Tips to make supervision more effective

Design more reflective and analytical supervision sessions with ideas from Community Care Inform’s new hub

Therapy session, adult man talking to his psychotherapist
Picture posed by models: Photo: Nullplus/Fotolia

Article updated 13 August 2021

The below tips are taken from Community Care Inform Children’s supervision knowledge and practice hub, last updated in May 2021. Community Care Inform Children subscribers can access all of the quick guides, tips and videos which offer practical, realistic ideas to try out to improve your supervision. David Wilkins, who is a senior lecturer in social work at Cardiff University wrote the guides in this hub and the scenarios and commentary for the videos.

Most supervision sessions between a social worker and their manager appear to follow a strikingly similar format.

David Wilkins – who has listened to many hours of audio recordings of children’s social worker supervision, observed several dozen managers in supervision and read hundreds of written supervision records – says the first stage involves a detailed update from the social worker about each case, with their supervisor asking questions to clarify what has happened.

The supervisor or worker usually then identifies ‘the problem’ that needs to be addressed and provides a ‘solution’. Often, if not always, this takes the form of procedural actions such as convening a meeting, arranging a visit or contacting another professional.

But this isn’t the kind of supervision most managers want to provide or workers want to receive, Wilkins says. Supervision might develop in this way to meet agency requirements for the oversight of practice or simply as way of navigating the complexity of the situations routinely encountered by social workers – but it is not the reflective, supportive, analytical space most managers would say they aspire to.

Below are three key tips from the new resources:

number-1Limit the social worker’s update

To help make the social worker’s update even more effective, try agreeing a structure for it in advance. It may even be useful for the worker to make a few notes under each heading before you start the discussion. For example:

  • Recap of the family genogram and presenting issues.
  • Update on any genuinely new and significant developments since the last supervision discussion.
  • Update on any genuinely new and significant developments since the last supervision discussion.

This approach should help avoid getting trapped in lengthy discussions about where things are up to and allow more time for analysis, reflection, discussion of emotion and how theory or research may inform the work. (From Shake up your supervision: quick guide)

2Ask the social worker to help create the written record of the session

Wilkins’ research found many supervision records included considerable detail of all the activity a social worker has described – for example, what they and a parent/or child have said to each other, which professionals have been informed of an incident and so on. But much of this information will be elsewhere on the case management system. The message? You don’t need to record everything! Ask the social worker what, if anything, from their update is not already on file and your notes can then refer to, for example, “talked about recent home visit, see recording dated 12.09.2016 for details“.

Then agree together what new information needs to be recorded, based not on what has already happened and been recorded (e.g. the home visit) but on the new thinking and reflection achieved together during the supervision discussion. (From Recording supervision discussions: quick guide )

3Let the practitioner know that it is acceptable – and welcome – to talk about emotions

Being able to talk about one’s emotions and those of others is widely considered essential for social workers. While managers will usually ask about a practitioners’ emotional wellbeing (“how are you this week?”) and social workers often use supervision to talk about feelings of frustration, it’s less common for these discussions to go much further. For example, if the social worker is frustrated by a parent, you might explore how this is playing a part in their assessment and decision-making. Are there times when they have been more or less frustrated with the parent? How might the parent be feeling? How might they experience the social worker’s frustration?

If managers ‘give permission’ to talk about emotions by asking questions about how the social worker felt and/or saying how they might have felt in a similar situation, it allows for discussions that involve emotion as a more integral part of the work. (From Talking about emotion in supervision: quick guide)

Other quick guides in the hub include New to supervision: quick guide and Supervision models and tools: quick guide. If your organisation is interested in subscribing to Community Care Inform, you can find information on this page.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.