Change that leads to better lives

How COVID has transformed the strengths-based culture in West Sussex

Before March, Social Work (SW) and Occupational Therapy (OT) teams in West Sussex were on a phased roll out of community led support through their ‘Supporting Lives, Connecting People’ programme.

How covid 01

Things were going well although it was not without its challenges and progress was being made on embedding a strengths based culture. All this changed with the pandemic lockdown and, having been required to work differently, teams saw positive results; effectively recent circumstances in some instances ‘turbo charged’ the move to a strengths based culture of practice.

A different approach

“Before we had to do everything in one visit. Now we have a ‘wellbeing conversation’ at the outset, it’s an opportunity to try things out and use new ideas, drawing in family support.”

Some OT staff had concerns about not carrying out assessments in the person’s own home. Now, because they have had to work differently, their trust in people has grown – “we know that people can use a tape measure!”

Using WhatsApp, SWs have been doing virtual face to face visits which are working well and these can even be done jointly – for example, a SW needed OT input and was able to be on the phone with OT at the same time as on video to the person – they worked together and it really made a difference.

Helped by the use of a locally developed checklist to support the DHSC ethical framework, confidence in strengths based working has really increased and people are seeing the results with very positive feedback from customers. It has changed people’s thinking.

Covid has forced us to try things out and work differently”.

Different conversation

Conversations are more meaningful, more customer led and for staff this is ‘liberating’ with time to think about what the person is actually saying, not what they have to ask next.

They are also supporting people to achieve outcomes much more quickly – not having to wait (previously there were 860 people waiting for an OT assessment and after 10 weeks only 180 - data from June 2020)

They are “not distracted about the fridge or the dog that is nipping your ankles”; they have time to listen. The conversation is more succinct, more led by the person.


There are no failed appointments and 95% of customers’ needs (data from June 2020) can now be met through a different conversation conducted remotely and the feedback is really positive. Staffing the Talk Local hubs had been a challenge at times but now with phone calls, videos and photos, seating assessments, for example, are done virtually. Customers report that they like this way of engaging and it is changing the mindset of staff, such as in relation to Assistive Technology, previously seen as an ‘add on’ and now regarded as integral to meeting needs for many people.

“It has pushed us to use different skills – we don’t always have the visual cues.”

What helped

“There was an eagerness to work differently – now staff feel trusted that they can focus on personal outcomes.

There has been a can do attitude and an enthusiasm; everyone has been flexible, able to get a lot more done as they can be more responsive and more effective by working differently. Having more focused and detailed conversations they are also being more creative around problem solving. They are linked into community networks much more and staff have more confidence in those voluntary groups. People have permission to be proportionate, to use their judgement and managers say they are trusting people.

“Before we were risk averse. Now we have real conversations with people.”

Strength based approach has really become consolidated and the Peer Forums (peer to peer discussions to explore options for customers and plan interventions) have been an extremely positive way of sharing ideas and experiences. “It has been really heartening to hear the expertise we have in the teams” (senior manager)

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