Podcast: What skills do social workers need for strengths-based practice?

This article comprises excerpts from a podcast on Community Care Inform about strengths-based practice in action, following the publication of a practice framework and handbook on strengths-based approaches in February by the Department for Health and Social Care. The full podcast includes discussion of how social workers can develop the skills they need for strengths-based practice, and how managers can take a strengths-based approach to supervision, and is free to access on Spreaker and iTunes. Inform subscribers can access supporting resources including a written transcription and key points from the episode on Inform Adults.

The experts

Tricia Pereira: Principal social worker, practitioner development lead for the London Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and chair of the National Principal Social Workers’ Network. Co-author of the strengths-based approaches practice handbook from the Department of Health and Social Care.

Carmen Colomina: Social worker and practice development manager at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). Co-author of the strengths-based approaches practice handbook.

Professor Samantha Baron: Professor of social work at Manchester Metropolitan University. Co-author of the strengths-based approaches practice framework from the Department of Health and Social Care

What skills do social workers need for strengths-based practice?

Tricia Pereira

“We’ve had many years of care management and the case management approach, and strengths-based practice just reinforces the importance of relationship-based interventions, really spending time talking to individuals, families, talking to communities, but finding out from them what’s important to them, what matters. And these are the inherent, basic skills of social work.

We are, as social workers, great conduits for facilitating change. We do that through listening, through understanding, through appreciating others and their current situations, by valuing the skills and knowledge that they have themselves, because everybody has a life, you know? When we work with older people, they had careers, they may have had families, children, whatever. So at the moment in time when we meet them we have to take all that into consideration. And it is a very empowering approach, or it can be, just recognising what the individual has and what they can bring. It’s about sharing the power.

As a social worker I don’t go into the intervention thinking, ‘I know best, I know what to do, I can tell you what to do about your life and your situation.’ As the Care Act says, the individual, they are the experts in their lives and their situations, and that’s the way that we should be working with them.”

How can social workers carry out strengths-based assessments?

Key points from Carmen Colomina

  • It’s not easy to identify one’s strengths. It is very difficult. One of the most difficult questions in an interview is, ‘What are your strengths?’ We all struggle with that. It’s not easy. And normally we talk to people who are not at their best. So identifying what are their strengths is not easy.
  • It’s not a question of asking the person, ‘What are your strengths?’ It’s a question of not focusing on the problem but on the individual’s life to identify their strengths.
  • If you ask somebody point blank ‘What are your strengths?’ you’re just going to knock them down. They’re going to look at you blank, thinking, ‘What are you talking about?’ But it’s talking about, ‘What did you do in the past? What type of things do you like doing? What type of things do you enjoy? What are your hobbies? What do you do in a normal day? What is a good day and why is that a good day?’
  • Out of all of those types of questions, you as the professional identify the strengths and then have a discussion with the individual in terms of making them aware, helping them gain awareness that those are strengths. Or, ‘Who is around you? Who do you enjoy time with? Do you like the outdoors? Do you like the indoors? Are you a social person?’ It’s more that than saying, ‘What are your strengths?’