Strengths-based practice: more than being positive

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In strengths-based and asset-based approaches to family and community work we focus on strengths, aspirations and potential rather than problems, needs and deficits by, amongst other things:

  • Consciously looking for the strengths and potential of the people, families and communities we work with
  • Adopting a positive, optimistic outlook (focusing on the “half-full part of the glass”)
  • Avoiding the role of the “expert”

This does NOT mean looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses and ignoring problems, needs and deficits.

In a recent Alternatives to Violence Project workshop, which had a large focus on parenting, at the end of the first (of two) days, one of the fathers said:

This workshop is making me realise I’m a better father than some people say I am!

At face value this seems to be a great outcome. But even though we want to increase parents’ confidence, there is a potential dark side to this statement. What if he was an abusive parent and there were significant grounds for being concerned about his parenting? What if it was allowing him to deny the need for change?  There are real risks involved in accepting this statement without question and not exploring it further.

Perpetrators of family and domestic violence, including child abuse, can be quite manipulative and charming, they can deny or minimise their actions, and there is a danger that practitioners can inadvertently collude with the perpetrator in avoiding taking responsibility for their actions (Department for Child Protection, 2012). As strengths-based practitioners we still have a responsibility to ask tough questions and explore how to create positive change.

What the father’s statement did, however, was allow us to have a conversation in a very different context. As with the strengths-based approach we adopted in fathering workshops with Aboriginal fathers in prison, the father’s statement changed the starting point of our conversations. We could begin by exploring what being a good father looks like and how they try to be good fathers. But we could also ask whether certain behaviour (e.g., violence, drugs) were consistent with being a good father, what the impact of such behaviour was, and what they could do to become better fathers.

The men were much more open to these conversations than if we had started by looking at risk factors and what they did wrong as parents. Because we had allowed them to talk about how being fathers were important to them and how they wanted to be good parents, our conversations were helping them achieve what their vision rather than accusing them or telling them what they needed to do.

Strengths-based practice needs to involve more than being positive, encouraging and hoping for the best. We need to be willing to explore difficult issues, ask challenging questions and do more than simply accepting statements at face value. This involves developing a range of skill, practicing difficult conversations and critically reflecting on our work.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  2. What is the Strengths Perspective?
  3. Seven principles for a strengths-based approach to working with groups
  4. Workshop for Aboriginal fathers in prison – what worked
  5. Strengths-based measurement
  6. Asking questions in workshops

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.


Department for Child Protection. (2012). Family and domestic violence: Background paper. Perth: Western Australian Government. Available from %20Domestic%20Violence%20Background%20Paper%202012.pdf

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Families & parenting, Strengths-based approaches & ABCD and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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