John can catch a goldfish with his bare hands. It’s one of his strengths. How did I find this out? When the staff at his dementia day service were cleaning out Norman’s tank John decided to help – by thrusting his hand into the tank and deftly extracting the fish to allow the staff to clean round properly. Norman was a little shocked but he didn’t seem to mind and in fact that little bit of human contact was probably quite a treat.
So why am I telling you this?
Because our system for providing care and support rarely allows for people’s strengths to shine through. When we carry out an assessment or put together a care plan, people’s unique talents are unlikely to get a mention. Even if they did, the next layer of risk assessment would manage to suppress any chance of John’s fish catching abilities being employed to useful effect.
Why does this matter?
Is it really a problem that John attends the day service and we never know he can catch a fish with his bare hands? It matters because if John can contribute something to his support, whatever that may be, then he feels proud. So he has moved on from having his basic needs met to boosting his self-esteem. People talk about it and thank him for his help. He becomes a bit of a legend and he glows with pride that he did something good for someone else that day. One of the five Ways to Wellbeing is to give something back and by doing this one thing John boosts his own wellbeing. Not only that, he gains a purpose – he becomes part of the fish tank cleaning routine and he looks forward to the next time he can lend a hand.
Sustainable social care needs to create the conditions that allow people’s strengths to shine. We must move away from a model of passive recipients to active participants and give people the opportunity to catch that fish.
Read this article on the SCIE website here.