What do practitioners need to consider when using a strengths-based approach?

Practitioners will need to work in collaboration with service users, supporting them to do things for themselves, with the aim that they become more than passive recipients of care and support. In order to do this, it is fundamental that practitioners establish and acknowledge the capacity, skills, knowledge, network and potential of both the individual and the local community.

Preparing for assessment

Preparing for an assessment is key to ensuring the intervention is conducted professionally, that its effects are maximised and that the assessment is both appropriate and proportionate. When preparing for an assessment you should:

What information is being sought?

The assessment intervention should aim to discover what the person concerned believes would constitute a ‘good life’ for them and their family, and how all parties can work together to achieve this.

In particular the following information should be gathered using open questions rather than a tick-box exercise. The following questions are examples of the type of information that may need to be gathered, although each assessment should be approached on a case-by-case basis, and it may not be necessary or relevant to ask all of the questions suggested here.

Practitioners should ensure that they have fully and accurately understood the individual’s views on the above, and ask for clarification when required. ‘Presenting back’ to the individual is a good technique for confirming the accuracy of information. For example: ‘So what I heard you say is …’; ‘Can I check I’ve understood this as you meant it …’.

It is easy to misunderstand what others say, or to only understand it within our own context. When people talk about things they are very familiar with, they often omit information that could be key to understanding fully and accurately what they mean. Practitioners should ensure as far as possible that no information is missing or misunderstood.

Example 1: ease of misunderstanding

Mrs J, a woman who lives on her own, is introverted and has never had any relationship with her neighbours. However, she says that her relationship with them is ‘good’. For her, this means that they never bother her and she has no interaction with them at all. However, the assessor may understand ‘good’ to mean that the neighbours are helpful and that Mrs J could call on them if she was in need of help.

Strengths-mapping

A focused discussion with the person about their strengths can lead to new opportunities to develop and share skills and make new connections. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘strengths-mapping exercise’. This method of assessment builds a picture of the individual’s strengths and of the community around them. There are two types of strength: ‘soft’ and ‘hard’, each of which applies to the individual and the community.

‘Soft’ strengths

Individual

Community

‘Hard’ strengths

Individual

Community

During the assessment it may be helpful to consider the following questions: [3]

It is also important for the practitioner to have an objective understanding of the individual’s views and to ensure that strengths, needs and outcomes have not been over- or underestimated. In order to do this, it may be necessary to speak to others in the individual’s network (ensuring consent is obtained) and/or seek evidence. For example, it may mean observing or establishing via others an individual’s level of mobility. They may have been living with severely reduced mobility over a long period and become accustomed to the considerable limitations this causes them in their day-to-day life, while an objective understanding gained during assessment would help to reveal the true impact on the individual’s wellbeing.

Example 2: a balancing act

Ms L, 85, is asking for help as she can no longer safely manage her own personal care. During  the assessment it emerges that Mrs T, a friend who lives nearby, and who has been providing support until now, including personal care, has suggested that she might not want to continue in future. With Ms L’s  permission the assessor talks to Mrs T and discovers that she would in fact be happy to continue if she can be assured that she is doing the right thing and that she would not be expected to do any more if and when the situation changes.

During the discussion it emerges that Mrs T is interested in the option of sharing the provision of support with the local authority. This would allay her concerns about Ms L’s potentially increasing needs, and access to her own support and/or training, along with and further guidance on her caring role, would reassure her that she is ‘doing the right thing’.

It is important in this case for the assessor to explore Ms L’s own view concerning her personal dignity: how does she feel about relying on informal help from someone she knows as opposed to receiving help from a ‘stranger’ from social services? How does she feel about a ‘balance’ of care, as discussed with Mrs T?

The assessor should also ensure that  relevant benefits are claimed, such as attendance allowance, which, if appropriate, could be used to pay for informal support. This may in turn help in maintaining Ms L’s dignity by giving her greater control.