youth.ie/training for details.
- BeLonG To resources on tackling homophobic bullying contain useful tips http://www.belongto.org/
How would you rate? /How is your organisation doing?
- Castlebar Neighbourhood Youth Project ‘Talking Heads’ project , Foróigehttp://www.foroige.ie/index.cfm?fuseaction=Neighbourhood_Youth_Projects&content_id=22
- Localise, Multicultural School www.localise.ie
- No. 4 Drop-in centre, Galway Diocesan Youth Service (GDYS) http://www.gdys.org/index.php?page=tagaste-house
- Ógra Chorcaí, Bishopstown Youth Project; contactable through this forum: http://homepage.eircom.net/~clvyc/home.html
- Tyrrelstown Youth Initiative, Foróige http://www.foroige.ie/index.cfm?fuseaction=Local_Youth_Services&content_id=16
- VSI (Voluntary Service International), Dublin, Teenage Programme http://www.vsi.ie/volunteer/teenage.html
- Youth Work Ireland, Galway, SPARK (Support Project for Asylum Seeker and Refugee Kids) http://www.youthworkgalway.ie/projects.php?project=24
- YMCA Cork, Ninos Club http://www.ymcacork.org/index.htm
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