Social workers want more opportunities to reflect on cases during their supervision sessions, research backed by Community Care has revealed.
The survey of 491 social workers found the proportion of respondents who felt their supervision helped them with reflection (24%) was far lower than those who felt the sessions helped managers monitor progress on cases (71%) and timescales (57%).
Only a third of social workers surveyed said their supervision gave them emotional support to help with the demands of the job.
Click here to download a PDF report summarising the survey findings and messages about what makes for helpful supervision.
Asked what one thing they thought would most improve their supervision, the most commonly cited answer was increasing the amount of reflection, followed by increasing the length and frequency of sessions.
Areas for improvement
The research was carried out by the University of Bedfordshire and Community Care as part of a wider study investigating how supervision is being delivered and how this impacts on practice.
Dr David Wilkins, the researcher at the University of Bedfordshire’s Tilda Goldberg Centre who designed the survey, said the findings revealed areas of improvement for supervision.
“These results reinforce the impression we have from previous surveys and many practitioners and managers will know from their own experience that supervision, at least as far as local authorities are concerned, is often dominated by managerial concerns,” he said.
“However, the results also show that in areas often thought of as being important for good supervision, such as analysis, reflection and emotional support, social workers are getting the least support.”
The survey found 62% of children’s social workers and 54% of adults’ social workers received supervision at least once a month. When asked the thing that was best about their supervision, both groups most commonly cited having a good or supportive manager.
‘A good or supportive manager’
Wilkins said: “When social workers have a good and supportive manager, when they have enough time to discuss the families and service users they are working with, and in forums which allow for more analytical thinking, such as in groups, they rate the quality of supervision high in all areas.
Community Care Inform Children’s supervision knowledge and practice hub includes tips for talking about emotions in supervision, using a more analytical approach to focus on practice dilemmas and tools and models to try. You can also watch videos of different approaches to supervision with commentary by David Wilkins. Community Care Inform Adults’ management knowledge and practice hub also includes guides to supervision.
“The challenge now is to find the evidence that these more helpful forms of supervision make a difference to the quality of practice and ultimately to outcomes for children, families and adults.”
The survey found no significant difference between how social workers in local authorities and those in other organisations rated the quality of their supervision. Adults’ social workers were more likely to say supervision helped with their professional development (56%), compared to 38% of children’s social workers.
Rachael Wardell, workforce lead for the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the findings contained important lessons for councils.
“Social workers carry exceptional responsibilities on behalf of society. As leaders of children’s services, we are committed to supporting this important profession by working to create an environment that enables good social work practice,” she said.
“This includes good quality supervision that affords time to be both task focused and reflective as required, and which supports social workers to do their job well.”
Benefits of group supervsion
Wardell added: “I would encourage all local authorities to heed the messages from this survey. Social workers deserve support and guidance in challenging situations and they value good supervision, particularly the opportunity to reflect on practice. The reported benefits of group supervision may be of particular interest.
“There might also be some messages for the DfE to consider in their work to shape the new sector regulator, Social Work England.”