Making a reality of asset-based practice in social care

Practitioners often find it difficult to implement asset-based approaches, including because of a lack of time. A project has examined how these barriers can be overcome to realise the benefits for older people

The word 'assets' spelt out in a jigsaw
Photo: GoodIdeas/Adobe Stock

By Robin Miller and Sarah McLaughlin, IMPACT

There are many potential benefits of asset-based approaches, in which professionals start with what matters to the person and their family, take time to build a trusting relationship and complement informal and community resources.

These include better outcomes for individuals and their families, a strengthened voluntary and community sector, reduced demands on formal social care services and improved job satisfaction for professionals.

Case study

One example of asset-based working is in relation to Joanna, who was eighty years old, had reduced mobility and had lost confidence in using her bathroom safely. She was also concerned about her driving, due to her reduced sight, and was not leaving home. As a result, she had become socially isolated.

Her garden, which had previously been a source of great pride, had become overgrown as she did not feel able to manage the steps. Following discussions with a project worker, a gardener was arranged and a grab rail fitted to enable her to once again enjoy her outdoors.

Occupational therapy aids made her feel safe in her home and new spectacles gave her the confidence to drive again. In time, she applied for a Blue Badge and began driving to see friends and access the supermarket.

Barriers to asset-based approaches

Despite the benefits for people like Joanna, many local areas find it difficult to implement asset-based approaches within their social care systems.

Common problems include co-ordinating with health-led activities, such as social prescribing, enabling social workers to have the time to engage with people and developing the local voluntary and community sector to respond to identified needs.

Over the past twelve months, the first demonstrator project within the Improving Adult Care Together (IMPACT) centre has been exploring how best to embed asset-based approaches.

Translating adult social care evidence into practice

IMPACT, which has been set up to translate adult social care evidence into practice, worked alongside the charity Mid & East Antrim Agewell Partnership (MEAAP) in Northern Ireland. It had developed a model of care in 2017 to better connect older people with support available within their community and facilitate collaboration between local health and social care professionals and with community resources

The demonstrator gathered insights from research, older people and carers, and local health and social care professionals to identify what was working well and what could be improved.

The main components of the MEAPP approach, known locally as IMPACTAgewell, are that:

  • Older people and their families can contact the service direct or be referred in by health and social care professionals.
  • Project workers bring together local social workers, pharmacists and general practitioners in monthly locality hubs.
  • Community organisations who provide support to older people receive a payment to help build their capacity.
  • Older people are central to the overall running of the host organisation (MEAPP) and how it plans future initiatives.

Getting buy-in from social work teams

Whilst there had been strong engagement from general practice and pharmacy, there had been more reluctance from social work teams to collaborate with IMPACTAgewell and introduce older people to the support available. This had worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic due to redeployment of staff and the move to online meetings.

To address this gap, the demonstrator project liaised with the social work team manager in Larne, County Antrim, to build better connections. IMPACTAgewell officers were invited to present to social worker team meetings more often, social workers and IMPACTAgewell Officers went on joint visits to older people, and student social workers gained experience of working within a community-led service.

Social work teams said that they were not always being kept updated on the engagement between IMPACTAgewell and individual people once they had introduced an older person to the service, and therefore a feedback process was introduced to address this gap.

A view from a team manager

One social work team manager said:

“IMPACTAgewell workers truly demonstrate that person-centred practise is paramount to successful outcomes for service users. Quite often, our service users need a little nudge, a little direction and a little support for them to recognise they can live independently in their communities. Sadly, due to the competing priorities within statutory social work, we are not always in the positon to provide this little nudge or build a trusting rapport. Consequently, we rely heavily on the expertise of IMPACTAgewell to support our service users. They truly make a difference in our service users’ lives to promote independence and confidence at home.”

IMPACTAgewell was also introduced within the hospital discharge processes, through a pilot with the Inver Intermediate Care Unit.

The IMPACTAgewell project officer attended weekly meetings with community discharge facilitators to discuss older people who might benefit from support. Identified older people were then visited to discuss what would make a difference to their safe return home, alongside the arranged health and care support package.

Case study

Billy was in the rehab unit after he broke his ankle in a fall. He was in a boot and had been having physio to improve his mobility but, as he had no family, he was going to find it very difficult to cook for himself for a while.

The officer arranged for the delivery of an emergency food pack for his first evening at home and a week’s worth of pre-cooked meals to be heated up by visiting carers.

As Billy explained: “Joanna took time to listen to what I was worried about and then gave me some really good options to help. The best thing about it is I know that when I get home she will call and arrange to come out and see me, I’ll already have met her and I won’t have to explain it all again to a new person.”

Improving access for black and minority communities

Research evidence and local stakeholder perspectives raised the issue that few older people from black and minority ethnic communities were receiving support from IMPACTAgewell. This was in part due to access criteria that required an older person to live alone, or with another older person, and because details of the support available had not been shared in a culturally accessible format.

The demonstrator therefore collaborated with the Inter-Ethnic Forum, a local agency set up to provide a link between minority communities and service providers.

The forum provided training to the project officers on the composition and needs of the local populations and how they could ensure their support was culturally appropriate. The forum’s staff were in turn briefed on the role of IMPACTAgewell and what support was available. The access criteria for the service were then changed so that it would be open to older people living with their family.

The collaboration led to older people from minority ethnic communities accessing IMPACTAgewell for the first time.

Ingredients for embedding an asset-based approach

Embedding an asset-based approach in adult social care can be successfully led by the voluntary and community sector and be an opportunity to encourage better joint working across health and social services.

Evidence-based research, lived experience and local practice knowledge should be used to review impact and reach and identify opportunities to improve effectiveness and inclusion.


One Response to Making a reality of asset-based practice in social care

  1. Anonymous April 27, 2024 at 6:24 am #

    This approach can only work if a council is willing to invest in grants for community groups, and employ more social workers to allow them time to work take a strengths based approach.

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