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Birmingham City Council Social Workers have found that the strengths based focus has allowed them to start from where the individual is at and what their concerns are.

A joint initiative by the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council has changed how Britain’s second city can help provide support to vulnerable adults, as city leaders transform the way they deliver adult social services.

The traditional methods of adult social care resulted in social workers’ time being spent on paperwork and navigating computer systems, which meant less time in supporting citizens in achieving what they wanted to achieve and constrained collaboration, innovation, creativity and relationship based practice with individuals, families and communities embedded in the spirit of the Care Act 2014.

In order to move away from trying to fix the existing system academics from the University of Birmingham’s Department of Social Work and Social Care worked with the Birmingham Adult Social Care Directorate to create 'Birmingham Taking the Initiative: Changing the Nature of What we Do.'

'Birmingham Taking the Initiative: Changing the Nature of What we Do' helps implement three distinctive yet locally moulded models led by Adult Social Care. These are the Three Conversations Model, Family Group Conferencing and Local Area Co-ordination.

The Three Conversations Model replaced the ‘contact, re-ablement, assessment for services’ culture, with an approach based on the capabilities and motivations of people, families and communities. The new system has fully enabled people to be co-designers of what works for them trusting and valuing social workers as a resource in their own right and increases levels of citizen satisfaction whilst reducing expenditure on social care.

Conversation One was about ‘listening and connecting’, understanding what really matters and linking citizens to resources and supports that enable them to live their lives as they want. Conversation Two related to working intensively with people in crisis and looking at what needs to change immediately to help a person regain control of their life. It focuses on formulating a joint emergency plan, ‘sticking like glue’ and making sure that the most important things happen. Conversation Three concentrates on building a good life and exploring what a ‘good life’ looks like. Emphasis is always on conversations one and/or two before moving on to three and conversations one and two can be repeated as often as needed.

Barbara Fawcett, Professor of Social Work (Adults and Communities) at the University of Birmingham said:  “The University and Birmingham City Council have a productive collaboration which is changing around policy and practice for social workers, citizens of Birmingham and social work students. It is about valuing what social workers do and allowing them to operate creatively, flexibly and co-operatively.”

Birmingham City Council have been rolling out The Three Conversations model to different areas in Birmingham with a six month evaluation showing that 1497 conversations took place during the period with 70% of conversations being completed at conversation one, 10% at conversation 2 and 20% at conversation three. In two key areas, there was a 36% reduction in long-term services being required.

Fiona Mould, Principal Social Worker at Birmingham City Council who has led the project said:

“As the Principal Social Worker my role has been to champion the change, holding firm to the principles and social work values, challenging barriers and bureaucracy. The vision is for workers to have the time so that practice can be truly relationship based. Citizens in Birmingham are now being supported to lead better lives with greater links to the communities in which they live”.

Birmingham City Council Social Workers have found that the strengths based focus has allowed them to start from where the individual is at and what their concerns are. Social Workers were also able to spend more time getting to know the individuals and their idealised outcomes. This more person centred approach has social workers recognising that they are able to build meaningful rapport with the people they are working with, and people are exhibiting more trust in them as their worker.

Cllr Paulette HamiltonCabinet Member for Health and Social Care said:“In many ways the three conversations approach is a return to community social work, where the social worker gets to really know the individual, their family, and what support is available to people in their own communities. We all want to live fulfilling lives, and having social care needs should be no barrier to that, so we need to understand what individuals aspire to in order to deliver better services.  Working in collaboration with the University of Birmingham offers strong evidence that this approach is helping us achieve that.”

The Three Conversations progress will be continuing as the twelve month evaluation will be taking place in April 2019, while the extent, nature and effect  of the changes has been so well received as a  range of other public bodies are also looking to come on board.

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  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • In turning this mission into practice, the University of Birmingham School of Social Work and Social Policy are proud of our many achievements, including running the UK's oldest social work training programme (dating back to 1908), our contribution over time to the multiple award-winning NHS Management Training Scheme, the relationships we have with local partners in the public and voluntary sectors, and our leading role in the largest senior leadership development programmes in the history of the health service.