Understanding the person-centred approach in social work
In taking a person-centred approach in social work, practitioners work with the person they are caring for to find a care solution that’s specifically suited for them.
Practitioners use their social work communications skills to help people gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to make informed choices about their care.
Essentially, a person-centred approach in social work involves taking a coordinated and personalised effort to meet the needs of that individual. In children’s social work, this can also be referred to as child-centred practice. This is where the child’s ‘lived experience’ and history is considered in making key decisions about interventions.
What skills are needed?
On the surface, applying a person-centred approach in social work sounds straightforward – and with practice it can be. However, for the most part, it relies on the strength of a practitioner’s social work communications skills.
In basic form, being person-centred means including people in their care, so it becomes less about ‘to’ or ‘for’ them but ‘with’ them.
What does a person-centred approach in social work really mean?
Well, BASW offers a great description. It says, “in person-centred care, health and social care professionals work collaboratively people who use services”. This, BASW, goes on to say, means “rethinking the relationship between people and the services that provide their care”.
Thankfully, there’s no rigid definition. This is partly because person-centred care in social work is still an emerging area of work. Also, as an approach, it needs to be flexible. As The Health Foundation writes in its guide to person-centred care, “what it looks like will depend on the needs, circumstances and preferences of the individual receiving care”.
What are the four principles of person-centred care?
Each social worker must support people with dignity, compassion and respect within their social work communications skills and care.
In doing so, there are three main principles practitioners are advised to follow. These are that care is personalise, coordinated and enabling. For adult social workers working in a clinical setting this also involves using their social work communications skills to relay the wishes of the individual to other partners and practitioners.
It involves taking a holistic approach whilst also being aware of the need and duty to safeguard people.
What are the different terms for person-centre care?
There’s no one exact word or phrase to describe taking a person-centred approach in social work. As mentioned above, in children’s social work, it’s linked to child-centred practice but in adult social care it can vary widely. Sometimes it’s referred to as patient-centred care (in clinical settings), relationship-centred care, personalisation and in Scotland, mutuality.
The important thing is that you are aware of what it means for your practice and if you have any questions you should ask your social work manager and your colleagues. It’s often healthy to have a good discussion on best practice as part of peer learning or supervision.
Many of the social work jobs we post reference person-centre care and having strong social work communications skills as employers recognise the importance of this approach.