What happens next? Extending a strengths-based approach from assessments to meeting needs
A local authority can extend the use of the strengths-based approach from assessments to meeting needs. Having identified the person’s strengths and resources in the assessment, the assessor will need to consider how these can be deployed at the care and support planning stage in a sustainable way. It may help to think about how the person currently engages with the community and in what way, by mapping their existing contacts, as shown in the diagram below.
Mapping the person’s existing contacts helps to build an understanding of the people and organisations they already interact with and may trust. A person’s confidence is a necessary prerequisite for adopting a strengths-based approach to meeting needs. In order for this approach to be possible and sustainable, the assessor will need to consider whether the person has the necessary strengths, has the capacity to learn and change their way of doing things, and trusts the networks that they will be relying on. It is vital that the person is empowered and is reasonably determined to make things work.
The strengths-based approach can them proceed via:
- Identification of the person’s strengths and capacity as well as their current interactions with the community (as illustrated above) in the assessment.
- Building strengths-based interventions around the person’s outcomes and aspirations identified in the assessment at the care and support planning stage. The strengths-based approach lends itself well to needs related to connecting with people, staying (physically) active, socialising, learning new skills and/or offering skills or knowledge to others in the community. When the strengths-based approach is executed well, informal networks can be utilised to meet the more practical needs of the individual. This is why it’s important that the person’s networks are identified in the assessment.
- Finding solutions in the community or social environment at the care and support planning stage. In order for this to be possible, the community needs to be seen as resource-rich. It may help to think of resources in terms of actual support services, informal support with care tasks, time, finances, information, advice or knowledge.
These three steps show how the assessor, the commissioner and the care manager need to work together. The assessor needs to identify strengths, harness these to achieve positive change and build support relationships that can make the intervention planned by the commissioner sustainable.
Finding solutions in the community may appear to be a daunting task. For a local authority to reap the benefits of a strengths-based approach, it may help to think of it not as a task, done just for the given individual, but as a strategy that is pursued for the benefit of everyone who approaches the local authority and for the benefit of the wider community. There are a number of ways for assessors, commissioners and care managers to establish community strengths and resources, and two examples follow: local area coordination and community strengths-mapping.
Local area coordination
Local area coordination is an approach to assisting local people (including those with care and support needs) to build their personal or family vision and take action for a good life by supporting them to stay strong, safe and connected. With a focus on strengths, aspirations and contributions, the person or family are empowered to build and sustain their networks locally, thus nurturing resilience and independence.
Local area coordinators work in defined communities to support the building of strong local relationships and contribute to sustainable, inclusive and supportive communities. They support individuals to draw on their personal and family resources to solve issues and connect with others who might be able to assist. They also help the person to identify the things they have to offer so that support becomes mutual. This fits into the overall approach of the Care Act to reduce, prevent, and delay the need for intervention.
An example of how a local authority in England has implemented this approach can be seen in Local area co-ordination: supporting transformation in Derby.
Community strengths-mapping is an exercise which can help local authorities conceptualise and describe community strengths. The diagram below sets out how a local authority might think about the community resources that exist around the person. The person’s own contacts in the community may include formal and informal networks (i.e. personal relationships in the form of clubs and/or memberships of organisations). The steps a local authority might take in mapping, negotiating and facilitating access to community strengths might follow this progression:
- Meet the people in the person’s support network (especially where the person has flagged that they have informal networks) to explore what resources (time, capacity, skills and knowledge) might be available to help the person.
- Contact people who are active in the community (especially formal networks that are relevant in the person’s daily life) and establish what scope there is in the organisation to adapt to the person’s, or indeed the local, need. It may for instance be possible to organise collective transport for people who attend church services together. Where a local authority doesn’t have local area coordinators, health visitors might be a means of identifying people who are engaged in their local area.
- Recruit. Develop local clubs and organisations by supporting people who are active in the community to engage more people.
- Use those networks to identify needs and resources. Identifying needs that are not being met is a positive outcome for local authorities that want to develop local organisations. Where there is a collective need, there is a possibility for an organised response.
- Map the resources. Ensure that there is a contacts directory which is maintained and enables more people to get in touch easily.
- Maintain contact with local activity leads. By building multi-agency partnerships, engagement can be sustained and the reach of the organisation expanded.
The diagram below illustrates how commissioners can consider community strengths and resources in terms of what exists around the person being assessed. The purple circles show where people come together outside the local authority’s sphere of direct influence. People’s activity has an impact on other spheres of public life (the white circles), which the council can influence through broader strategic public spending. Assessors can go so far in identifying existing resources, but if a broader strategy to develop local activities is employed, then more spheres can be ‘opened up’, allowing the strengths-based approach to meeting needs to become better resourced and more sustainable.
As the picture below illustrates, our communities are full of people with diverse skills, qualities and life experiences, but this may not always be recognised. Another element of adopting a strengths-based approach is to recognise skills within the community.
Very often it is formal qualifications or professional expertise that are valued, when in fact it is attributes and qualities such as local knowledge, communication skills and a desire to contribute and participate that assist our communities and permit the individuals within them to thrive.
The strengths-based approach starts with the premise that all of us have something to offer, including people who need support to participate fully in the community, and even people nearing the end of their lives.
Having created an overview of the person’s and the community’s resources, the assessor and the commissioner can overlay the person’s needs and skills with those in the community and, in this way, integrate the individual in the wider community. Skills for Care has developed a method for achieving this called ‘Skills around the person’.  More information can be found on the Skills for Care website.