In November 2017, 60 adult social care workers in North Devon arrived for a training day that marked a fresh direction for them, their service and adult social care as a whole.
The topic of the day was the solution-focused approach. It’s been more commonly used in children’s social care for years but until then it had rarely been used with adult services.
“As far as we understand, we’re the only adults service to roll solution-focused approach out in social care,” says Vicki Baker, Workforce Development team manager for Devon County Council’s adult services. “The idea of using it came from our previous Principal Social Worker. She had learnt and used the skills herself as a social worker. It offers workers skills to work in a strengths-based way and she therefore persuaded senior management that it was something worthwhile for us to explore.”
Helping people cope better
The basic idea behind a solution-focused approach is that it creates conversations of possibility and hope in order to facilitate positive change. By focusing on what’s working and the progress already made, amplifying strengths and resourcefulness, and believing in the competence and potential of the person, this facilitates the conditions for them to work out their own answers and ways to meet their desired outcomes.
Take working with a carer as an example. “So with somebody who’s perhaps struggling with caring for a loved one, we might get them to think about what their preferred future might be and what a good day would look like,” says Vicki. “We try to get them to imagine a time when they felt they were coping better. It’s about trying to get people to draw on their own coping resources and strategies to make a positive change in the present time.”
After the reported difference it made to people during its pilot run of the approach in North Devon, the Council embraced the concept fully with a full evaluation planned. Now, it’s in the final stages of rolling out the approach to every practitioner in its care management service.
Energised social workers
The feedback from social workers to the approach has been great, says Vicki. “One social worker wrote on their evaluation that it felt like they had got back to their social work roots, and that something clicked in their head and they believed in it” she says.
“There is research which suggests a Solution-Focused Approach can increase workplace morale and I’ve certainly seen our staff feeling more energised than perhaps they were previously. I think that’s because the Solution-Focused Approach is based on what conversations help people to make a change.”
Relationships not just assets
It’s also a refreshing variation of asset-based approaches that sometimes staff can feel are a way to apply austerity to social care practice, depending on how they are delivered.
“Asset-based approaches can also be perceived as being about seeing what resources people have and getting them to use it, which can feel like a non-helping approach,” says Vicki. “The Solution Focused Approach is about helping people notice what has helped before, and what makes a difference, so they can make positive change. It gives staff conversation skills that go beyond looking at what assets individuals have in their lives.”
“It’s much more about a return to relationship-based social work, which is what we’re all pushing to achieve in Devon.”