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Little progress is being made on improving social work supervision, Community Care’s second State of Supervision Survey had found.
The annual survey, completed this year by 697 practitioners, found that social workers have seen little progress in the quality and frequency of the supervision they get in the past year.
It found that half of social workers do not get any reflective supervision and 47% are dissatisfied by the quality of their supervision compared to 38% who are satisfied.
A slim majority of social workers (55%) are satisfied with how often they get supervision, but this is only one percentage point higher than the number who were satisfied in the 2013 State of Supervision Survey.
However there are signs that employers are giving supervision more attention with 28% of social workers who don’t get regular supervision blaming it on their organisation’s failure to prioritise supervision compared to 38% in the 2013 survey.
As a result instability in line management is now regarded by social workers as the biggest reason why they don’t get regular supervision with 29% citing this as the cause compared to 23% in 2013.
Supervision is ‘not a luxury’
The findings come three years on from the creation of the Standards for Employers of Social Workers in England, which says that social workers should get “regular and appropriate supervision”.
Anne Mercer, professional advisor for the College of Social Work, said: “It is disappointing to learn that so few social workers are receiving high-quality, reflective supervision, in line with the Standards for Employers and Supervision Framework.
“Supervision is crucial to delivering the best possible frontline practice and can significantly improve outcomes for service users.
“We urge all social work employers to prioritise providing the highest standards of supervision possible to support their social work workforce.
“We also encourage social work employers to fully integrate our Professional Capabilities Framework into their supervision sessions, as recommended in the updated Standards for Employers and Supervision Framework.”
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for England at the British Association of Social Workers, said supervision and reflective supervision is a “absolute necessity” for social workers “not a luxury”.
“It is completely unacceptable that just under 50% of those surveyed do not receive regular supervision and the reasons given for this are equally worrying as when the pressure is on departments this is the worst time to depart from good practice.
“This survey tells us that many organisations are still struggling to come to grips with supporting first-line managers who find themselves in a precarious position.”
Supervisors under pressure
Several social work supervisors who took part in the survey confirmed that they struggle to deliver the supervision their staff need.
One said: “I rarely get to prioritise supervision and I feel guilty about this. Either I or one of the social workers will cancel supervision and it may not be arranged for a number of months.
“Sometimes I justify this by saying to myself – I’m hands on so they get lots of informal supervision and peer supervision through team meetings, but I am kidding myself as I am well aware that these forms of supervision do not afford the social workers the ability to reflect.”
“I feel miserable as I feel that I am failing my team and am constantly running past them in the corridors.”
Social work managers were also the most supportive of supervision as a way to improve outcomes for service users.
While 90% of social workers and social work supervisors said supervision is crucial to frontline social work, 96% of managers said it improved outcomes for service users compared to 88% of all social workers.
The survey also found that only 45% of supervisors had social work-specific supervision training. This training was more common in children’s services than adults, with 51% of children’s services supervisors getting social work-specific training compared to 35% of adult bosses.
“I supervise social workers, yet I have had no training to do so,” said one respondent. “I don’t know how to provide the type of supervision that my staff need, I have just not been given the skills to do that. I feel that I am letting my staff down by not being the type of supervisor they deserve.”
Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said that it was important for social workers and their managers to remember that supervision can take different forms.
“I think sometimes we have a kind of static view that supervision is what happens between a senior and a social worker and it has to be fixed,” he said.
“We have an almost religious obedience to it, rather than saying what this is actually about is the development of your professional practice and your judgment and your ability to help families move on. There might be different ways or more ways of achieving that in the way that we structure our professional development and in the way we structure the time we create for that dialogue.”
Several participants in the survey who work in multi-disciplinary teams raised concerns that their bosses were unable to offer them the professional supervision they need.
Only 14% of social workers in multi-disciplinary teams or with non-social worker supervisors said there is a written statement that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of those supervising them.
Half said they did not have such a statement and the remainder did not know if they did.
One social worker said: “Manager is an occupational therapist within the NHS trust and does not offer social work supervision.”
Wood said it is crucial that the lines of responsibility are clear in multi-agency teams: “In any multi-agency grouping we’ve got to be clear what the supervisory arrangements are.”
While many social workers revealed the problems they have in getting good quality supervision, a significant number said they had had a positive experiences of supervision.
“I am fortunate to have regular supervision with my line manager, who is very caring and empathetic and who listens,” said one.
Another said: “I have been very fortunate in my career of 39 years to have received good quality supervision.”
Many said the quality depends very much on the employer.
“Apart from a spell in Cafcass when my supervision was excellent I have been subjected to the most appalling supervision imaginable,” said one. “In one local authority supervision was simply when is this assessment going to be completed and was carried out in front of the rest of the team in the team room.”
Newly qualified social workers also reported higher levels of supervision but even then only two thirds said they were getting the recommended level of supervision weekly for the first six weeks, fortnightly for the first six months and at least monthly after that.
Wood said it is important that social workers, both supervisors and practitioners, make the time for supervision.
“All of us have got pressure, all of us have got to deal with challenging and extending caseloads, all of us have got to deal with increasing demands for data and information usually from external sources,” he said.
“Somehow we’ve got to deal with those in a way that protects the key reason we’re here, which is to provide insights, advice and support and challenge and guidance that leads to change in people’s lives.
“Sometimes I do think that as a profession we can be a little quick to leap to all of the reasons why we don’t do things rather than saying ‘why is it that in the same circumstances that some people can do it well and what is there to learn from how they do it and why can’t we all be like that?’.”