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Using a Strengths-Based Framework

A social worker has many types of clients, from children to families to communities. But all of a social worker’s clients, no matter what type, have strengths. By recognizing these strengths, a social worker can empower clients and work with them to improve their lives.

A Philosophy of Positivity

“If we ask people to look for deficits, they will usually find them and their view of the situation will be colored by this,” wrote R. Kral in Strategies That Work. By the same token, according to Kral, people asked to look for their strengths will be influenced by the positivity of what they have the capacity to do.

This idea is the foundation of the strengths-based approach, a framework for working with children, families and communities that focuses on their strengths. They can use these strengths to grow, learn and change. As opposed to traditional approaches that use deficit models focusing on what is wrong with clients, the strengths-based approach leverages their potential.

The National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care states that building upon the strengths of children and families is critical for child welfare. In fact, strengths-based care is one of six guiding principles for supporting families involved in public child welfare by the Children’s Bureau. A Closer Look, a series of reports about child welfare, lists the practices of an individualized strengths-based framework, including investigations, assessments, policy development, service provision and referrals, documentation in case records, staff training and ongoing case management.

The Strengths-Based Framework in Action

Signs of Safety is a strengths-based approach that has been used for child protection. As opposed to the traditional risk assessment framework, which can be “too judgmental, forensic and intrusive,” Signs of Safety is focused on collaboration and partnership. Practitioners use the planning and assessment framework to examine what they are worried about, what is working well, what needs to happen and what is the likelihood for abuse to occur.

Signs of Safety’s strengths-based framework has been used in several contexts, including statutory, hospital, residential and treatment settings. The framework can be used at all stages of the child protection process, from the start of the case to its closure. Most importantly, it can be adapted to the requirements of the context in which it’s being used.

Carver County Community Social Services in Minnesota has had success with the Signs of Safety framework. They reported an increase in client satisfaction in the first year of its use and a decrease in out-of-home placements from 2005 to 2008. Signs of Safety’s framework is now used by jurisdictions in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Help Your Patients See Their Strengths

Students in the online Master of Social Work program from the Catholic University of America’s National Catholic School of Social Service take a course, which examines the use of strengths-based model for clinical social work with families. The course prepares students to empower the families of children-at-risk through a strengths perspective. To learn more about the online MSW program, call 855-295-5711 or click here for more information.