ArticlePDF Available

Who Is Watching Whom? Surveillance in Australian Social Work Supervision

Authors:

Abstract

Supervisors of social work practice have long grappled with professional and disciplinary expectations and the competing daily organisational demands of a transformed neo-liberal human service environment. This article reports on a study that investigated the practice of supervision in the Australian context and the influences, both managerial and professional, that inform supervision practice. Drawing upon data from an online survey and a series of focus groups with supervisors and supervisees, the study found that there are very real challenges in providing professional supervision in contemporary practice contexts. The findings indicate that the issues generated by the coexistence of professional and managerial discourses in supervision are important to address if the discipline is to resist the negative impact of neo-liberal managerialism.
Who Is Watching Whom? Surveillance
in Australian Social Work Supervision
Ronnie Egan1*, Jane Maidment2, and Marie Connolly3
1
School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT),
Melbourne, Victoria, 3000, Australia
2
Human Services and Social Work Department, School of Language, Social and Political
Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand
3
School of Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Carlton, Melbourne 3053, Australia
*
Correspondence to Professor Ronnie Egan, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, Royal
Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Melbourne, Victoria, 3000, Australia. E-mail:
ronnie.egan@rmit.edu.au
Abstract
Supervisors of social work practice have long grappled with professional and disciplinary
expectations and the competing daily organisational demands of a transformed neo-
liberal human service environment. This article reports on a study that investigated the
practice of supervision in the Australian context and the influences, both managerial
and professional, that inform supervision practice. Drawing upon data from an online
survey and a series of focus groups with supervisors and supervisees, the study found
that there are very real challenges in providing professional supervision in contemporary
practice contexts. The findings indicate that the issues generated by the coexistence of
professional and managerial discourses in supervision are important to address if the dis-
cipline is to resist the negative impact of neo-liberal managerialism.
Keywords: Accountability, audit culture, managerial discourses, neo-liberalism,
supervision
Accepted: October 2015
Introduction
In her review of child protection, Eileen Munro noted some of the adverse
effects managerial practices have on the development of child protection
systems (Munro, 2011). The review reinforced the need for systems that
#The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of
The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
British Journal of Social Work (2015) 1–19
doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcv098
www.basw.co.uk
British Journal of Social Work Advance Access published November 24, 2015
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
value professional expertise and better counterbalance the demands of
bureaucracy. The managerial audit culture (Power, 1996) that generally
gives rise to an increased focus on compliance and a reinforcement of de-
fensive practices is nevertheless difficult to ameliorate. Managerialism
adopts a business approach to efficiency, productivity and fiscal manage-
ment that continues to dominate practice within the human services
(Beddoe and Maidment, 2009). As Lawlor (2013, p. 178) notes from a
UK perspective, ‘the audit culture promotes a culture of administrative
control and is the prominent feature in most social work management
and supervision’.
This article reports on a study that sought to understand the practice of
supervision in the Australian context and the influencing debates that
inform supervision practice. Drawing upon data from an online survey and
a series of focus groups with supervisors and supervisees, the study found
there are very real challenges in providing professional supervision in con-
temporary practice contexts. The findings indicate that the issues generated
by the conditions required to support the coexistence of professional and
managerial discourses in supervision are important to address if the discipline
is to resist the negative impact of neo-liberal managerialism.
Background
The neo-liberal context in human services
During the 1980s, in line with neo-liberal ideology in Australia, New
Zealand, the UK and North America, the provision of health and human
services was transformed on an unprecedented scale, globally and locally.
Until this point, the private sector was ‘not considered appropriate agents
for serving the public interest’ (Adams and Hess, 2000,p.53).Inthis
climate, however, human service provision was deregulated, privatised
and contracted out to private providers, and responsibility for service pro-
vision moved away from the state (Hough, 2003;Webster, 1995). It was
under the Hawke/Keating government during the late 1980s and early
1990s that neo-liberal ideology and techniques began to take hold in Austra-
lia (Hough, 2003). The approach developed by neo-liberal governments
enabled them to translate neo-liberal philosophy into practice through
the process of governance, paralleling similar developments in Britain
and New Zealand. Such processes, by default, impacted on the experience
of supervision with increased numbers of social workers being supervised
by non-social work supervisors, or not at all (Hough, 1999). The Australian
research also acknowledges that the neo-liberal environment had shifted
the focus in supervision, while also lamenting the loss of its professional de-
velopment aspects.
