Price A, Ahuja L, Bramwell C, Briscoe S, Shaw L, Nunns M et al. (2020) Research evidence on different strengths-based approaches within adult social work: a systematic review. Southampton: NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research Topic Report. 

Review written by Professor Jonathan Scourfield

What question does this study focus on?  

This study summarises existing published research on the effectiveness and the implementation of strengths-based approaches within adult social work in the UK. These approaches are well-known in children’s services and are supported by recent legislation for adult care but little is known about their effectiveness and they are thought to be difficult to implement.

How did they study it?

They did a systematic review – that’s the most robust approach to summarising existing research. They looked in academic journals, with no restrictions on date or language, and they did some limited searching of ‘grey’ literature such as policy reports, although they acknowledge they may have missed some of these. They were only looking for studies from the UK, which is understandable given they wanted the research to be very relevant to UK services, but they will no doubt have missed some international studies that could also be relevant and important. Fifteen studies met the criteria to be included in the review, six of which were assessed as good quality.

What did they find?

There were seven studies of Making Safeguarding Personal – an outcomes-focused and personalised approach whose aim is for safeguarding to be done with, not to,

people. The other eight studies covered a range of approaches: Local Area Coordination, Solution Focused Therapy, Family Group Conferencing, Asset-based Community Development, Strengths-based with Relationship-based Approach, Asset-based approaches, and Motivational Interviewing.  None of the studies allowed the researchers to answer the question about effectiveness.

For Making Safeguarding Personal, the implementation issues were these:

  1. It was seen as demanding on practitioners at first but as having advantages over the longer term – e.g. improved personalisation and reduction in future referrals and burden on the range of services involved in safeguarding. Significant practice change was needed. The model needed adaptation for specific localities, which sometimes caused implementation problems.
  2. The approach required cultural changes in organisations, to move away from older practices such as being risk-averse and not engaging people in conversations about what they want from safeguarding. MSP requires a shift from process-led to user-focussed social work. More outward-facing and smaller local authorities tended to be most successful in implementing MSP.
  3. The knowledge, skills, creativity and confidence of service providers were important for delivering MSP. Practitioners’ willingness to embrace the model made a difference. 
  4. Successful implementation needed strong leadership – sound planning, engagement of staff across service boundaries and the active involvement of people receiving services.

What are the implications?

We need more evidence, which is so often the conclusion of systematic reviews! For this topic, there is a real need for comparative studies, to look at whether consciously strengths-based approaches actually result in different in the positive differences they would claim to bring, when compared with usual practice. The points about how MSP was implemented are useful for services that want to bring in practice changes.

Review written by

Professor Jonathan Scourfield