Category Archives: Social Work Supervision

Getting there!

Recently I wrote about my entry route into Social Work in the Guardian Social Care Network.  However, today I am writing about my wife’s route into social work, which for me is a far more impressive.  For me social work was always a reachable role and carer for me to achieve and I had the support and positive role models to help me achieve my dream.

Sadly however this is not the same for everyone in society and where dreams are quickly forgotten because of the fear of heartbreak that they bring with them.  I did not get this memo however and want everyone to know that it is possible to achieve your dreams even if the mountain you have to cross is out of your reach at the moment.

Like most families where neglect is nurtured due to the environment and perhaps dated values of what gender roles should achieve, my wife from an early age was always told not to aim or try and achieve anything.  Her school had wrote her off as a trouble maker and parents scoffed and made nasty comments.  Her own parents were only interested in their own needs and even today can not put her needs before their own.

When we started our relationship I did not know what had hit me, and I was not living in this world.  I had never heard so much negative talking or unwillingness to try anything new.  The only way I can describe this is if you lose all of your senses and start living again knowing there should be something there but there is not.

When I met my wife she could not drive, did not want to drive.  The theory test is to hard she said! having failed it twice already.  The support from her parents was much the same ‘don’t waste your money your not bright enough to pass’.  It is fair to say that I have not known anger until I started my relationship with my wife.

But there comes a point in your life when you are up at 6am in the morning to take your wife to work and then picking her up before gaining into work yourself that changes need to happen.  I brought the DVD for the theory test and spent many a long night with my wife working through it.  I did learn something doing this, and that is that I would not pass the theory test either.

The day of the test came and for the whole time I waited for her outside can only be described as the most anxious time of my life.  But from the moment she exploded out of the building trying badly to hide her own emotions of joy.  I knew that nothing would stop her from achieving her dreams other than herself now.

Despite this, I could not encourage her to take the sponsorship into social work.  It was not until she stood up against her employer in a complaint about the work place that her true potential was recognised.  Some gentle words and persuasion encouraged her to apply with only 72 hours to the deadline to submit her application.

I have to admit I was always biased about what my wife could achieve, her passion, strength and determination to support vulnerable people and give her time without question is something that I have not seen in many people.  I understand now where this comes from, her own background has meant that she does understand the impact of other peoples negative views on life.

Each step of the way was an individual milestone for her, the acceptance letter, sitting in the first lecture and submitting the first assignment.  Completing the first law exam and starting placements.

So here began a long journey of tears, arguments and hurdles like no other and final recognition that she was further hindered by dyslexia.  This is and always will be the hurdle, unable to read more than four pages at a time before the words began to jumble up and blur causing a headache that would cripple her.

But this did not stop her fighting the University for support, and her workplace.  Spending less time with her family for reading, study groups.  There was another thread throughout all of this the constant nagging in the back of her head, the doubt sown by her parents so many years ago ‘your to thick to do this, just give up!’ What this meant was that before any essay began a delay was created as a barrier was put up and each time would have to be smashed down.

And I have to admit with tears in my eyes at the time, when the final e-mail came in stating she had passed her final piece of work smashing the final hold her parents ever had over her.  You have just completed your degree in Social Work.  In my opinion something which is not easy to do.

As I write this I am aware that it does not adequately reflect how difficult this actually was for her, dealing with her own parents separation and many further unthinkable events that it brought with it.  whilst studying and supporting myself and our children.  To do it with earning the admiration of many of the lectures and fellow students being nominated as Student Union representative.

But the message is, no matter how hard it is what ever you face in life your demons can be beaten.  I have supported my wife in doing her course, but I could not do it for her.  The social work process is not just a journey through a course it is a life journey for yourself.  So don’t give up, do not look back and keep going.  Find your support and help other people and one day hopefully your dreams will come true to.

feeling positive?

Sometimes and only sometimes I wondered whether I made the right choice in becoming a Social Worker.  You never finish on time, you can never achieve what you want to achieve and always blamed for something that has not gone right even if you have no control over it or not.

Despite this I can not help to feel proud to be a Social Worker for Children and Young People.  I find the everyday challenge is given back over and over on a daily basis not by the media, not by your employer but by the young people you work with.  Because despite the minority that sadly do not have a positive experience of social work intervention there still remains a majority that are grateful.  

Young People who despite being abandoned by their family, excluded from society because they struggle with managing on a daily basis.  That are grateful for any chance, someone to talk too, someone who will fight for them and support them to achieve positive outcomes.  And I guess why I enjoy working with young people rather than children, is because of the variety in expression portrayed helps me engage with harder to reach young people.

In one meeting this week a young person who I met for the first time came in to see me screaming, f’ing and was generally very angry.  Instead of finding my heart sinking instead I found it filling with pride and admiration that the young person at least cared what was happening to him.  My role was to prove that I felt the same, and this is a challenge ‘why would I be any different from anybody else this young person has already met before?’  

I also met another young person who had been living with her older siblings, passed from one to the other, but neither having the time or the wish to care for her adequately, despite full support being provided.  The impact on the young person had left her desperate for attention, which she had sort through shop lifting hoping to be caught each time.  Her maturity and pride impressed me greatly in seeking help to improve her own life and make the decision to leave this situation.  

So for me leaving social work is not a choice I can not make, however I do find that it is important to be continue my learning in order to provide the best practise I can.  And hope that through my practise I can encourage other workers to feel the same.

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. 

Time out

Have you ever had a day where everything is going wrong, cases blowing up around you? and you look up, and watch what everyone else is doing?  Have you ever noticed how its always the same people that always keep their heads down and that are in early and leave late.  I often wonder whether this is sign that everyone else is feeling the same as I do.

When days like this happen it is so easy to allow everything to get on top of you, and sink in the feeling of dread that you are not making any progress! 

And for one Social Worker this week, I could just see this starting to happen.  After she had called in sick I became concerned as to why.  Over the weekend two of her cases had been playing up and it was clear that she was worried about them.  Both were making complaints about their care and demonstrating extreme behaviour of self harm because they were not    getting what they wanted.

Added pressure was being created by the placements not coping with their behaviour and the recent cut backs straining the support available for both the young people and the Social Worker.   

A common question that is often asked by almost everyone is “How do you cope with the job that you do?” and the easy answer is that some people can not.  We are human after all and when dealing with stressful situations sometimes enough is enough.  But what is important is good Supervision, and a good peer support.  And at a time where there is a lot change taking place, as team members change due to long term agency staff being replaced.  Offices are changing as Local Authority’s sell off buildings in order to save money.  All of which impacts on the working environment, and increasing stress and pressures on workers.

So this week I have been exploring the need for good Supervision, helped by completing a half day training course in ‘reflective Supervision’ provide by Research in Practise.  Supervision is an important part of Social Work, and to providing job satisfaction “Social work supervision: contexts and concepts” (SCIE).  I recognised that for this Social Worker there was a need to help facilitate supervision to help understand how she was feeling and also be reflective on the practise and help develop plans.  

Since I have joined this team it has been an interesting process developing supervision and Peer Supervision.  When I joined the team, supervision was a prescriptive meeting for the workers only interested in me giving decisions for their cases.  My training reinforced my supervision style, and has also created a new way for my Supervises to reflect in their own supervision.