Page 2 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
Supervision within the neo-liberal context
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) notes that social workers
would be more effective in their practice if they experience good supervision
(BASW, 2011). The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW,
2014) agrees, noting particularly the role of supervision in strengthening pro-
fessional skill and competence. Davys and Beddoe define supervision as ‘a
forum for reflection and learning ...[shaping] a process of review, reflection,
critique and replenishment for professional practitioners’ (AASW, 2014,
p. 2). All members of the AASW are expected to engage in supervision as
part of a framework for continued professional development. International-
ly, social work professional associations generally provide considerable
support for supervision and the BASW suggests there has been something
of a renaissance in recent years. The BASW nevertheless notes a caveat relat-
ing to a perceived overemphasis on managerial issues illustrated in the report
for the Social Work Task Force, in which workers ‘regretted the fact that their
supervision was dominated by case management, action planning and targets
and they were more likely to be amongst the group calling for a process which
included the opportunity to reflect, develop, learn and unburden’ (Baginsky
et al., 2009, p. 4).
The historical social work literature indicates that supervision has been an
important instrument in illuminating debates within social work and translat-
ing professional knowledge into practice. Over time, authors internationally
have claimed that the growth of compliance procedures provides evidence of
managerial influences on supervision (Beddoe, 2010;Noble and Irwin, 2009;
Jones, 2004;Phillipson, 2002). Although Lawlor (2013, p. 178) suggests that
the contemporary climate of children’s social care is moving away from
target-driven organisational culture, he concedes that sustaining change is
difficult ‘unless it is integrated into a strategic organizational and culture
change initiative’. Despite recent emphasis on the importance of supervision
to good practice, there are indications that the experience of supervision can
be patchy and sometimes non-existent (Community Care, 2009). While a
recent UK study indicates that 82 per cent of practitioners are receiving
supervision at least once a month, it seems to be generally focused on per-
formance issues and case management (Manthorpe et al., 2015). This
current study explores whether Australia presents a similar picture in
terms of both the practice of supervision and the debates that inform it.
Methodology
This article reports on two connected studies: an online national survey of
supervisees and supervisors, and a series of focus groups drawn from statu-
tory, non-statutory and health/counselling practice settings. The online
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 3 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
survey was used in three ways: first to inform the focus groups; second to
provide information on supervision practice across Australia; and third to
provide qualitative data via open-ended questions within the online survey,
which were then combined with the focus group data. The goal of mixed
methods is to utilise the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative re-
search, and to minimise their weaknesses in order to offer the best opportun-
ities for answering the research questions (Bryman, 2004).
Six hundred and seventy-five participants completed the online survey.
The format for the survey was configured by an online web survey host: Stra-
tegic Data WebSurvey. The role of an online host is to ensure the confiden-
tiality of all participants while also retaining survey integrity in the process.
The researcher worked with the host to set up the online survey process.
This involved: developing and formatting the text required for introducing
the online survey, including its aims, format and instructions for use; develop-
ing and formatting online survey questions; and writing log-on advice for po-
tential participants. The online survey was then configured by the host for
piloting in order to detect problems before going live on the internet. The
finalised online survey set-up, with a tailored URL, was placed on the
home page of the AASW website by the host. The open-ended questions
that provide the qualitative data reported in this article generated 180
pages of text.
With respect to the focus groups, six were drawn from statutory, six from
non-statutory and six from health/counselling practice settings (n¼18
focus groups in total). The statutory groups primarily came from child protec-
tion services, the non-statutory groups from large non-government organisa-
tions, while the health/counselling services groups included those working in
hospitals. Participants were separated into groups of supervisors and groups
of supervisees, and there were four to twelve participants in each focus group.
The focus group discussions explored how individual social work supervisors
and supervisees experienced supervision. The discussions were informed by
the findings of the online survey, particularly issues relating to: accountabil-
ity, challenge and vulnerability; the value of trusting supervisory relation-
ships; professional line management; uses of power; professional practice
and competing demands; and organisational hierarchies. A semi-structured
group interview process was used to acknowledge that not all important ques-
tions can be identified by the researcher prior to running the focus groups
(Rubin and Babbie, 2008).
Data analysis
The quantitative data were entered into SPSS 16 for analysis and a cross-
check was undertaken to ensure accuracy. The qualitative data from both
the open-ended survey questions and the focus groups were combined into
one qualitative dataset. The data analysis was then undertaken using
Page 4 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
NVIVO 7, making the coding and retrieval process more efficient, and pro-
viding confidence that data were not overlooked in the process
Ethical issues
Ethics approval was granted by the Victoria University Ethics Committee.
Organisational ethics applications, required for the participation of staff from
various agencies in the focus groups, were completed. Pseudonyms were used
in the reporting of the findings to protect the anonymity of participants.
