In a Social Care assessment, if a person has eligible needs identified, then the worker considers what, from the person’s assets and strengths can be drawn upon  in order to meet those needs. The Worker is encouraged to consider assets first, services last thus preventing, reducing or delaying the need for perhaps more formalised input such as a commissioned care service. 

There is a tendency, or an implicit sense that the person with care and support needs is a drain on precious resources rather than a hidden asset in their own right. People can then be mapped into a series of tasks to be done unto them even if this is not how the assessment concludes – being focused on the person’s outcomes. By the time it reaches time sheets for support workers, the individual becomes fragmented into a range of activities such as a breakfast, personal care or a medication prompt. There is a risk therefore, that the person’s true worth, and their ability to continue to make a positive contribution can get lost along the way. 

When referring to a positive contribution, I think this is where a person’s sense of self, of value and worth can reside and it is this virtue of relationship and interdependence that I reflect upon in my teaching – how to ensure that someone can feel that they are, for example, still mum and not a millstone; still dad, not a drain; a buddy not a burden; a reciprocator rather than just a recipient. Boyle and Harris (2009) observed that relationships were the immune system of society. This, combined with Ruck-Keene and Kong’s (2019) insights into relational autonomy and my own work into attachment informed practice (2014, 2017) made me want to encourage consideration of the assets of belonging, of relationships and connections in strengths based social work in my teaching. 

Not only do I think it important to examine the person with care and support needs existing relationships and connections which can bring succour and strength, the social work role is also an important asset to reflect upon. Whilst acknowledging the resource pressures we are under, Section 8 of the Care Act which sets out how we can meet social care need, refers to counselling and other types of social work. I interpret this as seeing the relationship with the social worker themselves as being profoundly helpful and with a positive contribution to helping a person to recognise their own strengths and abilities.  

The quality of the relationship that a social worker can build with a person can help to offer a secure base for some, especially some of the very complex cases with which we can become involved such as with the person who is described as a hoarder or the self neglector. I thus see strengths and assets as things that can be co-created within good social work contributing to helping people find their own worth in relationship to others. Trust is an asset. It is earned and it is dependent upon building quality in interaction and in relation to each other. I think strengths based social work involves building this and, where possible, contributing to its maintenance. 

This short blog just gives a snapshot of the thinking that informs elements of my teaching. Please excuse where, for the sake of brevity, I have scrimped on references but I would love to discuss this further with you. Thanks for reading this. 

Dr Celia Harbottle: January 2022 


Boyle, D., & Harris, M. (2009) The Challenge of Co-Production. NEF: London 

Department of Health (2014) The Care Act, section 8, subsection (1). Department of Health: London 

Harbottle, C., Jones, M.J., Thompson, L. M., (2014) From Reactionary to Activist: a model that works in the Journal of Adult Protection Nov; 3. 

Kong, C., & Ruck-Keene (2019) Overcoming the Challenges in the Mental Capacity Act. JKP: London

By Dr Celia Harbottle

I am a freelance trainer/lecturer in social work and social care practice. I was formerly a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sunderland lecturing in principles and practice on what was then, the DipSW programme. I was then a Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader of joint degrees in (learning disability or mental health) nursing and social work at the University of Teesside. I have been working as a self-employed, sole trader since 2003 which has given me the great privilege and opportunity work with almost 70 Local Authorities and Provider Organisations. This blog is allowing me to share some of my thoughts and reflections which inform my teaching about Strengths Based Practice. In what follows I may appear to make some generalised statements without reference to sources or my evidence base but for the purposes of this blog, I have drawn from some concerns/topics/issues which I have been asked to develop learning opportunities around. The information which has informed these training requirements coming, itself, from practice audits or Continuing Professional Development requests from the workforce.