Anyone who is certified in the CANS, ANSA, FAST, or any of the Communimetric tools has taken the time to become certified. Those of you who certify online at have probably received an email from one of us stating something along the lines of…

“Unfortunately you have not yet received sufficient reliability. Your most recent exam has been reviewed and I noticed you are struggling in the _____ Domain.”

Well, the CANS is a multiple choice test, assessmentTOOL to help identify a child and family’s strengths and needs across all the CORE domains. But, lets take a step back and redefine What is a Need? and What is a Strength?


need is a characteristic of a person in the environment that describes a situation in which external assistance could improve that person’s well-being. It is the interaction of the person and environment that is key to understanding the presence of a need.

Let’s take the example of hunger-Hunger is a personal characteristic. The availability of food is an environmental characteristic.   Sometimes I am hungry.   When I am hungry I need to eat.   When I then eat, I am no longer hungry. So, I have successfully addressed my hunger.  In my life, I am lucky to have both the wherewithal and the means to address my hunger when it arises, therefore I do not have a need when it comes to hunger. If I did not have the ability to feed myself or had no understanding of food preparation, I would go hungry and I would have a need for assistance from another. If I had the wherewithal to feed myself, but didn’t have the means to secure food or food was simply unavailable, then i would go hungry and also need assistance from another.

For a Needs Domain, use the following categories and action levels:
0- No current need; no need for action or intervention.
1- History or suspicion of problems; requires monitoring, watchful waiting, or preventive activities.
2- Problem is interfering with functioning; requires action or intervention to ensure that the need is addressed.
3- Problems are dangerous or disabling; requires immediate and/or intensive action.


A strength is a characteristic of a person in the environment that describes a situation that promotes meaning and well-being in that person’s life.    While some strengths are  personal characteristics (e.g., musical talent) and other strengths are  characteristics of the environment (e.g. family), it is generally the case that it is the interaction of the person and environment that is key to understanding the presence of a strength.

Let’s take musical talent as an example.   A young person may be gifted musician but if that gift has not been recognized either by the youth or others then that gift cannot really assist in creating meaning or well-being for that youth.   If the young person’s musical gifts are recognized and supported in their environment (e.g., musical instruments, lessons, opportunities to perform), then it becomes possible for the expression of that strength.   As the youth becomes more involved with music the value of that gift to them increases.   But without that involvement, the musical gift has no value to the youth.

For Strengths, the following categories and action levels are used:
0- Well-developed or centerpiece strength; may be used as a protective factor and a centerpiece of a strength-based plan.
1- Useful strength is evident but requires some effort to maximize the strength. Strength might be used and built upon in treatment.
2- Strengths have been identified but require significant strength building efforts before they can be effectively utilized as part of a plan.
3- An area in which no current strength is identified; efforts are needed to identify potential strengths.

Still have questions on how to define a NEED and STRENGTH?

-Post to the comments below!


3 Responses

  1. There is no mention about whether a person is supposed to assume that someone is in mental health services or not. What is the assumption for questions asking about how involved a person is with their treatment when is is not mentioned and they clearly have a mental illness??

  2. I Work as a Social Work Program Coordinator at UTA University-Ecuador. I would like to know if we can obtain the software for the university.

    Thanks a lot

  3. It is important to utilize functional strengths whenever possible to meet the needs of a child/youth. However, you should never utilize a strength at the expense of meeting a need. An example I remember and have come across in the work…youth’s identified need is ‘trauma’ and they are gifted artistically (e.g. writing poetry). The youth has been impacted in all areas of their life…the only area not affected by trauma has been their writing…they opt not to use this strength to work on this need should be honored.

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