Reclaiming Good Supervision

One of the most important resources that Local Authority’s have in supporting vulnerable families and children is their Social Workers and their valuable support staff.  Which is worrying in a time where cuts are being made to budgets that for some (not all) Local Authority’s that these cuts have affected Social Work posts.  The knock on effect is more pressure, higher case loads on the remaining workers.


As an Assistant Team Manager I have supervision responsibility and find that good supervision is essential in keeping my staff team ‘well’ and working productively.  In our team we have not lost any posts! instead have noticed an increasing amount of young people that are coming into care, and at a later age.  Making the Young People more vulnerable to offending, placement breakdowns and sometimes more difficult to engage with.


I feel it is important to reclaim Supervision and its support element for Social Workers in this difficult time.  The danger that Supervision has had in the past is that it has been concerned with measuring statistical data for the Government.  for example “Are all of your medicals completed?” “Have your Core Assessments been completed within time scales?”  The obsession with Data collection does not replace the need for personal discussion and case progression (Coulshed, Mullender, 2006)


And I would agree with this, moving away from the view held of Social Workers by the few and the damaging articles sometimes presented in the media.  Social Workers should be treated as experts in the work that they complete within their community’s.  In order to do this they need to be supported by good supervision both formally and informally.  


However, there still remains a danger in this. There has been a move to a reflective supervision model.  Which on its own could skip some key learning stages between Managers and their Workers spending two long on the reflection; rather than analysing the information and then using this to be able to move the work along for the young person and their family.


I have just completed a Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) course in supervision, which has given me a new look at the supervision process.  And I have to be honest when I first started the training I did think “Here we go again another supervision course” But! having now finished the course feel that my supervision was okay but can still be better.


This is especially significant when reflecting on previous case learning from serious case reviews. Therefore, it is essential that for the worker who takes on the supervision that they have the experience to understand Social Work learning and theory.  In order to develop and identify barriers in social work practise that the worker maybe experiencing.  Moreover these barriers could be with other professionals and understanding all relationships and whether these are working could be essential for the outcome of the young person.


For everyone that is already being supervised or even if you are responsible for supervision the tools that we have available for this, we already have already in our toolbox.  Now, it is essential to remember that Supervision has key functions and that none of these functions can take place if proper planning and importance is given to Supervision from the start.  The obvious factor for supervision is that you are not disturbed.

Now, I know this may seem obvious, but when your supervision is disturbed two or three times, it will often lead to the focus being lost, the flow of thought to be lost and the benefits completely removed.


The other important barrier in supervision itself is an anxious worker or even anxious Manager.  These feelings can quickly take up a major part of the supervision process leaving no time for case discussion.  The idea is to enable the worker to leave feeling good about themselves (Coulshed, Mullender, 2006).  




When discussing cases it is essential to understand where the conversation is going.  “What was the purpose of your visit?” “What did you learn from the visit?”  The questions asked will enable the reflective part of the discussion.  However, my favourite tool for this is kolb’s learning cycle.


If taken in with you for supervision it can keep you focused on the direction that your discussion should be taken.  It is useful to consider that this maybe a lengthy process, so to do this with every case may not be possible.  It is therefore important for the supervise to consider, which cases you have that need more careful thought and consideration.




The next great tool that should be completed with all cases is a Genogram.  This is a great way for the supervisor to understand the family and the make up of the familyby drawing this out from the discussion with their worker.  Moreover it enables reflective discussion to identify difficult relationships, strengths and weakness.  Where the support is and learn from past experiences within the family.  


Now it is also essential especially within Child Protection cases that the Social Worker understands who all the professionals that are involved in the case are.  And also the relationships that they have with each other.  It is important for the Supervisor to ensure that there is good communication between everyone and understanding where professionals maybe mirroring behaviours within the family.  


Using this Eco Map as an example of how this can be done.  You could see that there is no communication between any of the organisations.  It shows that the different family members are getting help from the right services.  However, what is being demonstrated in this picture is that the communication between the agencies has not yet been explored or understood.  Is there good communication and information sharing?  it is these questions that can fully implement support for the family.  The reason especially if looking at a systemic practise is to ensure that families do not breakdown and have a system around them.


There are many other tools that we already have available to work with children and young people, but many are not used when we are in supervision.  For me it is important to provide good supervision to keep a happy and confident team.  But also to ensure that the right outcomes are met for children and young people.


So do not wait for Supervision start preparing for it and use the tools we have to make better use of this time and meet all the functions of Supervision such as Organisational, Developmental, and Support. 



4 responses

  1. Excellent post and perfect timing, I was just having a discussion about this topic yesterday!Supervision is a big issue with us (students) in placement at social work agencies, some students get strong supervision and a sense of openness, others.. not so much. It can be difficult to know what is the formal or "right" way of approaching this and saying I need help or I want more information on that.

  2. I can imagine that being a student puts you into a different situation, especially if your practise educator is also your on site supervisor. As a student Supervision is a great time to learn about your practise, however if you are not getting what you think is good enough or strong supervision then planning your own supervision is a good way forward. Also as students I would always recommend finding your own student support groups to share learning experiences and reflecting on what each of you are experiencing on placement and what you think it should be or could be.Thank you for your comments.

  3. Great post about a critical topic. Good supervision makes all the difference for all social workers, not just those who are starting out.If supervision becomes just reviewing paperwork and full of interruptions it will ultimately affect the quality of care (parallel process…see this podcast by Dr. Lawrence Shulman: on Models of Supervision: Parallel Processes and Honest Relationships http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/podcast/episode.asp?ep=5).

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