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Strengths-based practice vs conventional practice – ASC enabling roles

What are strengths?

The terms ‘strengths’ and ‘assets’ are often used interchangeably to apply to either individuals or communities, but taking a strengths-based approach is both person-centred and asset-based.

This diagram below from the NICE and SCIE ‘Quick guide for strengths and asset-based outcomes’ is a helpful way of showing how the person is at the centre, with their personal and community strengths and assets around them.

This diagram was extracted from the NICE and SCIE Quick guide for strengths and asset-based outcomes

The term ‘strength’ refers to different elements that help or enable the individual to deal with challenges in life in general, and in meeting their needs and achieving their desired outcomes in particular. These elements include:

  • their personal resources, abilities, skills, knowledge, potential, etc
  • their social network and its resources, abilities, skills, etc
  • community resources, also known as ‘social capital’ and/or ‘universal resources’.

Strengths-based practice vs conventional practice

Strengths-based practice is an approach, not an outcome. It is a ‘how to do’ not merely a ‘what to do’ or ‘where to get’.

Conventional approachesStrengths-based approach
The person is the problem or is identified with his/her pathology.

Distance, control, manipulation and unequal power characterise the relationship between professionals and clients.

Problems are at the heart of interventions, which consists of resolving the problems.

Professionals are the main resource and the main people in charge of interventions. Interventions depend primarily on their knowledge and abilities.
Everyone has talents, resources, abilities, capacities and aspirations that are independent of how easily they succeed in expressing their strengths.

The clients are the experts in their situation: they know what is best for them. Practitioners have theoretical and technical knowledge that can help others to act rather than hinder them.

The focus on individual strengths and abilities helps people to develop.

Professionals, families and communities share the responsibility for an intervention. A mutual process using the available resources provides the basis for intervention planning.

The following questions are intended to give you an opportunity to reflect if your approach is conventional or strengths-based. These questions were taken from a series of workshops that were undertaken with people in council services supporting ASC where discussions around how to be strengths-based in practice was explored.

Have a look for questions which seem relevant to your role, then try to answer them.

When I need to do a task:

  • Do I focus on the negatives of it? (Conventional practice)
  • Do I focus on what I can learn, improve, benefit from it? (Strengths-based practice)

When I need to work alongside others:

  • Am I concerned about their potential attitude, hidden agenda, etc? (Conventional practice)
  • Am I open minded about what they can bring to the table? (Strengths-based practice)

When I am working with others:

  • Am I concerned about their potential attitude, hidden agenda, etc? (Conventional practice)
  • Am I open minded about what they can bring to the table? (Strengths-based practice)

When I identify something in a process or guidance that I think is not right, and I am asked to follow it:

  • I despair, wing it, and do it, nevertheless, being unhappy and complaining (Conventional practice)
  • I identify what I think is not working and why I think it is not working and raise potential solutions or ways forward (Strengths-based practice)

When I interact with partners, stakeholders or peers, and their approach is not strengths-based:

  • I feel defeated, I think there isn’t another way forward and go with their approach (Conventional practice)
  • I have an honest conversation with them, highlight the positives of strengths-based practice, and if the constraints continue, I do as much strengths-based practice as possible given the circumstances (Strengths-based practice)

At my job:

  • I focus on tasks, procedures and getting things done to reduce the ‘to do list’, ‘there is so much to do!’ (Conventional practice)
  • I really try to lift my head and find the necessary headspace to see the bigger picture and how each task contributes to it and who else should be involved (Strengths-based practice)

When I receive a newsletter:

  • I remove it or archive it as I don’t have time to read it (Conventional practice)
  • I read the headlines to see if there is anything of interest, and I book time to read it or circulate it to others that may be interested in it (Strengths-based practice)

When I am doing my job with confidence:

  • So when I work with others I make this clear verbally or with my attitude so my proposed way forward is accepted as soon as possible (Conventional practice)
  • So when I work with others, I think what they are good at and how we can put our heads and strengths together to be even better together (Strengths-based practice)

I am really busy, so when I know what needs doing and I am clear about the process:

  • I reproduce it as quickly as possible without much thought (Conventional practice)
  • I look at the circumstances each time, and how I can follow the process and maximise the outcome personalising the process to the given circumstances (Strengths-based practice)

Most partners, stakeholders and peers don’t really know or agree with strengths-based practice, and:

  • I adapt to others to get things done quicker (Conventional practice)
  • I take it as my responsibility to provide meaningful and practical information about the benefits of strengths-based practice and how we can apply it (Strengths-based practice)

I am too busy to be doing training courses, learning new ways, reading articles, etc. let alone to reflect on my practice before and/or after:

  • When something seems to work I do reproduce the practice and focus on learning when somebody complains or I don’t know how to do something (Conventional practice)
  • I am proactive about learning and agree time for it with my manager, keeping abreast of new ways of working, good practice around the UK, etc. and even if something works out I reflect with others, when possible, on how it can be done better (Strengths-based practice)

Sometimes either I know, or people are clear that a certain route is very risky and can bring negative consequences, in those cases:

  • I stop considering alternatives to reduce the possibility of negative consequences (Conventional practice)
  • I explore with others and/or research whether it also has potential benefits and then make a decision or present all the options with potential beneficial and negative consequences (Strengths-based practice)