Findings
The literature suggested that there is an increased focus on accountability and
monitoring in supervision within the current neo-liberal context of human
service delivery (Lawlor, 2013;Beddoe, 2010;Noble and Irwin, 2009;
Jones, 2004;O’Donoghue, 2003). The participants in this study tended to
confirm this. Five themes were identified from the data derived from the
two studies:
(1) the practice of supervision;
(2) accountability and supervision;
(3) impact of line management on accountability;
(4) access to resources in the organisational hierarchy;
(5) exercise of power and control in supervision.
The practice of supervision
The quantitative survey was used to gather information about the practice of
supervision in Australia. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they
received supervision and, if they did, to identify the type of supervision
experienced. As respondents may have experienced more than one type of
supervision, they could select several from the list. Similarly to the recent
English study (Manthorpe et al., 2015), the majority of survey respondents
indicated that they received some kind of supervision (84 per cent). For
those respondents currently receiving supervision, the majority (62 per
cent) accessed only one type of supervision, with individual supervision pro-
vided by the organisation being the most common type (72 per cent). Peer
supervision provided within the organisation (18 per cent) was the second
most common type of supervision. Twelve per cent of supervised respondents
received external supervision.
For those respondents receiving more than one type of supervision, 46.5
per cent indicated internal individual supervision was the most useful,
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 5 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
leaving over half of those respondents finding alternative supervision types
more useful. ‘Peer supervision provided within my organisation’ was consid-
ered the most useful alternative process (15 per cent) followed by ‘individual
external’ (8 per cent). A small number of respondents chose to write about
supervision that was not useful for them—thirty survey text responses in
all. Rosa from the private not-for-profit sector and Christina from a non-
governmental organisation (NGO) provide typical examples of the kind of
text responses received:
I don’t find individual supervision provided within (my) organization useful,
it is focused on reporting not me (Rosa).
Supervision is not satisfying, rather frustrating and surveillance (Christina).
Respondents to the survey were also asked to identify the frequency of supe r-
vision. Around 7 per cent of respondents said they had weekly supervision, 28
per cent fortnightly supervision, around a third (34 per cent) experienced
supervision once a month and 4 per cent reported they received supervision
four times a year. Twenty-eight per cent indicated that supervision occurred
sporadically. Respondents were asked if they had difficulty accessing super-
vision. Sixty-two per cent reported no difficulties, while 38 per cent reported
that they did encounter difficulties. Of the respondents who reported difficul-
ties (n¼223), 22 per cent identified time constraints as the main contributing
factor.
In terms of the functions of supervision, the survey provided respondents
with a list of supervision functions to choose from. From the highest to the
lowest frequency, the functions were identified as: supportive (64 per cent);
clinical (61 per cent); professional development (52 per cent); administrative
(50 per cent); interpersonal/team issues (37 per cent); educative (34 per
cent); and professionally regulated (3 per cent). These results indicated
multiple functions of supervision, with the most focus on support, clinical,
professional development and administrative.
Accountability in supervision
The qualitative findings, from the survey textual data and the focus groups,
identified issues of accountability in supervision. They identified both posi-
tive and negative aspects. The negative comments incorporated remarks
about ‘monitoring’, ‘reviewing’, ‘checking’ and ‘surveillance’. Vicki, from
the statutory sector, highlighted the importance of accountability from an or-
ganisational perspective: ‘(Supervision) provides a line of accountability for
the organisation ...and line of authority for the management of social work
resources and services at the local level’ (Vicki: 108).
Vicki was one of many respondents who identified the positive aspects of
accountability and monitoring in supervision for the organisation. Survey
respondents also noted the link between supervision and operationalising
Page 6 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
organisational policy and change. They identified the pragmatic accountabil-
ity and legal requirements of supervision, and supervision was positively
identified as the conduit through which the organisational hierarchy imple-
mented administrative change. The language used by survey respondents
about accountability demonstrated a familiarity with the instrumental
aspects of supervision. The participants used similar language to illustrate
the links between policy and practice, and the ways in which supervision
helped to strengthen decision making:
My ability to discuss the impact of government policy ...helps me to make
fair decisions according to policy and legislation (ID 426).
Supervision provides clarity of decision making and adherence to policy and
procedures (ID 153).
The organisational benefits of supervision were also noted by a number of
participants:
It helps to retain competent and experienced staff in the organisation and
avoids situations where poor standards of practice may lead to complaints
or litigation (ID 219).
Supervision providesretention, effectiveand efficient service delivery (ID82).
Marie, from the non-statutory sector, linked supervision to quality control in
social work practice and to the retention of good staff: ‘Supporting the
workers is imperative to creating quality workers and outcomes for clients
and opportunities to support the impact of practice on workers ...not just
the client’s issues but also for longevity in this “field” of work’ (Marie: 14).
