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Leeds City Council – Strengths-based working

Leeds City Council Adult Social Care has fully embraced strengths-based approaches in the delivery of its social services responsibilities.

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The council has committed to working together with people to find out what they want to achieve and the best way to do this. It supports people to use and build on their own strengths as well as the strength of their family, friends and the local community. 

The aim is to enable people to achieve their goals, reach their full potential and reduce reliance upon traditional services. This change in the way of working forms an essential part of the way in which Leeds is improving how it supports local citizens and helps them to be the best they can be and to enjoy:

  • choice
  • independence
  • control of their lives
  • ordinary lives – family, friends, work, leisure.

A clear mandate and direction from DASS – Cath Roff

Do no harm. Don’t break the rules. Don’t break the budget. Otherwise go for it and feel free to innovate. Reduce process. Reduce bureaucracy. Get to people quickly."

There is a Strengths-based Social Care Board which provides oversight of implementation of the new approach. It consists of the Directorate Leadership Team meeting regularly with social workers, wellbeing workers and students provides enabling senior managers to directly engaged with the staff most involved with service delivery. There is a focus is on innovation and it supports community initiatives that build community cohesion by providing small amounts of funding for ideas that have the potential to change lives.

The introduction of strengths-based working has changed the framework in which social services are delivered in Leeds and has liberated social work. There has been a move away from the care management approach to one that enables social workers to build relationships and work directly with people. (DN: Saleeby (Saleeby D (1992) in The Strengths Perspective in Social Work Practice asserts that the second principle of strengths based social work is the case manager – client relationship and quotes Deitchman (1980) in arguing that the relationship should be that of a travel companion not a travel agent.)

Leeds has significantly adapted its systems and processes to enable the shift to strengths-based working and to reduce bureaucracy. These include major changes to recording of assessments, reviews, and risk assessments. For example, the assessment record has been reduced from a comprehensive 52 page form to a two page (minimum) conversational record. In learning disability services there has been an investment in ‘Easy Read’ information.

Within the wider changes to adult social care in Leeds, strengths-based working has had a beneficial impact on services for people with a learning disability. The Learning Disability Service transformation has been achieved through a project named ‘Being Me’ – also the name of the three-year Leeds Learning Disability Partnership Board Strategies for 2015 – 2018 and 2018 -2021. These strategies set out the priorities for the Partnership Board and its members (which includes people with learning disabilities). At the outset of the project the top three priorities identified by people with learning disabilities were:

  • Being Safe
  • Being Well
  • Being Connected

The Partnership Board priorities are reflected in the Leeds learning disability strategy – “Being Me”.

The aim of the ‘Being Me’ Project was to:

  • Understand the goals of people with a learning disability and what they need to achieve them
  • Build better links with the local community
  • Increase local knowledge amongst social care staff of existing informal networks and groups so that staff are better equipped to link people with informal support, and to help them maintain their independence, within their communities by building on existing strengths.

A ‘Being Me’ Project Team was set up to oversee this work. Several key organisations have been invited to join this group and share their expertise. This includes Carers Leeds and Tenfold, a charity that is a membership organisation formed of voluntary, community and faith sector organisations who work with and for people who have learning disabilities in Leeds. Its aim is be a catalyst for its members to improve opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

The Leeds approach was shaped by working with NDTi, starting in the Armley locality, as an innovation site for community led support and with Leeds as a member of the NDTi community led support network". The principles of community led support are:

  • Coproduction brings people and organisations together around a shared vision
  • There has to be a culture based on trust and empowerment
  • There is a focus on communities and each will be different
  • People are treated as equals, their strengths and gifts built on
  • Bureaucracy is the absolute minimum it has to be
  • People get good advice and information that helps avoid crises
  • The system is responsive, proportionate and delivers good outcomes.

For further details see Community led support by NDTi

Strengths-based working has been accompanied by new arrangements for accessing adult social care. These provide initial contact, followed, when appropriate, by an opportunity for people to attend a “Talking Point” in the community, usually within 2 weeks of initial contact. 40% of people making initial contact do not require service provision. These access arrangements have been adapted for people with a learning disability and there are two entry points into the learning disability service:

  1. Through child to adult transitions. Responsibility for transitions sits within adult services.This usually starts the person is aged 12
  • More Information is gathered at age 14+
  • More active involvement commences at age 16+ with Transitions Workers attending reviews
  • There are good internal partnerships and working relationships with the Children’s with Disabilities Team and Education. Children’s Services use a restorative practice model which has synergy with the strengths-based practice model that is used in Adult Services.
  1. Through the Learning Disability Duty System, which also acts as an entry route for people in mid-life whose living arrangements are changing because of aging family carers – so called ‘mid-life transitions’

The transformation journey has included working collaboratively with communities, and with staff teams to redesign a service that works for everyone. It is continuously evolving based on learning about what works.

Co-production is seen as an essential part of implementing the care and support system. There is active involvement of a Learning Disability Carers Reference Group and the Leeds People’s Parliament. It meets approximately every 2 months for people with a learning disability to talk about the issues that they care most about. Members of the People’s Parliament sit on the Leeds Learning Disability Partnership Board and make sure the views and opinions of people with a learning disability are presented, heard and acted upon.

Of particular note is an annual “Take Over the Council Day”: when people with a learning disability and advocacy organisations meet in the council chamber with Elected Members, Council Officers, Members of Parliament and invited guests in attendance to speak about the issues most important to them. This has been effective in focussing policy. For examples see:

There is a commitment in Leeds for ALL people to “have a life, not services”. The focus is on:

  • using community options rather than services, wherever possible
  • supporting people to feel and be safe
  • relationships
  • training, education and employment.

Where commissioned services are required as part of a support plan the aim is for contracts to be outcome based.

People with a learning disability and their families are able to find out what is available locally through a monthly Learning Disability Forum and marketplace to show what they are making available in the community so people can choose what services they want to use