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How to deliver effective supervision

The Social Work Reform Board is consulting on a new supervision framework for social workers in England....

Training consultant Jane Wonnacott offers advice on how to bring your supervision up to the national standard.

The Social Work Reform Board is consulting on a new supervision framework for social workers in England. The board suggests that effective supervision should encompass:

1. Quality of decision making and interventions

2. Line management and organisational accountability

3. Caseload and workload management

4. Identification of further personal learning, career and development

Get it right from the start

A social worker’s initial experience of supervision has a profound impact on their confidence and professional development. And, since many supervisors draw on their own experiences of supervision when supervising others, early experiences are likely to influence the quality of supervision delivered to future generations. So, before the first session with a new supervisee, think about what you want them to get out of it.

Take time to establish the relationship

The most effective supervision takes place when the supervisor and supervisee have taken time to get to know and trust each other. This is crucial whenever there is a new supervisory relationship, not just with less experienced staff. Spend some time together before your first session devising clear expectations and include these in the supervision agreement.

Move beyond seeing supervision as only the formal meeting

Ad hoc discussions and case debriefing sessions are a valuable part of the supervision process and can make the reform board’s supervision framework feel more manageable. Build reflection into everyday case management discussions, so supervisees can explore how their emotions, personal biases and feelings affect their thinking and actions. Make sure the supervision agreement recognises informal discussions, and note any decisions made during these conversations on the relevant file.

Balance authority with understanding

Be clear about your expectations and demand high standards of practice, but make sure you are responsive to your supervisee’s needs, including their caseload. If they seem rigid or defensive, ask yourself if you are being too authoritarian.

Regularly review the supervision process

Discuss your team’s perception of the supervision process. Ask them if supervision is meeting their needs and how you can both work together to make it more effective. Do they feel it is covering all the components suggested by the reform board? How able are they to explore difficult practice dilemmas? Does supervision leave them feeling enthused about their work? How could you both make the best use of time in supervision? Is there anything either of you could do differently?

Make sure your own supervision is effective

Supervisors need the opportunity to reflect on their own supervisory skills, style and development needs. But they often report that their own supervision is not of the same standard that they are expected to deliver and that there is little opportunity to explore the emotional impact of their role. Take the initiative and use peer support groups, action learning sets and similar activities to supplement your own supervision.

Jane Wonnacott is the director of In-Trac Training and Consultancy

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