I recently attended a conference entitled: ‘Reshaping Services for Children and Families’ in Bristol. Much of the conference focused on how to best support professionals who were themselves engaged with supporting the most troubled families in our society. The key note speakers talked about ways to promote resilience in staff teams, workforce development and service transformation to secure sustained change for all.
Dez Holmes, the Director of ‘Research in Practice’, said during her keynote speech that the closest thing to having a magic wand in helping staff to cope with the challenges of Safeguarding work with families was: Effective Supervision.
As a former teacher, I knew nothing about ‘Supervision’ in this context. At school, ‘supervision’ usually meant policing the corridors and the play areas at break times. In other work contexts, it could also mean something that could happen if your work wasn’t up to scratch and if you weren’t trusted to carry out the work unaided.
But when I first started working in a multi-agency team alongside social workers, I quickly learned what ‘Supervision’ meant in terms of safeguarding. Basically, in the culture of social care work, ‘Supervision’ is one-to-one support, given by managers or supervisors to all staff who are carrying out demanding work with children. Supervision should provide opportunities for staff to:
- discuss any issues – particularly concerning children’s development or well-being;
- identify solutions to address issues as they arise; and
- receive coaching to improve their personal effectiveness.
Professionally, staff Supervision has been a normal part of counselling, psychotherapy and social work and is increasingly to be found in related caring professions. At a time of heightened awareness of safeguarding issues, there is increasing recognition that working with children includes a high degree of outreach work and contact with families. Many professionals find themselves working in unfamiliar contexts and dealing with unpredictable and sometimes extreme issues. The need for keeping practice staff ‘safe’ is a priority. If the children’s workforce are to provide the kind of encouragement and support necessary for the support, development and challenge of the children and families, they need to be encouraged, supported and challenged as well.
Effective Supervision should therefore aim to:
- develop confidence, and increase skills, insight and courage when working with children, parents and communities
- establish and maintain a positive and co-operative working relationship between leaders and staff, built on trust, respect and a non-judgemental style
- provide a safe space that encourages reflection and dynamic interaction to address issues and dilemmas experienced by staff members in their work roles
- reduce stress-related absences, and increase confidence in dealing with complex safeguarding and other dilemmas
- ensure organisational and staff accountability and development, thereby promoting reflective, creative, ethical and safe practice
- ensure staff are clear about their roles and responsibilities, and that their practice is consistent with their setting’s values, policies, procedures and quality standards.
- monitor progress in relation to appraisal objectives
- identify and review personal development needs and activities for staff that relate to their roles and the needs of the setting
- model a preferred way of working, which can be transferred to other working relationships
- ensure that children are safeguarded effectively.
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