Breaking the ice

As an ice breaker, it was a little more challenging than usual. I was asked, along with the other participants, to give an example of when we or our families have relied upon social networks to solve a problem or find help.

Whilst the others listed off how they had connected with friends to help support an older relative, or asked their local church to host a meeting, or made friends through a book club, I struggled at first to come up with an example.

When I thought about it further, however, I soon realised that, I too, rely on social networks: in this case a group of local fathers of children that go to my son’s school. They have helped me out on several occasions.

Making the most of our networks

This discussion, which took place in Greater Manchester, was about how we develop a person-centred, asset-based approach to providing health, care and support across the region. The purpose of the exercise was to show that we all have networks and skills we can bring to bear, but sometimes we need support to make the most of these. It was the most thought-provoking part of the whole meeting.

The future of care and support will be about the power of people and communities; and how services – once almost entirely determined and delivered by the public sector – are co-produced by citizens and use all the skills, knowledge and assets available within communities and individuals – as well as the public, private and voluntary sectors.

The Care Act was clear that this was to be the direction of travel. It stated that it was incumbent on care services to ‘consider the person’s own strengths and capabilities and what support might be available from their wider support network or within the community to help’. The Five Year Forward View, the blueprint for NHS reform, reinforced the need for people to drive how health services are provided.

An asset-based approach

National policies, whilst important, will not be sufficient to see this vision realised; you need to oversee a transformation in how services are led, commissioned, managed and delivered, underpinned by a significant transfer of power from statutory services to citizens. 

How can such an approach make a difference? Increasingly evidence shows that asset-based approaches – properly embraced, can transform outcomes for people who use services, enhancing their health, wellbeing and resilience whilst reducing long-term pressures on higher-cost health, care and support services. So in Wigan, for instance, a whole council approach to delivering an asset-based place – called the Wigan Deal – has enabled the council to invest in the voluntary sector, increase resident satisfaction and reduce costs of social care.

In Cambridgeshire, the Council has invested in a community navigator service which seeks to connect people to forms of community-based support, and reports that the navigators achieved a 95 per cent client satisfaction rate, with 90 per cent of clients reporting that Community Navigators support had made a difference to them. And in Oldham, the Ancora Project uses an asset-based, community development approach, to provide immediate help and ongoing support for people who are experiencing hardship, strengthened by the support and contribution of the wider collaborations, helping over 500 people in its first 10 months.

Support for local areas

In research recently published by SCIE as part of work to support the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, we identified five key building blocks which can support local areas in implementing the approach.

  1. Reframe the narrative – from a focus on people’s needs to a focus on people’s and communities’ assets
  2. Build a dynamic picture of personal and community assets, through for instance, asset-based mapping
  3. Connect people to each other and to wider community assets to bring people and places together, through a range of methods, including social prescribing, peer mentors, link workers and care navigators.
  4. Grow and mobilise community assets, to create the right environment for an asset-based approach to succeed.
  5. Monitor impact and learn from evidence: to articulate the broader benefits of an asset-based approach to the system and to communities, and disseminate good practice and learning.

But so far, too many of the best schemes remain small in scale or struggle, when budgets are often time-limited, to stay viable.

To create a truly asset-based system of care and support, we need strong leadership commitment across the system, supported by investment in the voluntary and community sector, and in proven models which works. Such an approach would be at the heart of any vision for doing care differently.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the blog’s author alone and do not necessarily represent those of Independent Age. Independent Age is not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied in blogs by external contributors.