Strengths-based social care for children, young people and their families

Strengths-based social care for children, young people and their families

A strengths-based approach (SBA) to social care focuses on identifying the strengths, or assets, as well as the needs and difficulties of children, young people and families.

The values and principles that inform this approach are not new, but there has been a rapidly growing interest over the last five years in such approaches. These approaches are also about co-production – people providing care working in equal partnership with those who need it to design and deliver services.

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, OBE, Chief Executive, Shared Lives Plus

Adults’, children’s and young people’s family care needs are undergoing a rapid adoption of strengths-based (sometimes called asset-based) thinking and practice. In adult social care, strengths-based conversations are replacing traditional needs-based assessments and there is also the emergence, in some areas, of ambitious plans for asset-based approaches across all local public services. There is a growing interest in, and adoption of, SBAs in children and young people and family settings, given that a clear strengths-based practice framework is now regarded as one of the key features of successful innovations in the sector.

Why a strengths-based approach?

 

Strengths-based practice is a collaborative process between the person supported by services and those supporting them, allowing them to work together to determine an outcome that draws on the person’s strengths and assets. As such, it concerns itself principally with the quality of the relationship that develops between those providing support and those being supported, as well as the elements that the person seeking support brings to the process.

The publication of the ‘Munro review of child protection’ in 2011 emphasised change from a system that has become over-bureaucratised to one that is focused on the safety and welfare of children and young people and the development of professional expertise.

Defining strengths-based approaches for children and young people and their families

An SBA to social care essentially:

  • Is rights-based and person-centred and has a clear ethical and values-based position.
  • Puts individuals, families and communities at the heart of social care and recognises that they have a key role to play in the care of children and young people, which cannot be replaced solely by professional intervention.
  • Includes a new way of looking at people, embracing the core belief that even if they are experiencing problems, they have the strengths, skills, resources and capability to effect positive change in their lives if enabled and supported to do so.
  • Appreciates that the valuable skills and experiences children and young people and their families have is key to getting alongside them and co-producing solutions.

 

SBAs can only become embedded in practice through whole-system and whole-organisation change. Key to this is a shift towards systemic practice in social care, where children and young people and their families are viewed as part of a wider set of systems and relationships. Hence, this kind of culture change is required not only in social care or children’s services but across all agencies and organisations that work with children and young people and their families.

For example, embedding SBAs in practice requires a shared vision, shared values, commitment to leadership and professional skills development. Essentially, it’s about shifting from a paternalistic management culture rooted in the deficit model to one that appreciates what communities can accomplish with support.