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Strengths-based social care in Leeds

26 November 2019
Julie Bootle – Head of Community Social Work and Health Partnerships

As a registered social worker with 30 years’ experience, I have worked in various roles in mental health social work, including Operational Director for Mental Health in Milton Keynes. I have been in my current role since 2009, including a part-time secondment to the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi), where I worked with other local authorities developing and delivering community led support (CLS)/strengths based social care (SBSC).

Julie Bootle

The journey in Leeds

In April 2015 a new DASS and Deputy Director started in Leeds, and these appointments, plus the introduction of the Care Act, enabled us to look at how we delivered social work in Leeds. Cath Roff, the new DASS, announced her desire to ‘liberate social work’ (a wonderful thing to hear!).and told us her mantra for change:

  • Do no harm
  • Don’t break the law
  • Don’t break the budget

The order of these messages was key.


In order to avoid the Leeds habit of ‘pilotitis’, a programme board was established and an innovation site – one of the more established co-located neighbourhood teams in a deprived area of Leeds – was selected. We wanted the innovation to be owned by front-line workers, so we also set up a ‘Making it happen’ group and invited interested frontline workers to join.


  • Replacing huge, overly complex assessment documentation with a ‘blank sheet of paper’ conversation record and changing the way we talk to people – focussing on what’s strong not what’s wrong
  • Changing where we talk to people – we have Talking Points in each neighbourhood team locality and no longer default to seeing people in their own homes
  • Ensuring we listen to people and hear what they are saying (and sometimes what they are not)
  • Linking people into the wealth of 3rd sector support Leeds is privileged to have
  • Ongoing evaluation in partnership with the NDTi and associated LAs

Next steps

There is no end point to this journey – whenever you think you have got ‘there’, ‘there’ changes! SBSC and CLS are a return to the roots of social work and without a doubt there is a massive culture change for people who have grown up with the ‘care management’ approach to social work. We need to properly engage with the population of Leeds. Under the old model, we rationed and rationed until people had exhausted themselves. Now we are wanting people to come to us earlier, before everything gets broken, but we do need to make sure they understand that!

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