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.
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.