‘I sit on fitness to practise panels and what hits me is the shocking lack of supervision many social workers receive’

Social workers, managers and researchers discuss the importance of finding time for high-quality supervision

Woman making coffee
If you think through a case while making coffee, note it down (Credit: Blend Images/Rex, posed by model)

What is good supervision? And how do you know it makes a difference? These were the questions put to delegates during a reflective supervision workshop at The College of Social Work’s first annual conference earlier this month.

Existing research into the impact of social work supervision in the UK is poor, said researcher Lisa Bostock to kick off the session; more often than not, studies are carried out in the US and focus on children’s services. They tell us that supervision is related to job satisfaction and retention, but not what people are doing in supervision and how often they are doing it.

However, the following discussion made one thing clear: the problem isn’t so much understanding what makes good supervision, but finding time to do it.

One delegate’s comments brought this home: “I sit on Health and Care Professions Council fitness to practise panels and what hits me time and again is the shocking lack of supervision people receive. It’s a common mitigating factor.”

This should serve as clear warning to social workers and managers everywhere: if you don’t make time for high-quality supervision, the consequences could be very serious indeed.

Here are some suggestions from the workshop on how to find more time for/make the most of supervision:

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of informal supervision, including the chats you have with your manager when you bump into them in the corridor.
  • Be prepared for supervision. On the drive home, think about the cases you have dealt with today. What sticks in your mind? What’s bothering you? Make a note of it and go through those notes in your next formal supervision session. If you work with children and families, the story is constantly unfolding; you expect it to read like a novel, but you’re in the middle of the drama. You will sit and think about a case while having a cup of tea – again, try to make a note of how you work through those thoughts.
  • New people start all the time and are expected to deliver supervision. Remember, they need training.
  • More attention needs to be paid to caseloads. How can you/your team make time and prepare for supervision if you/they have 40 cases?

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2 Responses to ‘I sit on fitness to practise panels and what hits me is the shocking lack of supervision many social workers receive’

  1. Bonnie February 5, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    I recall working in a very busy London Borough holding 30 cases ; mainly court & CP.

    It was the norm not to have supervision : Yes as SW we are also responsible for ensuring that we have supervision , however , if your accustomed ( as I was) to having poor inadequate non purposeful supervision then of course your not going to bother ..!

    I would rather watch paint dry. It consisted of having to type up mini assessments per child just so the manager didn’t have to bother – the watching the manager type with one finger the actions…!

    Where is the good quality reflective supervision in that …

  2. Bonnie February 6, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    I recall working in a very busy London Borough – holding 30 cases ; mainly CP & Court.

    It was the norm not to have supervision. Yes as SW we are also responsible for ensuring that we have supervision -however , if your accustomed ( as I was) to having poor inadequate non purposeful supervision then of course your not going to bother !

    I would have rather watched paint dry It consisted of having to type up mini assessments per child just so the manager didn’t have to bother ! then painfully watching the manager type with one finger the actions/outcome of my reflective supervision !

    Where is the good quality reflective supervision in that …