I am passionate about strengths-based approaches to social work practice, so much so that I have dedicated my doctoral research project to studying this field. I hope that my work will help to shape the development of systems and structures that support real strengths-based working across adult services.
But what do I mean when I say strengths-based approaches? There is no single or succinct definition to summarise it. The simplest way I can articulate it is the consideration of a person in terms of their abilities, their assets, and their capabilities (i.e., their strengths) rather than focusing on those deficits and dependencies that are observable in presentation of needs.
Strength-based approaches are often misinterpreted, or misplaced, and can be used as a process for rationing services or downplaying the support a person needs. However, this is not what the approach is about, and done properly, strengths-based approaches are the opposite. To work in a strengths-based way means to look at the person holistically, how, and why they need social work intervention at this stage of their life. The approach brings together a range of individual and community assets, which may replace the need for a formal social care service, but the social work role is about understanding and advocating for the individuals and enabling these informal support structures to be strengthened to enable a person to live their most independent life.
As I undertake my literature review, I am struck by the breadth of material, both academic and mainstream, that references the strengths approach. Broadly this work can be categorized into three key areas: theoretical and legislative approaches, academic and practice-based studies and evaluations, and implementation of practice-based models. Yet despite this plethora of material recent literature reviews have suggested that there is more work needed to show the impact of strengths-based approaches (Price et al, 2020; Caiels et al, 2021).
My research is a doctoral study and as such cannot encompass the entirety of the strengths approach or its impact. Instead, it will be a discrete ethnographic study involving both adult social workers and people who are in contact with these social workers (the experts-by-experience) to explore in a range of real-life situations the following themes:
How do social workers define and understand strengths-based approaches in relation their practice?
How are these interpretations observable in day-to-day practice and what are the factors that influence these?
How do people with care and support needs (experts-by-experience) describe their experience of social work intervention?
I will be using a range of mobile methods to observe social workers in action. This means rather than simply interviewing I will be accompanying social workers on visits, observing meetings, discussing elements of practice, and reviewing documents. I have secured a host local authority to conduct this research and subject to receiving ethical approval hope to start data collection later this year. In the spirit of a strengths approach I plan to collate and analyse the data in a way that celebrates how strengths-based approaches are evident and how building on these can help navigate some of the challenges that are inherent in adult social work.
Sarah Farragher, A Doctor of Social Work Student, Cardiff University
Caiels, J. Milne, A. Beadle-Brown, J (2021) Taking a strengths-based approach to social work and social care: A literature review James , NIHR Policy Research Unit in Adult Social Care, London
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. [online]
Available at: http://medicine.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/medicalschool/research/pentag/documents/Web_report_-_adult_social_work.pdf