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Sharing Our Gifts - Lessons for Social Work

Author: Mark Harvey

Modern day social work and social care is dominated by new discussions on personalisation, localisation and community development. Local citizens who use our service are increasingly looking to influence and engage with their community as well as contribute to it. But do we as social workers really understand what this means?

There are certainly many models out there from co-production and local area co-ordination to Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Over the last year myself and colleagues has been working on our “Great Leap Forward” project, one part of which is to understand and work alongside individuals to develop true community options. To do this effectively I asked social workers to take part in an exercise to understand how to embed these ideas into our practice. An exercise in which we start by mapping our own community gifts.

Asset Based Community Development suggests that everybody has a gift that they can and want to give back to their community. These can be gifts of The Heart, The Head and The Hands. Alongside this most of us will receive gifts back from our community that support, value, entertain and care for us. Here however is the big question for all of us as social workers, how often do you work with people to understand their gifts, map their community or support to build these into a personalised care plan?

Last Wednesday our staff started to map their own personal community assets to better understand the model but more importantly the impact it could have with the individuals and communities we work with. The vast array of gifts that staff give and receive within their personal communities was staggering. These ranged from fundraising to organising groups, from informal caring to voluntary work and spiritual work to walking therapy. Certainly too many to name in this brief blog. It did however allow us to look at this in the context of the work we do. The wall of assets was impressive and the general view was that we do them because we value the roles and what we receive back emotionally, it helps our wellbeing and that of our families. If this is the case then why do most statutory social care and health services not take this approach in our assessments and care planning with individuals or our commissioning of services and projects?

So here is the challenge, why don’t you and your team set up a community assets wall and map all of the gifts & assets you give and receive within your personal communities. Learn from the weird & wonderful things that your colleagues do and the sheer variety of things going on out there in the community. You will be surprised and a little amazed. Then challenge each other to use this knowledge in your practice. Learn from people the gifts they have or may wish to receive; use it to work toward true personalised options with individuals. Write an assessment that works with the individual to understand what they have to give and understand the areas that the community can give back. Complete a support plan where every element is truly gift based. If you commission services & projects think how your plan enhances these community assets or whether it impedes them. Plonking a service in the middle of an area and calling it community based just won’t do. Remember bricks and mortar are not gifts they are the material of prisons (even gilded ones).

To see our community wall growing on that day was amazing and helped us learn more about each other as colleagues and friends, even those we thought we knew well. My challenge was that nobody would be unable to fill in our wall and 180 written gifts later says it all. It is a simple task that can make a big difference to you and your teams thinking and hopefully that of the lives of the people we work with.

It will also brighten the walls of any corporate office.

This article was first published on Mark's own blog.

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Sharing Our Gifts - Lessons for Social Work © Mark Harvey 2014.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.