Social work supervision: can it help children and families?
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Welcome to Learn on the go, a Community Care Inform podcast where we discuss what the latest research, practice models and policy guidance mean to your practice.

This episode is about social work supervision. It covers why supervision is important, what good supervision can do, and if supervision can and does make a difference to children and families. Discussing these questions are David Wilkins, senior lecturer in social work at the Cascade Research Centre at Cardiff University, and Tom Stibbs, principal social worker for children and families for Brighton and Hove City Council. The questions were asked by Ruth Hardy, content editor at Community Care Inform.

Community Care Inform Children subscribers can access a full written transcript of the episode, plus key learning points and messages from research:

2:38: Why is supervision important and what should good supervision do?

9:07: Does supervision need to be reflective?

15:52: What makes for good supervision?

28:18: How can supervision help children and families?

30:55: Final thoughts

Due to poor audio quality we had to remove Tom’s answer to the question on whether supervision can help the people social workers work with. Instead we’ve transcribed this:

Tom Stibbs:Yes, certainly I think it should and it can help the people that social workers work with. I think, as David has said as well, that doesn’t mean that it always does. I think in terms of how it does, I think it goes back to those ideas we’ve been talking about, about how workers reflecting on their practice and their feelings about working with families can actually lead to purposeful planning that makes a difference for families. So actually it’s about reflection that leads to action that does make a difference for families. So that’s something that supervision should be providing.

I think as well just picking up on David’s quote there from Donald Forrester, or a phrase from Donald Forrester, it made me think of another phrase from Donald Forrester, or a phrase that he helped us think about in terms of our model, which is that actually what supervision is trying to do is to help social workers be the best that they can be. And if we do that, that might actually mean that they can help families to be the best that they can be. So actually about us providing that emotional containment to social workers actually means that they can make a difference in terms of working with families.

I think that obviously we do have examples about how that sort of approach in supervision and that kind of curiosity that David was talking about does make a difference in terms of what social workers then go and do in terms of their work with families. And you know, just simple questions as well. You know, things like social workers talking about how they’re working with families in group supervision and then planning, rehearsing, practising how they might talk to families in group supervision. Or even taking back to families that, ‘I’m talking about the work that I’m doing with you in my group supervision and this is what some of my colleagues said we might need to think about.’ So there’s very practical ways that group supervision or other forms of supervision might affect how social workers support families.

Some of the evaluation that we’ve done around our different forms of supervision through our social work health check, which we call Your Voice survey, the feedback we get from social workers is positive in terms of the impact of especially one-to-one supervision but also reflective practice groups and group supervision. And they are positive in their feedback not just about the emotional aspect and the support they get but they do also give positive feedback in terms of it making a difference to their practice.

But I recognise that that’s based on self-report, and I know David’s been working on this with colleagues as well, that there’s more work we could do around actually looking at the detail of how supervision then makes a difference to practice. But I think obviously it’s really important that we recognise that the purpose of supervision is about making a difference for the families that social workers are supporting.

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Wilkins, D and Whittaker, C (2017)
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