Jane Wonnacott is Director of In-Trac Training and Consultancy, UK, and is a qualified social worker, independent trainer and consultant. She has a long-standing interest in supervision and has trained social work supervisors across the UK. She co-wrote, with Tony Morrison, the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s guide and training programme for the supervisors of social workers in the first three years of their professional development.

Jane is author of the new book, Mastering Social Work Supervision – the first book in the brand new JKP series, Mastering Social Work Skills, of which she is also the Series Editor.

In this interview, Jane shares her views on the difference good supervision can make for social work practice, and some of the tools she has helped develop to ensure good supervision.

You are the series editor of the brand new JKP Mastering Social Work Skills series and one of the first books to publish within it, Mastering Social Work Supervision. Can you tell us about the series and the need that it is designed to meet?

The series will be written by social workers who spend most of their working life delivering training across the UK and occasionally further afield. They are therefore in touch with many social workers and hear first-hand the challenges of day-to-day practice. The series draws on this experience and is designed to put into an accessible format the materials and ideas we use in this training. These are designed to give social workers the knowledge and tools to undertake what are frequently challenging and complex tasks.

Supervision has been identified as a critical part of good social work by the Social Work Reform Board, Lord Laming and Eileen Munro. Why is supervision so important?

One of the most important reasons is that good supervision can make a real difference to the outcomes for the users of social work services. Social workers are day in, day out working with situations where emotions are running high and the capacity to make positive working relationships with a variety of people is crucial. This combined with the need to have high-level critical thinking skills and make decisions which will frequently have a profound affect on service users lives means that space is needed to reflect on the emotional impact of the work, the way in which emotions might be influencing their analysis of the situation, the decisions they make and the actions they are taking.

Although social work is always likely to cause social workers a level of anxiety, good supervision should assist in managing this anxiety, reducing stress and helping clarity of thought. Good supervision can benefit social workers by encouraging innovative practice, and helping social workers to focus on the value of the job they are doing. Through good supervision, social workers are far more likely to feel safe in their role, motivated in their work and encouraged to develop their practice.

What are some of the qualities that make a good supervisor?

I would say that one of the most important qualities is self-awareness and overall a high level of emotional intelligence. Supervisors need to be aware of the impact they have on their supervisees and how this might influence what is said within supervision. Supervisors need to be genuinely interested in the work of their supervisees and able to motivate and enthuse the people they are working with. It should be pointed out that this is most likely to happen when supervisors receive the right support themselves – something that is too often neglected.

Is there such a thing as being a good supervisee?

Undoubtedly yes! A relationship is a two-way process and supervisees also have a responsibility to participate, and to come prepared and open for an exploration of their practice. Clearly the organisation has a role here in mandating supervision and ensuring that expectations are clear, as does the supervisor in establishing a safe relationship.

Can there be a tension between supervision as a managerial process for monitoring and as an opportunity for staff development and reflection?

There can be, but this book encourages an approach where this should not be the case. The book argues that, starting from a positive expectations perspective, the quality of performance can be and worked with in a positive way. One participant on a course where the functions of supervision had been split commented that there was a danger of “outsourcing reflection” rather than encouraging reflection as part and parcel of day-to-day case management. At the end of the day, supervision (regardless of who the supervisor is) is an authority relationship and the issue is how this authority is used. My view would be that (in most cases) we need to support managers to supervise well rather than impose a structural solution. There will be exceptions, most notably in integrated teams where the manager is not a social worker.

In your opinion, are social workers currently receiving good supervision?

I think the answer must be that it varies, although there have been signs of improvement with many more participants on our courses eager to consider how to deliver supervision, which includes reflection and encourages critical thinking. The worry is that, with the drastic cuts that are having to be made within the public sector, this progress might be reversed with supervisors left feeling too overwhelmed with work. In fact supervising effectively does not need to take more time but supervisors do need emotionally energy and support.

The book features a model developed by yourself and the late Tony Morrison. Can you tell us about how you came to work with Tony and the model you devised?

I should say that the basic model was fundamentally Tony’s, although I have been using it for nearly twenty years and had developed it particularly in relation to the supervision of child protection practice. Tony had always been a major influence on my work and it was a privilege to work closely with him in developing the supervision model for the national training programme commissioned by the Children’s Workforce Development Council. The model (often referred to as the 4x4x4) takes an integrated approach to supervision, locating the functions of supervision within a framework which acknowledges the impact the supervision will have on all the stakeholders. The supervision cycle is the glue which hold the model together, using an understanding of adult learning to integrate a focus on feelings, thoughts and actions. Later developments of the model which are in this book (and not published elsewhere) include the 6 stage cycle which focuses specifically on the supervision of assessment processes.

The book (and others in the series) are grounded in relevant theory, but focus primarily on practice, and feature useful tools and models throughout. Can you talk about some of the other resources which professionals are likely to find useful in their daily work?

We have drawn on several tools which practitioners will be familiar with and looked at how they apply to the topic concerned. For example, in the supervision book we have used genograms and ecomaps and considered how these might support good supervision. One new tool which we have now used extensively in training is a matrix to help social workers and their supervisors identify discrepant information – an issue that has featured in many serious case reviews.

I hope readers will feel re-energised and enthused about the difference good supervision makes, as well as having some practical tools to help them in the job.

Finally, can you share with us your most positive experience of supervision?

One of the reasons that I am so convinced about the importance of supervision is the experience I had as a trainee social worker over thirty years ago. My supervisor was absolutely committed to social work, genuinely interested in me and how I was developing, challenged me when needed and encouraged me to try out new ways of working. At times I might have taken a few (manageable) risks, but it was a from a safe secure base. I think it was the combination of a supervisor who was motivated herself and able to motivate and encourage others that made the diference.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

4 Thoughts

  1. Hi – I coordinate training on reflective supervision for social work staff in my organisation (local authority) and this looks like a really useful book that we might want to use/purchase copies of. Do you offer inspection copies?

  2. Hi Jane
    I drew from your book to conceptualise my research as I found it very informative and presents current issues in supervision. Can you send /sell me a copy of your thesis as we do not have a copy in our library. I will be grateful to hear from you either.

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