The main aim of the Care Act 2014 is to promote people’s wellbeing and independence. The assessment process aims to put people at the centre of understanding their needs and how they can achieve their goals. At the heart of this change is the focus on a ‘Strengths based approach’ (or what some people call an ‘asset based approach’). This is nothing new. It’s a core principle of social care. Both research and practice show that a crucial dimension of wellbeing is the ability and opportunity to benefit from and contribute to one’s own community. This involves everybody – from people using services, to their carers and friends, and the practitioners supporting them, to understand what this approach means and how it supports assessment and eligibility. What exactly is meant by a strengths-based approach? Put simply, it takes the ‘glass half full’ perspective rather than the ‘glass half empty’ one. It is a fundamental shift from a focus on what people can’t do to focusing on the skills, abilities and experiences that people already have, and those they wish to acquire or develop. Until now, assessments have usually measured people’s needs, created by ill-health and disability, and then allocated public sector resources to meet these needs. To ensure the continuing health and wellbeing as a nation, it’s important to invest in people to help prevent, reduce or delay the development of needs. The Care Act requires the consideration of the outcomes people want to achieve. Through the assessment, people can be supported to realise what they can do, and how to best use their skills and networks, to achieve their outcomes. This approaches support differently – because the person is at the centre of how their needs are met and is enabled to benefit from their community, and to be as involved as they can or want to be. Meet Joshua – he is 72 and lives by himself since his wife died two years ago. When Sandra, my social worker, came around, we spoke about me feeling lonely. We also talked for ages about what I’d done in the past. I told her about my days working as a cook in the Merchant Navy, in the restaurant trade and just how much I love being in the kitchen. On her next visit she mentioned they were looking for somebody to help out in the canteen at the local social club. Here the assessor and manager at the social club worked together to create an opportunity for Joshua to use his skills. Joshua is less isolated and the social club has a new volunteer – so using the strengths and finding the opportunities in the existing community has worked. Under the Care Act, all assessments and care and support plans should be outcome focused – finding out how a person wants to live their life and how this can be achieved. Within a strengths-based approach to assessments everything revolves around the individual. Asking people about their skills and abilities – and the resources they can access – gives people more choice and control over their lives. Practitioners need to have the confidence and communication skills, to engage with people …..and know how to listen, record, summarise and feedback what they have learned about that persons’ priorities. Different techniques can be used to identify strengths. Strengths mapping is one. It starts by considering a community’s strengths – the individual and the collective, the hard (tangible) and the soft (intangible). The picture created is useful, in building individual and community confidence in their strengths and establishing a shared agenda. A strengths- based conversation is often useful. Meet Sandra – who works in social care. I can see it offers opportunities and helps people to fulfil personal goals. The strengths-based approach encourages people to work together to understand how a person’s care and support needs can be met in different ways – including their own strengths and of those of people around them, for example, family members and their community. Assessments should now be about supporting people to take the lead in finding solutions. Recognising their contribution helps to build confidence and strengthens their ability to take control over their lives. It involves looking at the resources available from the public sector, the private sector, the community and the individual. Schools, libraries, GP Surgeries, social clubs and local businesses should all be considered to see what they can offer. Perhaps you can try approaching people with experience of motivating others? Like teachers or office workers who can help with communication, people with musical talent, and people with manual skills such as carpentry or plumbing. As practitioners discover more about the local community, different opportunities will present themselves. Building a comprehensive knowledge of local community groups and their services, will enable assessors to be better placed to signpost, and encourage people to where they can find out more for themselves. And where applicable local area coordinators should be utilised. Fundamental to the successful implementation of the strengths-based approach is buy-in from everyone. Local authority management, assessors, commissioners and the community. It is a cultural shift – and it’s not going to be straightforward. As practitioners we still have to make sure that needs are met and outcomes are achieved in a sustainable way. We can begin with a change in approach to assessment, local authorities can expand commissioning practice, and we can change the way we communicate with the whole community. The need for assessors and commissioners to identify what else is available within the community becomes a priority. But not everyone lives and works in the same area. Time is necessary to research and scope what opportunity and resources are available in the community. Everybody needs to be prepared to work in new ways and to collaborate with different partners. Remember Joshua volunteering in the social club kitchen… A strengths-based approach encourages individuals to make the most of their strengths and abilities and feel part of the process, not separate from it. Social inclusion, opportunity and wellbeing are core principles that underpin a strengths-based approach. Together they are essential to building better health and social care.