While I’ve always found the supervision of staff one of the key privileges of my management role, the weight of responsibility I feel about my staff’s casework seems to be increasing all the time.
The manager is held responsible if something goes wrong, and if something hasn’t been done it is up to me to notice. This makes sense to me in theory. I am paid to take this responsibility, but it’s pretty hard to remember the details of the 50 or so cases my staff work with, let alone keep tabs on all their paperwork.
Feeling responsible for practice also means that ensuring my staff supervision happens becomes particularly important. Today the member of staff I’m due to supervise doesn’t seem well.
I ask her if she is really well enough to meet or whether she wants to go home. She says she wants to continue.
To be honest I feel relieved that she’s made this decision as I’m anxious to do this session. I know my management entries on her cases are overdue, and recording my supervision discussion is central to me demonstrating the oversight that today’s culture demands.
Half way through the session I check out again how she is feeling.“I’m having trouble breathing,” she says.
This is a new low in my history of supervising staff! Time to call it a day, I think.
The management entries will have to wait. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong with her cases in the next week.
It’s interesting to reflect on the place of recording in social work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for things being recorded properly, but I worry at times that the culture has gone so far towards prioritising written work that people forget that writing a plan to address a situation isn’t actually going to change anything.
Take risk management, for example. Our risk management plans generally just sit on the computer system.
I had to remind people at a training session recently that risk management wasn’t actually a written task it should involve action: engagement with service users; liaison with their families; consideration of the public; active multi-agency liaison.
The best written plans in the world won’t improve things for our service users or the public unless they are followed up with intervention.
An example of this contradiction was demonstrated recently in an inquiry into one of our cases. The feedback was almost wholly negative due to our out of date paperwork.
The fact that the young person in the case had told an independent reviewer that he wouldn’t be alive without the support of his worker didn’t seem to count for anything.
It’s another supervision session, this time with a member of staff whose recording isn’t as up to date as it should be.
Reflecting on why it’s important to be up to date I muse that when I was a practitioner I always wanted to be sure that if something happened to me, people would know what was happening in my cases.
I told my supervisee that I reckoned I thought in this dysfunctionally anxious way because I was brought up in a chapel where the preacher consistently told us that we could be run over by a bus when we left the building and we needed to consider where we would be spending eternity.
After the words were out of my mouth I realised that I had just intimated to my supervisee that she should be up to date in her recording in case she accidentally dies. I don’t think this counts as a supportive approach to staff management.
Luckily she sees the funny side of my comment and assures me that if she is run over by a bus after our session, out of date recording will not be her most significant regret.
It’s not been a good week for my supervision. It will be a miracle if I make it to Friday without a complaint being made. I will cross my fingers and hope that the blame culture doesn’t extend to supervisory indiscretions.
The author is a social worker