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Strengths-based approaches in social care and social work


Innovation in care models is seen as a key mechanism for addressing demographic and financial challenges facing the care system. The social care system is characterised by significant local experimentation, which has led in recent years to the implementation of various models for “personalising” support, increasing opportunities for prevention, developing community capacity and building on individuals’ strengths to support independence, and innovation in social work. Overall, little is known about the development and implementation of these models locally, their interaction with other “traditional” care services, or their expected consequences for wellbeing and costs.

There is substantial policy support for ‘strength’ based approaches to social care and social work. New models of care developed in this way utilise personal resources, social networks and community resources to empower individuals to achieve their desired outcomes. In particular, there is a key assumption that individuals come for help already possessing important competencies and resources that may be tapped into to address support needs. Social workers are seen as pivotal to the success of the approach. A number of strengths- based models of care have been developed, but it is not known whether and how they work, or which model works best for whom and in what circumstances.


  • Explore what kinds of new strengths-based models of social care are developing, and to understand the roles and contributions of social work in these models.

  • Explore how and why they have been implemented locally.

  • Assess how these models seek to improve practice.

  • Develop a framework for an evaluation of strengths-based models of social care.


1. Descriptive and theoretical analysis (Work package 1)

  • A rapid literature review is being conducted around the development and potential of strengths-based models

  • An online survey, informed by the literature review and following consultation with stakeholders will be undertaken to explore implementation of strengths-based models in England.


A theoretical framework will be developed to identify models and implementation approaches. Data from the online survey will be used to describe take-up of strengths-based models, by type and arrangements for implementing them.

2. Exploratory study (Work package 2)

The exploratory study adopts a ‘theory-based approach’ to explore how strengths-based models seek to change social work and social care practice, and outcomes for individuals. Key questions to explore are:

  • Mechanisms of impact: How are strengths-based approaches expected to change social care provision?

  • Context: How far is context expected to impact on the operation of the logic model.

  • Implementation: The views of councils about the challenges around implementation.


Data will be collected in local authority case study sites through: review of relevant documents related to local practice, and any evaluation (or other) reports; interviews with staff involved in development and set-up of the strengths-based approaches; and interviews with social workers providing the service and other social care professionals whose work interfaces with the service (e.g. members of an integrated team).


James Caiels (Lead), Alisoun Milne, Julie Beadle-Brown and Stacey Rand


  • Start Date: January 2019

  • End date: June 2021

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