Taking a strengths-based approach: what needs to change?

Talk to any long-serving social worker about community development and you'll hear all about the days of their whole-community approach to supporting people.

Since then, pressures increased, budgets stretched, and the sector moved away from a community-based approach. However, with the introduction of Care Act 2014, many local authorities have once again begun to turn their attention to the community – largely because of a new principle set out by the act that centres around promoting well-being and independence.

For many areas, we are seeing a return to strengths-based, community-focused practice, with the focus on an individual and their social and community networks. The idea is that by working together with the individual, social care professionals can determine an outcome that draws on that person’s resilience and resources. The aim here is to minimise the need for formal support and instead promote well-being, while also concentrating on the assets that are already available to that person through their family or local community.

In some circles, the role of the assessment within this strengths-based practice is being disregarded. But without an assessment, how is it possible to promote well-being, to enable preventative support, or to establish the presence of eligible needs?

Successful social work relies on a comprehensive holistic assessment. So, it’s important to consider whether a conversation captured on a blank piece of paper is sufficient enough to understand someone’s needs. Can it take into account the domains that can and can’t be achieved independently as well as be robust enough to evidence decision-making?

Although there isn’t currently a national standardised template to follow when carrying out eligibility assessments, integrating an evidence-based approach can help to assess needs more accurately and manage any risk. This style of assessment gives social care professionals a structured way to record conversations and capture information, ensuring they have assessed eligibility and applied the principles of the Care Act.

It also provides reassurance that assessments will stand up to scrutiny if concerns are raised by a family member or a serious incident occurs. This is especially important, as there have been a number of upheld complaints to the local government and social care Ombudsman where assessments haven’t been clear enough or the eligibility process hasn’t been sufficient.

Social workers need to understand the person in front of them and pairing a strengths-based approach with evidence-based assessments, is a robust way of getting a fuller picture. It allows social care professionals to draw on an individual’s strengths and assets whilst providing the services and support that will enable them to remain as independent as possible.

Social care relies on emotion and connection, especially for local authorities working from a strengths-based model. The quality of the relationship that develops between the individual and the professional is the key to working in such a collaborative way. Evidence-based assessments do have a role to play in supporting this process and technology should be seen as a route to empowering professionals, rather than replacing them. It’s about providing a consistent and easy-to-use toolkit that assists the assessment process, so they can bring together all the information they need to make the best possible decisions.

Laura McIntyre
Laura McIntyre Product Manager (Care Partner)