For strengths-based approaches to succeed, you first need to support productive and effective practitioners

Next week at SCIE, we’ll be hosting a roundtable on the future of adult social care after COVID-19, with the Minister of State, Helen Whately and many senior leaders in attendance.

There’s much to discuss, but one theme is likely to unify the participants: We need a plan for social care which builds on the strengths, skills and resources in communities – what we at SCIE call a strengths-based approach.

In Guidance that SCIE have produced for NICE, we define strengths-based approaches as: ‘Strengths and asset-based approaches in social care focus on what individuals and communities have and how they can work together; rather than on what individuals don’t have or can’t do.’

It is welcome news that at the local level there continues to be a high-level commitment to this vision. Kirklees Metropolitan Council, for instance, who SCIE are supporting with their Land for Citizen Engagement, say their vision is: ‘About valuing people for who they are, the strengths and potential they bring; leading healthy, happy lives, where they are in control and able to make the best choices for themselves and their families.’

Collaboration with communities

Anyone who works in adult social care will tell you that being committed to the idea of strengths-based approaches is the easy part, whilst making it happen is much harder. It requires much more than simply staff training, or instituting a new approach to staff supervision. It requires committed leadership and genuine collaboration with communities. More than that, you have to fundamentally redesign the systems, processes and ways of working so that practitioners are freed up to do strengths-based work properly.

This is the aim of SCIE’s new offer on practice with impact: To build the conditions, based on a sound analysis of how people work and the implementation of evidence-based tools that support strengths-based practice; which in turn enable productive practice.

The starting point for this work is to conduct a practice study that seeks to explore both how practice is currently delivered, whilst enabling the team own the resulting case for change.

Different windows

This involves looks at practice from four perspectives: An analysis of the day in the life of practitioners; reflective learning sessions; engaging people with lived experience; and practice insight. Looking at practice through these four windows enables us to build a clear picture of the strengths and development areas for practice, and to articulate a case for change.

The next steps arising from the study will depend on local needs and circumstances, but in previous engagements, but it usually focuses on action in four areas:

  • Operating model: We will look at your structures and processes (e.g. Front Door to Assessment) to determine whether the change is needed
  • Technology: We will map your technology landscape and assess the scope for reducing waste
  • Resources: Accepting that resources are constrained, we will consider whether different resourcing priorities could create greater impact
  • Innovation: We will work with leaders to consider whether there is scope for a stronger focus on innovation, not simply in practice but in commissioning, integration, technology and community resilience.

In some situations, this process has led us to look initially at developing councils’ overall practice framework which guides strengths-based work. In both the London Borough’s of Brent and Bromley, for instance, we have helped co-design a Practice Framework prior to more detailed re-design work on systems, processes and staff training. In other places, such as Surrey County Council, the work has focused much more on starting work on the operating model.

The end point we seek to get to is usually the same, however. We aim to work with ambitious local authorities which want to deliver better outcomes and experiences, cost effectively. This means committing not just to the theory of strengths-based practice, but in developing the conditions in which such an approach can thrive.