It is much quicker to do something on my own than with other people, so normally:

  • I get on with my work and leave others alone, as they are busy too (Conventional practice)
  • I try to understand if there are better, more inclusive or different ways of doing things, and perspectives that I don’t know about (Strengths-based practice)

When I am in a meeting with others and there are different priorities and angles:

  • I try to defend my position over those of others (Conventional practice)
  • I try to understand the positives of other points of view and focus on commonalities and mutual visions to find a compromise (Strengths-based practice)

I do lots of things every day and generally:

  • I have little idea, or don’t give a lot of thought about, who will be impacted by my work (Conventional practice)
  • I like knowing who will be impacted by my work and seek their views to ensure I maximise the positive impact (Strengths-based practice)

I find it very difficult to be practically strengths-based, I was wondering if it will be possible:

  • To have a checklist to ensure I do everything as I should (Conventional practice)
  • To have a framework or clarity with indicators that help me to reflect on whether my practice is as strengths-based as it can be in each case (Strengths-based practice)

When presented with options, defined by me or others, I:

  • Look into each potential option and their possible consequences (Conventional practice)
  • Look into each potential option and their possible consequences, and try to come up with other alternatives that could bring more positive outcomes (Strengths-based practice)

When talking to others:

  • I focus on the matter in hand and how to solve the problem or to move forward (Conventional practice)
  • I ensure I consider all participants and their circumstances, and focus on working together to maximise the beneficial outcomes (Strengths-based practice)

Most people I work with, from other departments, don’t really know what my job is about, so when working or interacting with them:

  • I feel misunderstood and find it difficult to create a sense of whole (Conventional practice)
  • I explain what my role and expertise are in relation to the matter in hand and ask them to do the same about themselves (Strengths-based practice)

Conventional approaches to a strengths-based approach

When practice is underpinned by a strengths-based approach, there is a shift in the focus of the interaction with people that access support from ASC:

Conventional approaches

1 – Process focussed

2 – Transactions

3 – Them and us

4 – Outputs (forms, docs)

5 – What is wrong and needs

6 – Reducing risk

7 – Doing to

8 – Blame

Strengths-based approach

1 – People focussed

2 – Relationships

3 – Us

4 – Conversations

5 – What is strong and capabilities

6 – Understanding and managing risk

7 – Working with

8 – Trust

Strengths-based practice and the Care Act 2014

Strengths-based practice has always been at the heart of social care practice but this approach to supporting adults accessing adult social care was consolidated in the Care Act 2014 which placed the expectation that all people employed by a Local Authority should practice in this way.

The Care Act is a legislative framework which provides Local Authorities with core duties and functions such as:

  1. Promoting individual wellbeing
  2. Preventing the need for care and support
  3. Integration and cooperation
  4. Providing information and advice
  5. Promoting diversity and equality in provision of services

At the heart of the Care Act is the core duty to promote individual wellbeing, which is broader than ‘meeting eligible needs’ and strengths-based practice means that all interventions become holistic, person-centred and outcomes focused, and work towards achieving better outcomes and lives for individuals.

Strengths-based practice in Adult Social Care

A good starting point for a definition of a strengths-based approach is:

It is about enabling people to find the best solutions for themselves, to support them in making independent decisions about how they live. I whole heartedly believe in taking a strengths and asset-based approach to supporting individuals and empower people to live the lives they want.

Lyn Romeo, England’s Chief Social Worker for Adults, in the Strengths-based approach handbook published by the Department of Health and Social Care

Another useful definition is:

A strengths-based approach to care, support and inclusion says let’s look first at what people can do with their skills and their resources and what can the people around them do in their relationships and their communities. People need to be seen as more than just their care needs – they need to be experts and in charge of their own lives.

Alex Fox, Chief Executive of the charity Shared Lives

There are diverse elements and definitions of strengths-based practice, but for the purpose of this resource we have identified the below as key elements to consider in any activity you perform:

  • Focus on strengths and assets at all levels (personal, relationships, community).
  • Ensure your interaction, task, activity, etc. is personalised and person-centred and can be flexible and adapted to the current and individual circumstances.
  • Proactively ensure the shift of power to ensure you work collaboratively with others involved.
  • Approach the interaction, task, activity, etc. in a holistic and multidisciplinary manner.
  • Enable new forms of connection, establishing meaningful relationships, maximising the communication and interaction at different levels: professional and individual, between individuals and between individuals and community.
  • Monitor your attitude towards risk, maintain a risk-enabling approach and ensure your attitude is positive towards risk.

Following strengths-based practice, the below are natural consequences:

People can learn, grow and change – discovering personal outcomes

The most crucial element of any approach is the extent to which people themselves are able to identify their personal outcomes and set goals they would like to achieve in their lives.

Identifying resources from the environment

In every environment there are individuals, associations, groups and institutions who have something to give, that others may find useful. It is the practitioner’s role to enable links to these resources.

The relationship is hope-inducing

It aims to increase the hopefulness of the person. Hope can be realised through strengthened relationships with people, communities and culture.

Meaningful choice

A collaborative stance where people are experts in their own lives. The practitioner’s role is to increase and explain choices, encouraging people to make their own decisions and informed choices. (Adapted from Rapp, Saleebey and Sullivan, 2008)

Strengths-based approach for council services supporting adult social care