Over the summer, we published a new paper, Investing in Families and Communities. The paper looks at ‘strengths-based’ approaches in social care and the Care Bill, which in its current form (going through parliament) includes attempts to introduce strengths or asset based thinking (thinking about what people can or could do, not only about what they can’t) into assessment processes, through mandating that social care assessments will consider not just what services can achieve, but also what individuals themselves, their families and communities can achieve, with the aim that those contributions are recognised, supported and valued.
In a time where services are being cut in most areas, often without individual planning or any sense of what might replace that support, it is not surprising that changes to statutory processes which could take the onus off the role of services are viewed warily by some, to say the least.
We have been told that some in local government are already using the language of strengths-based approaches in their rationale for needing fewer services, which is depressing if true.
With these risks in mind, we published Investing in Families and Communities, with In Control, Inclusion North, Inclusive Neighbourhoods and our sister organisation, Community Catalysts, which sets out the case for investing in strong relationships and informal support networks, whilst attempting to put to bed any misconceptions that taking a strengths-based approach means cutting services or raising eligibility thresholds.
It is not our experience that strengths-based approaches such as Shared Lives and micro-enterprise development spring up, and then scale up, without any interventions from government or support organisations. Shared Lives, for instance, relies on regulation and a national infrastructure to create safe spaces in which people have lots of autonomy to create whatever family and community life means to them.
To create an environment in which people can be creative and can build and sustain supportive networks, we need not to cut existing services, which creates a climate of fear and mistrust, but to do the opposite: local government and the NHS must commit to maintaining and improving people’s well-being, whilst helping people to take control and think through the best ways of achieving the outcomes they want. If people are supported to think creatively in the security of knowing they can experiment with non-service solutions without losing hard-won support entitlements forever, service costs will indeed fall, because people usually prefer where possible to rely less rather than more on services and seek the lowest level of state intervention in their lives. But those reductions in traditional interventions must follow falling demand, rather than attempting to hide or stymie demand through poorly thought through cuts.
If we want people to take risks, we must first ensure that they feel safe.
You can download the full report here: http://sharedlivesplus.invisionzone.com/index.php?/files/file/216-investing-in-families-and-communities