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Strengths-based practice

24 April 2019

Kate Kayley

Strengths-based practice is a collaborative process between a person supported by services and those supporting them. It allows them to work together, drawing upon a person’s strengths and assets to achieve positive outcomes.

There is currently a great deal of interest and activity in developing strengths-based practice across social care with adults, individuals, families, carers and communities. This is certainly not a new or different way of working with people, as it has been fundamental in professions such as social work for over a century, but over time the increase in care management and the service-led, deficit approaches have not supported this to be routine practice.  

Strengths-based practice is a collaborative process between a person supported by services and those supporting them. It allows them to work together, drawing upon a person’s strengths and assets to achieve positive outcomes.

The introduction of the Care Act 2014 with its focus on wellbeing and early intervention required local authorities to ‘consider the person’s own strengths and capabilities, and what support might be available from their wider support network or within the community to help…when considering what else, other than the provision of care and support might assist the person in meeting the outcomes they want to achieve’ (Care and Support Statutory Guidance s.6.33. Department of Health and Social Care, 2017). The recent publication of the Department of Health and Social Care Strengths-based approach practice framework and handbook gives support to social workers and social care professionals in applying a strengths-based approach to their work with adults.

It can be hard to clearly define the strengths perspective as there is neither a single definition nor a single ‘way’ but multiple approaches and practices – it is a philosophy or concept rather than a prescriptive way of working. There are many different approaches that can be described as strengths-based, these include (but are not limited to) asset-based community development, family group conferencing, risk enablement and appreciative inquiry. The new Research in Practice for Adults Developing strengths-based working: Strategic Briefing by Deirdre Ford helpfully provides an overview of many specific models, the current evidence behind them and the type of information to consider when deciding on an approach.

However there are shared elements across the different approaches. Strengths-based practice is holistically working alongside the person to explore their aspirations are for their best possible life. Strengths-based working acknowledges that people are the experts in their own lives, and does not focus on individuals ‘risks’, ‘problems’ or ‘deficits’ but is future-focused in identifying strengths and goals. For this to be done effectively, quite possibly at times of crisis, essential skills for having outcomes-focused strengths-based conversations – including engaging the person ‘when it’s hard to see what’s right’, mindful use of language, active listening and powerful questioning are key. There are a variety of useful tools to support this on our outcomes website.

Whilst strengths-based working builds on core social work values and skills, and is a naturally positive methodology, there are commonly reported concerns and barriers for practitioners when working in this way. For instance, while delivering training sessions I have come across practice challenges, which include current paperwork or recording systems which are not supportive to practice. There might be misconceptions that the rise in local authorities implementing the concept of strength-based working across the country is driven by cost-saving rather than increased well-being for people using services. There can be tensions between professionals’ statutory requirements, working with eligibility criteria as well as other agencies and organisations (e.g. Department for Work and Pensions). Sometime it might just be that we’re not all that used to talking about our strengths!

Imogen Blood and Lydia Guthrie have written a new Embedding strengths-based practice: Frontline Briefing, which offers practical guidance when facing some of these barriers, as well as offering examples of good practice. Lydia also presents a Webinar on embedding strengths-based working. Other Research in Practice for Adults resources to support the development of strengths-based working include workshops on supporting strengths-based practice in social care, aimed at practitioners and managers, and a series of Podcasts by Tish Elliot. There are other publications which look at some of the strengths-based approaches in more detail, including:

For the strengths perspective to be truly effective there needs to be a whole organisational approach. We need to model these approaches in supervision and in conversations with colleagues and other organisations. By considering what we already have around us – the existing knowledge, skills, passions and experiences, it may be that those situations where we are really feeling like the glass is half-empty can be viewed differently. Next time you’re talking with someone, consider approaching it from strengths perspective – there could be a lot to gain.


About the author

Kate Kayley is a Learning and Development Officer at Research in Practice for Adults.


Strengths-based approaches workshops and learning resources

At Research in Practice for Adults, we have a number of learning resources and training opportunities to enable social care practitioners to embed strengths-based approaches:

Podcasts

Publications

Webinars

Workshops

Commission Research in Practice for Adults to deliver in-house workshops to support your organisational learning and development needs. This includes:


To find out more about Research in Practice for Adults work to support strengths-based practice contact us via ask@ripfa.org.uk.

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