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Strengths-based Approach

A strengths approach is a specific method of working with and resolving obstacles that youth and families experience. A strengths-based process reflects a basic commitment to strength seeking, generating and building, but does not ignore barriers and difficulties. It works to identify the positive basis of the person’s resources or what may need to be added and strengths that will address challenges. In developing a system of care that is strength-based, it is important to understand the strengths-based approach is not about denying that children, youth and their families experience challenges. A strengths-based approach offers a genuine basis for addressing the primary mandate of community and mental health services – people taking control of their own lives in meaningful and sustainable ways. It is an invitation for community members and care providers to view children and their families as “having potential” as opposed to just being “at risk.” Those who embrace a strength-based perspective hold the belief that children, youth and their families have strengths, resources, and the ability to recover from adversity, rather than emphasizing problems, vulnerabilities and deficits).

A strength-based model offers different language to describe children’s and families’ difficulties. It allows one to see opportunities and solutions rather than just problems and hopelessness. The new paradigm avoids labeling and understands that children, youth, and their families have the power to help themselves. This model creates partners instead of experts, authorities, and directors in the change process. This fundamental shift means facilitating rather than fixing, pointing to health rather than dysfunction, turning away from limiting labels and diagnoses and turning to wholeness and well-being. Embracing a strength-based paradigm encourages seeing beyond the risk behaviors and characteristics of children, youth and families in high-need communities to the potential of what can be.

In other words, the families are the experts of their care, we just help facilitate or coordinate their efforts. The strengths approach as a philosophy of practice draws one away from an emphasis on procedures, techniques, and knowledge as the keys to change. It reminds us that every person, family, group, and community holds the key to their own transformation and meaningful change process.

Hammond, W. (2010). Principles of Strength-based Practice. Calgary, Alberta: Resiliency Initiatives.

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