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Looking for strengths at the heart of social care

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For advocates of traditional community social work, it must be pleasing to see the growing popularity of strengths-based social care, says Ewan King, Director of Business Development at the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

For while, social work – and social care generally – seemed in danger of becoming bogged down in process and form filling, but now there is a sense that the social work profession is returning to its roots. The good news is that strength based approaches (SBAs) provide valuable learning right across the care and support sector.

In guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care / SCIE, SBAs are defined as ‘collaborative processes between the person supported by services and those supporting them, allowing them to work together to determine an outcome that draws on the person’s strengths and assets.’ Its goal is to give people choice and control to shape services in ways which deliver the outcomes they seek.

Wider systems and relationships

For all its promise however, a strengths-based approach should not be considered a quick fix. Good strengths-based approaches can help reduce demand for high cost services over time, but only after sustained investment in the community and voluntary sector; and the workforce.

SBAs can only become embedded in practice through whole-system and whole-organisation change.

Key to this is managing a shift towards systemic practice in social care, where people are viewed as part of a wider set of systems and relationships.

It also requires a culture of co-production, with practitioners working with people to define the outcomes which are most important to them. Hence, this kind of culture change is required not only in social care or adult’s services, but also across all agencies and organisations that work with individuals and families who use services.

Lyn Romeo speaking to camera about the strength based approaches framework
Click on the image above to hear our Chief Social Worker for Adults Lyn Romeo affirm her belief in the benefits of the strength based practice framework. Read her latest blog here

Making the most of people’s strengths

In the London Borough of Bexley, where we are supporting the team, this means redefining the entire relationship between the council and the voluntary sector, enabling the latter to become much more involved in supporting people to make the most of their strengths.

In Surrey, where they are faced with significant financial challenges, they are investing, with our help, in a long-term programme for social work team managers to develop their strengths-based capabilities and skills.

It’s also about building people’s skills, confidence and capabilities. This is why DHSC’s new social work strengths-based practice framework , which my colleague at SCIE Carmen Colomina helped produce, is so welcome and timely.

People in social care want to move in this direction, but they often lack clarity on what skills and knowledge are required to support effective strengths-based practice. This document will help greatly.

In many parts of the country right now, those using care and support undoubtedly face often huge challenges and difficult problems. But these people always have strengths and resources too, and good social care is about harnessing these. A new practice framework is a positive step forward.

From strength to strength: Free strength-based practice webinar. 26 March

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Don Brand posted on

    Hi. The blog makes a persuasive case for the benefits of strengths-based assessment. It is an approach that could enhance service user and carer control, and help coordinate the needs and contributions of people, their families, community networks, 3rd sector bodies and skilled professionals.
    For balance, however, shouldn't you also acknowledge and analyse the potential (and in many localities, actual) downsides of this approach? The SBA may serve the interests of people in need of support and care, as the Care Act requires; but alternatively, it can be applied with the primary purpose of reducing access to publicly funded support and care. Reports indicate that this is what is happening to many disabled people, of both working age and above.
    A positive approach to this issue, within the SBA context, would aim to ensure that, for each individual, their new arrangements adequately replace the support services withdrawn. Using the approach simply to cut or remove the support people need represents a failure by local authorities to meet their statutory responsibilities. It should not go unchallenged.