Standards for adults’ practice supervisors issued to increase role of critical reflection in supervision

Chief social worker says non-mandatory standards set out approach to supervision ‘grounded in practice rather than process’ and provide clearer career progression within adults’ services

Image used on article We know bafflingly little about what happens in supervision showing supervision meeting_john Birdsall Rex
Photo: John Birdsall/Rex

The government has issued new standards for social work practice supervisors in adults’ services designed to increase the emphasis on critical reflection in supervision and provide clearer career progression for adults’ practitioners.

The post-qualifying standards, achievement of which will not be mandatory, establish eight key areas of focus for supervisors to help them deliver high-quality supervision, support and practice development for adult social workers. They were published this week following a consultation on a knowledge and skills statement for social work supervisors in adult social care in late 2017 and 2018.

The eight standards include 40 statements setting expectations of practice supervisors in areas including demonstrating and modelling social work values, knowledge of legal frameworks, fostering strengths-based approaches, understanding of power dynamics and capacity to influence their organisations to promote a healthy practice environment.

Emphasis on reflection

In the government’s response to the consultation, chief social worker for adults Lyn Romeo said a key focus of the standards was to increase the emphasis on critical reflection in supervision and ground it in “practice rather than process”.

“…while management approaches to supervision are widely understood and applied, critically reflective supervision – where social workers are encouraged to reflect on the relationships and personal interactions between the social worker and the person or family they are supporting and making sure they are using approaches that work – remains less well established,” Romeo said.

Romeo added that, alongside the approved mental health professional (AMHP) and best interests assessor (BIA) qualifications, and the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), based on the knowledge and skills statement for social workers in adult services, the supervisor standards will “help deliver a career pathway for social workers, from newly qualified to experienced professional and supervisory roles, accompanied by a clear structure for employers to enable their staff to reach and maintain the right standard”.

The standards will be rolled out in 2019-2020 and will be open to practitioners in any setting, not just local authorities, with at least two years’ post-qualifying experience who are qualified AMHPs or BIAs or have achieved at least stage 1 of the practice educator professional standards (PEPS).

Comparison with children’s social work

The publication of the standards means that both children’s and adult social work in England have formal post-qualifying standards for frontline social workers and for supervisors. These were originally referred to as knowledge and skills statements but have been rebadged as post-qualifying standards, under section 42 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

But while the standards for children’s social workers and supervisors are due to be assessed through the National Assessment and Accreditation System, a formal, external system of assessment, the adults’ practice supervisor standards are due to be assessed internally by employers, with some external moderation. This is the system used for the ASYE in adults’ services.

On the children’s side, the Department for Education has invested £3.1m in a programme to support the development of supervisors’ knowledge and skills. This practice development support programme is due to train 700 newly-appointed supervisors employed by English councils from 2018-2020.

The Department of Health and Social Care has no plans for a similar programme for adults’ supervisors. Instead, it is working with Skills for Care and six regional partnerships, consisting of councils and higher education institutions, to develop and test approaches for developing supervisors’ capabilities against the statement.

How practice supervisor standards emphasise reflection

While there are references to critical reflection across most of the eight standards, it is particularly highlighted in standards 5 and 6, extracts of which are set out below:

5. Promoting and supporting critical analysis and decision making

5.1 Practice supervisors should create a culture of focused and critical thinking which consistently explores and takes into account a wide range of contexts including individual, carer and professional stories, the chronology of critical events, social and economic circumstances and their own practice experiences.

5.2 Practice supervisors should support social workers to recognise multiple and sometimes conflicting hypotheses, interpretations or perspectives in reaching a professional judgement to take account of the complexity of people’s lives, accepting that people are experts in their own lives.

5.3 Practice supervisors should understand and be able to apply different methods of critical reflection to promote the development of critically reflective practice in others. They should support and challenge social workers to apply reasoned discernment, making decisions based on observations and analyses, to explore differences between opinion and fact, address common bias in situations of uncertainty and to make clear conclusions and defensible judgements.

6. Relationship-based practice supervision (this standard is only for supervisors who have achieved the practice educator professional standards stage 2 or are trained practice development educators)

6.1 Practice supervisors should be able to critically reflect on and apply a range of relevant supervisory models which recognise and address the power dynamics in the supervision relationship. They should develop a collaborative, supervisory partnership in which the relationships with adults in need of care and support have a central position. Practice supervisors should make specific use of practice observations and feedback from individuals, carers and other professionals to reflect on and improve the social worker’s practice.

6.2 Practice supervisors should work in partnership with social workers to develop and regularly review a supervision agreement to support the supervision process.

6.3 Practice supervisors should be able to identify emotional or personal barriers affecting practice and recognise when to step in and proactively support individuals. They should promote reflective thinking to drive more effective discussions so that reasoned and timely decision-making can take place. Practice supervisors should demonstrate a high level of resilience within pressured environments, seeking professional support for themselves when necessary. They should be attuned to the effect of high emotion and stress and respond in empathic, compassionate, calm, measured and pragmatic ways.

6.4 Practice supervisors should recognise should recognise the impact the relationships with whom they are working may have on social workers, including people and their carers as well as other professionals, which can impact on the effectiveness of practice. They must provide high quality individual supervision that is responsive and restorative. Practice supervisors should promote approaches such as peer supervision and group case consultation to foster professional curiosity, to help identify common bias, to shift thinking and to generate the best outcomes for adults and their carers.

6.5 Practice supervisors should reflect on the confidence of their social workers and adapt their management and leadership style according to people’s needs and to foster organisational improvement.

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