When the audit of the Coronavirus crisis is compiled, it will surely show that many of the neighbourhoods that have responded best to people’s needs are those where local agencies had previously invested in strengths-based practice.
Mounting anecdotal evidence suggests that localities quickest off the mark in helping older and disabled people, and others being shielded or self-isolating for health reasons, have typically been those where local people and community groups were already working alongside councils and health bodies.
It’s not just a case of adaptable systems or established practice, however – it’s also a question of state-of-mind. If you’ve thrown out a service-focused, tick-box approach to assessing and meeting people’s needs, you’re much more likely to think on your feet, to improvise and – yes – to take considered risks.
In a new series of briefing papers, NDTi outlines the latest exciting results from local areas that have adopted its strengths-based practice model, Community Led Support. There are now 27 local authority sites across England, Scotland and Wales, all at different stages of development and all with their own, unique take on the approach.
Some sites are focusing on people with the most complex needs; others are applying the model to all services for their entire population. Some are working with housing partners; others are collaborating with community pharmacies or the Department for Work and Pensions. Some have chosen to site their community hubs in libraries or council leisure centres; others are operating from hotels, supermarkets or even a market stall.
Across the piece, though, the sites are reporting results including smoother, holistic and more person-centred support for people; a clear shift towards different, less formal forms of support; a growing range of people who are benefiting from fresh thinking; and, by no means least, a positive impact on those organising programmes – in other words, they are enjoying their work more.
This has been reflected in the way sites have responded to the Covid-19 crisis. In Leeds,
Cath Roff, the council’s director of adults and health, says: “The work we have done has meant that we are now able to respond far more swiftly and effectively than I believe we would have done otherwise.”
Jill Harrison, director of adult and community-based services at Hartlepool council, describes its CLS experience as “absolutely invaluable”. She says: “The relationships we’ve built and the work we’d already done to reduce bureaucracy and become more responsive have meant that we’ve been able to react quickly and provide a flexible and coordinated service to the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
In Denbighshire David Solely, Principle Manager says "The CLS Resource Wheel and strength-based practice have made a huge contribution to us currently to prioritise care and keep our most vulnerable people safe.”
In Croydon, Guy Van Dichele, executive director of health, wellbeing and adults, reports that CLS has become a key part of the council’s One Croydon Alliance with the local NHS that has meant “we’ve been able to dispense with unnecessary red tape, make decisions, act quickly within the legal framework and just get on with it”.
And Tracey Logan, chief executive of Scottish Borders council, says her authority has seamlessly transformed CLS community partnerships into Covid community assistance hubs. “These strong working relationships, based on trust, have enhanced decision-making and a sense of common purpose to support out most vulnerable people in their local communities at this difficult time.”
Beyond Covid, whatever the “new normal” looks like for public services, and whether or not austerity returns, CLS will still need to demonstrate that it represents value for money as well as better outcomes for people. The briefing papers speak of “promising signs and evidence of sustained change in a small number of places where the right data are collected”, but they admit that every site must match the best data collection and analysis if continued progress is to be evidenced.
While saving money is not a primary goal, and never should be, better use of resources invariably comes from having better outcomes and happier people – people like Emily, a young woman living with MS in the Western Isles, who has been enabled by CLS to reduce her package of formal support at her home from nine hours a day, which she felt was disabling, to four.
Creative use of assistive technology gives Emily the confidence she needs to be more independent. She can now focus more, she says, on doing household tasks and simply “being a good mum”. With the cost saving a bonus, that seems as good an outcome as any.
David Brindle is public services editor of the Guardian and a former chair of NDTi.
Thank you for taking the time to subscribe.