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Strengths-based social work practice with adults

Roundtable report

In January 2017 the Chief Social Worker for Adults in collaboration with the Social Care Institute for Excellence hosted a roundtable event at SCIE to explore what strengths-based social work with adults, individuals, families and communities really means for practitioners and people using services. The event brought together professionals, researchers and experts by experience to share examples of good practice and the challenges of working in a strengths-based way. It is clear that the intentions inspiring strengths-based approaches resonate both with social work practitioners and people using services but there are questions and considerations which need to be explored in making these intentions a practical, sustainable reality on the ground.

The aim of the workshop was to develop a common understanding in relation to the shared components of the different but complementary approaches under discussion, and start to build a narrative around their interpretation particularly in relation to:

  • how social workers can enable the people they work with to identify their personal assets and local systems of support, and build on these to find sustainable solutions.
  • the practitioner skills and organisational models needed to implement and embed strengths-based solutions which meet local needs.

The event featured a series of short guest presentations and case studies profiling current work across England together with two group discussion sessions.

The morning discussion focused on community assets and supporting change within neighbourhoods, identifying the essential elements of a strengths-based approach, and the potential barriers and enablers to working in this way with communities. In the afternoon, the focus shifted to strengths-based practice with individuals and families with complex needs or living in complex circumstances.

Challenges that emerged from both discussions revolved around how practitioners free themselves from unhelpful institutionalised thinking and restrictive organisational processes and practices, and develop the skills and knowledge to enable effective strengths-based practice which delivers positive change.

This report from the workshop extends the call to action around strengths-based social work practice and captures the key points and comments from the group discussions with summaries of the presentations. The intention is that it will be used to inform work on the development of an overarching practice framework and more detailed implementation/support tools. In the longer term it is hoped that the discussions captured at the workshop will lead to reviewing the current evidence and shaping new research questions around the effectiveness of strengths-based approaches.