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Are we there yet

by Peakcare Qld on 26th March 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> March -> Are we there yet

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Strengths based practice has been around for many years. Most recently it has been utilised to underpin Queensland’s framework for practice post the Carmody Report recommendations as noted in our recent blog post Queensland’s Strengthening Families Protecting Children Framework for Practice.

Most who joined the sector in the 1990’s and beyond were well aware that if practice wasn’t strengths based and organisations weren’t espousing these ideals from the senior management of organisations to front line staff then all were out of step. It was delivered up as the cornerstone of how we think, operate and enact practice. Unlike so many theorems that come and go, strengths based practice was widely accepted for its underpinning ideology and social justice values. It made sense to workers.

Yet has strengths based practice been fully embraced and embedded in all that we do? Some will tout that strengths based practice is widely accepted and a major part of practice. For example Karen Healy AASW President says that strengths based practice is now the mostly widely cited practice approach in Australian Social Work (2014). Those more reticent to claim this stance are more likely unsure of the extent to which strengths based practice is embedded in individual and organisational processes.

Whilst most across the non-government and government sectors are well aware of strengths based practice in theory, and so many claim it in practice; it is worth asking how this practice theory translates into practice in current times. Who embraces it and how do they do so?

Organisations committed to applying the Strengths Approach often talk about ‘parallel practice’. Strengths based service delivery is made more possible by management, supervision and systems that reflect the key values, skills and processes of the Strengths Approach.

In the last twenty years or so an increasing focus on ‘strengths’ has transformed human service work and led to significant change in many organisations, businesses and communities throughout the world.

The strengths approach emphasises a number of key ideas. These are:

  • Being fair, respectful and inclusive
  • Identifying and naming the power dynamics, cultures and structures that constrain peoples’ rights, participation and hopes
  • Relating to people without labelling them or seeing them as the problem
  • Noticing and nurturing peoples’ strengths and aspirations
  • Collaborating in the search for ideas, resources and solutions
  • Remaining hopeful and optimistic in relation to peoples’ intentions and their capacity to learn and change
  • Starting with an appreciation of what’s already working well
  • Adding resources in ways that complement peoples’ existing strengths and resources
  • Being open and transparent

(Lees and Montgomery, 2014)

Are we there yet? Can we lay claim to being the types of organisations who ask the above questions with regularity? Are we individuals or organisations that deal with the answers to these questions with honesty and integrity? Are we genuinely on a journey to be ‘there’ with strengths- based practice?

If not, why not?

Embracing the strengths approach requires a shift away from traditional problem solving or ‘deficit-focused’ approaches whilst challenging many taken for granted assumptions about people and organisations. For example, the assumption that when something goes wrong, it is the result of something wrong with the people involved or that “the experts” know best regarding what helps people, teams and communities to make positive changes.

When thinking strengths based practice it’s easy to visualise a little child in the back of the car. We know we’ve travelled far and wide. We’ve all had some positive experiences and enjoyed sharing them with others on our journey. Ultimately we’re still in the back of the car and we’re still on a journey.

David Lees and Paul Montgomery of Unique Outcomes are arguably two of the leading advocates for strengths based practice in recent years. Together they’ve trained many thousands of human service practitioners throughout Australia over the past 15 years. They are passionate advocates for the strengths based approach. Truly respectful, non-pathologising collaborative practice emphasising strong engagement and creative harnessing of strengths and aspirations is their mantra.

They specialise in supporting practitioners, teams and organisations to integrate strengths based practice into both their service delivery and organisational practices. Strengths based practice, reflective practice and whole of organisation processes whereby strengths based practice can be embedded from the upper echelons to the grass roots of organisations with assistance and support to ensure that at all levels of organisations strengths based practice is in existence and benefitting all involved – most significantly children, young people and their families. They are currently assisting a leading international organisation intent on embracing this approach throughout the whole of their organisation. Unique Outcomes also offers professional support, supervision and workshops for the benefit of practitioners.

David Lees and Paul Montgomery are well aware that in spite of their passion for strengths based practice over so many years, we’re not quite there yet. “We’re not sure that the Strengths Approach is yet the ‘default’ position of most organisations or the sector as a whole. We are working with teams and organisations to think through how the Strengths Approach might shape every aspect of their work. Some have been reflecting on this for some time while others are earlier in this process. As a sector we can too easily, and perhaps unconsciously, fall into the trap of competitive, pathologising, worker driven practices with clients and with each other”. As such they’re responsive to supporting and enhancing professional and organisational capacity to embrace holistic strengths based practice that comprises individual practitioner’s awareness as well as organisational commitment and a systems response.

There are so many difficult questions we need to ask. How can a strengths based approach be implemented in the context of a neo-liberal environment in the midst of social inequality? is just one. The ongoing process of embracing and implementing strengths based practice whilst also continuing to discuss and explore the challenges is the work of Unique Outcomes. Difficult questions and inherent challenges can be discussed with Paul and David when they present at the AASW/PeakCare Child Protection Practitioners Practice Group in April.

David Lees and Paul Montgomery will be presenting on Strengths based practice on April 8th, 2015 at the AASW/PeakCare Practitioner’s Practice Group.

Strengths based Practice: Unearthing taken for granted practices in child protection that get in the way of strengths based/family-centred work

Paul and David will share their learnings, pose key questions and explore what helps or hinders the take up of strengths based practice.

When: Wednesday April 8th, 2015
Where: 17 Ross St, Paddington
Time: 5.30pm – 7.30pm

To rsvp please contact Lorraine Dupree.

For further information about Unique Outcomes click here or visit their website.

Please share your thoughts, comments, experiences or pose difficult questions. Click on the title and scroll down to enter your comment below or email Lorraine Dupree.