Do you need Safeguarding Supervision?

‘The DSLs interviewed invariably described the programme as ’excellent’, ’great’ …‘very useful’ and ‘valuable’. In one instance the programme was perceived as a ‘life-saver’ as that DSL had been ‘almost on my knees’ due to an increasing workload as a result of her DSL duties.

…DSLs felt they now made fewer inappropriate contacts to children’s social services…they had typically called children’s social services for advice or approval and used them as a ’security blanket’ or form of reassurance whenever a case appeared. Now, all DSLs said they felt more confident and reassured to resist inappropriate contacts.

….The DSLs also felt more able to support families effectively. This included an improved willingness and confidence to contact families and explain the situation to them in the first place. One DSL described how she had previously been more cautious and less likely to speak candidly to families.

…DSLs interviewed had seen a significant improvement in their mental health…increased confidence in the role…reassurance provided by the social worker…had made them doubt themselves less in the role. For the DSLs, this has ‘reduced stress’, made them ‘sleep better’ (rather than ‘rolling around in my sleep thinking about cases and my decisions, and whether they were right’) and reduced the frequency of bringing home concerns about cases.’

Source: ‘Supervision of Designated Safeguarding Leads in Primary schools in Bolton February’ 2021 What works for Children’s Social Care

The raising of awareness of widespread peer sexual abuse in schools continues to impact upon safeguarding services for children. After the publication of the devastating Ofsted report which provided evidence of the scale of the problem, and the real failure of many schools to address it (which I described in my last newsletter [embedded link]), the Department for Education (DfE) then announced a massive expansion of project which aims to provide safeguarding supervision to designated safeguarding leads (DSLs) in schools. A trial already running in 30 areas will be extended to up to 10 new local authorities, working with up to a further 500 schools, including primary, secondary and independents. The programme will also help build the evidence base on what works in supporting safeguarding leads and improving practice. The DfE has not yet made public how the authorities and schools are to be chosen.

The safeguarding supervision will be provided by social workers, and aims to offer DSLs:

  • clarity in their roles and responsibilities
  • support around making decisions and handling potential risk
  • a specific focus on understanding sexual abuse
  • better joined up working across different agencies
  • increase in confidence

An evaluation of a previous trial which took place in Bolton in 2019 – 2020 can be found here:

I have had an interesting journey in my awareness and understanding of supervision. As a teacher, I had no experience of supervision. Like many teachers, I assumed supervision was all about monitoring behaviour and performance, and whether I was up to the job. Later in my career, I learned that supervision is significant part of the working culture of social care, and a key part of the emotional and practical support offered to social workers in their difficult and challenging work. Later I developed my skills and knowledge of supervision whilst working in the Early Years sector (the Early Years Foundation Stage now of course explicitly states the need for supervision of all early years staff). I eventually became the lead for supervision training for social care managers as part of the Social Care training department of Bristol City Council and became pretty obsessed with the concept (one of my participants described me once as ‘a supervision anorak’. Now I offer non-managerial safeguarding supervision for DSLs in schools across the country. There really is a much increased demand for this service and rightly so.

Supervision has been stated repeatedly as a key factor in effective safeguarding in social care. It continues to feature in many Serious Case Reviews as an important factor in addressing the safeguarding needs of children. Lord Laming, who led public inquiries into the death of Victoria Climbie and Peter Connolly stated: ‘Supervision is the cornerstone of good practice.’ Munro, in her thorough study of social work in 2010 said: ‘effective supervision can improve outcomes for children, young people and their families.’

But supervision shouldn’t be just for social workers. Current statutory multi-agency guidance states ‘…all practitioners should have regular reviews of their own practice to ensure they have knowledge, skills and expertise that improve over time.’ (Page 60, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018)  During inspections, Ofsted hopes to see that ‘4.17 Staff and other adults receive regular supervision and support if they are working directly and regularly with children and learners whose safety and welfare are at risk.’ (Ofsted: Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings 2019). With increased safeguarding responsibilities in different agencies (particularly schools), the need for more effective multi agency working, increased stress levels associated with the speed and depth of change in safeguarding practice, and employer liability for that stress (since 2019 Ofsted have now required leaders and managers to consider ‘staff well-being’ in the School Inspection Handbook (Ofsted, 2019) p64) – the need for effective safeguarding supervision has never been more crucial.

The safeguarding supervision I currently offer DSLs is non-managerial – which means that supervisees know that what they say will not play a part in any measure of their performance evaluation. The most important aspect of my service (I am told!) is simply to provide them with an opportunity to speak honestly, openly and confidentially about their experiences, and particularly their emotions. As a safeguarding consultant, I can also offer practical guidance on effective safeguarding practice. Elements of coaching, problem solving and empathetic listening all play a part. After years of providing the service I have distilled 5 key aspects of my supervision, so I aim to:

  • Create a safe, confidential space for self-reflection;
  • Improve standards of safeguarding;
  • Provide support and reduce stress;
  • Reflect upon institutional and team dynamics; and 
  • Clarify development needs.

Please do contact me if you wish to find out more about the non-managerial safeguarding supervision I can offer your setting. Alternatively, consider learning more about the practicing of supervision as a team so you can offer your own inhouse supervision service for staff. I offer training on effective supervision that aims to train participants in supervision skills, including facilitating peer supervision. Look in my brochure [embedded link] for more information.

Some other sources of support for DSLs staff:

  • The mental health charity, the Anna Freud Centre, has developed ‘Ten Ways to Support School Staff wellbeing’. The resource provides some helpful materials and encourages schools to reflect that if they want to make a success of promoting children’s mental health, this can only be achieved by giving the staff wellbeing the consideration it deserves.
  • Extremely useful non-statutory guidance has been recently been published for schools and colleges by the DoE entitled ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing Support in Schools and Colleges’ aiming to help settings develop a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. This includes signposting to help teaching staff know where to go to get the help and support they may need for themselves and their students. Practice suggestions for staff include:

It’s an extremely useful document I recommend every member of the children’s workforce has available for reference: