“I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user. I am not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar nor a thief. I am not a national insurance number, nor a blip on a screen. I paid my dues, never a penny short, and was proud to do so. I don’t tug the forelock but look my neighbour in the eye. I don’t accept or seek charity. My name is Daniel Blake, I am a man, not a dog. As such I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I, Daniel Blake, am a citizen, nothing more, nothing less. Thank you.”

(Speech from “I, Daniel Blake” film directed by Ken Loach, 2016) (here)

You’ve got to wonder sometimes, haven’t you, about how the human services system has ended up where it has. Why it is that great filmmakers like Ken Loach feel impelled to expose the collateral damage of a system that can leave people feeling like a number, a label, a ‘type’ and, at worst, a ‘problem’? Loach’s film, while an expose` of a dehumanising system, is not devoid of very human people trying to help. From the workers at income support services, through to the volunteers at food banks, and down to the central protagonists, we see people trying to help and support.

We practitioners know the value of help and support, and we are pretty good at finding ways of working that can make a difference. We’ve learned how important it is to involve people in the work we do to support them and we see the difference it makes when this happens.

The growth of client-centred, strengths-based practice as foundational practice principles encourages us to see clients as experts, to involve them in processes that are about them and that affect them, and we increasingly see the social justice principle of person’s right to be involved in their service as unalienable.

Organisations like Triangle UK, and its partner here in Australia, Unique Outcomes, work hard to make these practice principles tangible for the clients it serves. The Outcomes Star is inherently collaborative and strengths-based, designed to partner with service-users to both support and measure the changes they are making.

And yet it remains, that in spite of best intentions, both on practitioner and governmental levels (think of the NDIS principles of client agency and control), we don’t seem to be ‘there’ yet. While ‘strengths-based practice’, ‘empowerment’, ‘social justice’, ‘ethical practice’, and ‘client agency’ are principles now regularly seen listed within organisational mission statements, the human service systems within which these same organisations need to function, often seem geared more towards getting a ‘bang for the buck’, ‘crunching’ numbers, being risk-free, and solving people’s problems.

So, what do we as ethical practitioners and services, do about it? How do we understand the basis upon which service provision currently exists, and how can we rethink service provision so it can work better for the people it serves?

We are grateful that Joy MacKeith, co-founder of Triangle, creators of the Outcome Star, has put together “Enabling Help,” a report that can help us make sense of these questions. By taking the stance that current service provision is based upon flawed assumptions ‘borrowed’ from four paradigms- the medical, bureaucratic, market and social sciences- we’re able to better understand not only the challenges that such assumptions create, but also gain some insight into what a different approach could be based upon.

For Joy, ‘Enabling Help’ is about offering support which is Relational, Motivational, Developmental and Holistic, principles strongly aligned to the client-centred traditions of support mentioned throughout these words. Building trust, holding beliefs that change is possible, working holistically (i.e the whole story, not just the problem), tailoring support to the individual and understanding the cultural and structural barriers that impact on a person’s capacity to change- will all ring true to strengths-based practitioners. ‘Enabling help’ describes the impact of this refocusing upon direct service practitioners, managers, funders and policy makers, and begins to unpack how service design might be built around the ‘narrative’ rather than the ‘number’

Along these lines, Unique Outcomes recently had the privilege of hosting Joy in a virtual session for our Licensed Trainer community of practice. We met, early in the morning for Joy in the UK, toward evening for those in Australia, and nearing bedtime for those in Aotearoa, to explore our experiences of working through a service system impacted by the four paradigms. Fair to say there was a plethora of shared experiences around the frustrations of practice restrained by problem centred, top-down approaches, while at the same time an expressed appreciation of the role the Outcomes Star plays in shifting the narrative. As Joy said, while there are ‘no quick fixes’ to the core challenges described, hope remains for structural change that has the person at its heart.

Link to the LT webinar here

Link to Enabling help here