A Strengths Based Approach to Working with Youth and Families

By Andrea Banton, LSW, MSW, Intern and Scott Timmerman, Vice President Planning & Organizational Excellence

A Strengths Based Approach to Working with Youth and Families: A Review of Research, University of California-Davis, Center for Human Services, Northern California Training Academy, April 2009

Strength-based assessment is defined as the measurement of those emotional and behavioral skills, competencies, and characteristics that create a sense of personal accomplishment; contribute to satisfying relationships with family members, peers and adults; enhance one’s ability to deal with adversity and stress; and promote one’s personal, social, and academic development (Epstein and Sharma 1998). Epstein, M.H., & Sharma, J. M. (1998). Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale: A Strength-based approach to assessment, TX 🙂 Pro-Ed.

The field of mental health and social services has been known to a long history of focusing on children’s deficit, problem behaviors, and pathologies. Within the last decade, researchers and practitioners within the fields of education, mental health, psychology, social work and child welfare have begun to question the deficit-based approach and moved toward a more holistic model of development (Trout, Ryan, La Vigne, & Epstein 2003). Trout, A., Ryan, J., LaVigne, & S. Epstein, M. (2003). Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale: Two studies of convergent validity. Journal of child and Family Studies Instead of focusing on individual and family weaknesses or deficits, strength-based practitioners collaborate with families and children to discover their functioning.

Practitioners working within a strength-based framework have emphasized strength-based assessment as a critical first step in the movement toward seeing the strengths and competencies of children and families. Strength-based assessment offers practitioners a reliable tool to assess the skills, competencies, and characteristics of individuals and families and provides researchers a reliable and valid way to assess change in individuals following participation in strength-based programs.

A reliable tool to assess individual and family strengths and competencies, strength-based assessment provides practitioners with a positive way to approach intervention with youth and families. “ Over time, we have learned that asking the right question often has more impact on the client than having the correct answer” (Miller, 1994, as cited in Clark, 1997, p.98). Clark, M. (1997, June) Interviewing for Solutions: A Strength-based method for Juvenile Justice. Corrections Today, 98-102 Practitioners working from a strength-based approach emphasize the importance of asking youth and families the ‘right questions.’

The majority of validated assessments for youth have relied on a deficit-oriented assessment model. Validated assessment tools such as the Revised Behavior Problem Checklist, the Child Behavior Checklist, and the Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale document children’s pathologies, the deficits and the problems.

These tools have proven helpful for understanding what is wrong with children; however, they provide little insight to the strengths children may have in overcoming some of their problem behaviors.

There are a wide variety of ways to implement a strength-based approach to working with children and families. Many programs that follow a strength-based approach often emphasize wraparound services, multi-level approaches, and comprehensive mental health models.

Within NYAP, we have moved to strength based approaches with our youth and families. Our psychosocial and mental health assessments seek to identify the strengths and capabilities they can utilize in working towards their identified goals and objectives. Service delivery and our day to day contact with our youth and their families can enhance the strategies they utilize in purposeful and positive goal related actions.