However, participants also spoke about the potential for accountability
processes to negatively impact on supervision. The negative language used
by participants suggested that managerialism informed accountability prac-
tices, and that accountability had more to do with compliance than the
support of quality practice. This illustrated the compliance requirements
within organisations operating within a neo-liberal environment (Lawlor,
2013;Hough, 2003). The organisational motivation for accountability and
monitoring in the practice of supervision was evident in the language of the
‘tick and flick’ requirement in supervision. Reinforcing what was considered
to be dominant managerial aspects of accountability were comments such as
the following.
Eloise, from the statutory sector, remarked: ‘They can tick the box to say
they offer it’ (Eloise: 25).
Hugh, from the statutory sector, suggested ulterior motives: ‘Keeps the Ac-
creditation looking good’ (Hugh: 207).
Larry, an NGO respondent, thought it was for the supervisor: ‘Satisfies part
of supervisor’s own job requirements, i.e. to supervise, makes it therefore
more comfortable for supervisor’ (Larry: 368).
Some respondents nevertheless indicated that both managerial and profes-
sional discourses could coexist when exploring issues of accountability. John,
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 7 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
from the statutory sector, identified both purposes of accountability in super-
vision: ‘A holistic approach to supervision ...entails not just a performance
or administration focus but also wellbeing, professional development, etc.’
(John: 111).
Extensive debate about the purpose of accountability and monitoring in
supervision occurred in all focus groups. Supervisors articulated feelings of
being compromised professionally in supervision, acknowledging the differ-
ences between ‘offering genuine support and critical reflection’ and ‘ensuring
that organisational requirements were met’. The literature also noted these
differences impacting on discourses informing social work supervision
(Beddoe, 2010;Jones and Gallop, 2003;Peach and Horner, 2007).
Respondents identified how the purpose of accountability within supervi-
sion was often misconstrued, illustrating the conflict between accountability
and other supervisory functions. Jai, from the statutory sector, rhetorically
questioned the absence of a conflict of interest in the managerial environ-
ment: ‘No conflict of interest between managerial and supervisory functions
in increasingly corporatized workplaces where managers manage above
themselves rather than below?’ (Jai: 124).
In this section, both positive and negative examples of supervision practice
were provided, illustrating the different ways in which accountability was
experienced. The data suggested that, when the purpose of accountability
focused on managerial aspects in supervision at the expense of professional
factors, stress was experienced in supervision.
Impact of line management on accountability
The link between line management and accountability in supervision was
noted in the literature over time (Davys, 2007;Beddoe, 2012). The qualitative
data allowed closer examination of the link and how this arrangement influ-
enced accountability. There were 171 comments made by respondents in the
open survey question about line management and accountability. The major-
ity of those who chose to comment were negative about the line management
process. However, Felicity, from the health and counselling sector, was an ex-
ception, identifying the value of including line managers in supervision:
Peer supervision is very important within the organisation, because formal
one-to-one supervision with my supervisor/line manager doesn’t occur
more than once a year. Having this person also attend peer supervision ses-
sions is a benefit in terms of senior social workers and our line manager
being together to resolve any issues that arise, and being able to deal with
them (Felicity: 193).
Participants spoke specifically about the strains experienced in supervision
when the supervisor was also the line manager, and identified the limitations
of the experience. Libby, from the statutory sector, stated: ‘A supervision
Page 8 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
relationship with a line manager is a different dynamic entirely. If the rela-
tionship with the line manager is poor then professional supervision
suffers. ...I appreciate the internal supervision but it is not satisfying’
(Libby: 421).
Sasha, from the statutory sector, was clear about the distinction between
line management and supervision:
I feel that line management is not supervision and therefore I do not have an
avenue to discuss the impacts of the work on myself personally, or the ability
to feel able to discuss areas where I don’t feel as skilled or confident because
this may be seen as a weakness by the organisation (Sasha: 36).
Other respondents suggested that line management should be separated
from supervision: ‘Supervision should not be about workload planning—
this should be a separate meeting which would then take away some of the
issues in relation to tensions that arise with having a line manager as a super-
visor’ (Sunny: 251).
In the focus group discussions, there were different responses from super-
visor and supervisee groups about line management. Supervisors, in particu-
lar, discussed the tension experienced in their role as line manager alongside
their professional duty of care to supervisees. Julie, a supervisor from a non-
statutory agency, noted that, as a middle manager seeking supervision, ac-
countability was the main focus:
I use supervision to ensure the line manager is aware of problems within the
area—that there are no surprises. In some ways it is protection for me and also
asking for opportunity to have someone else look at how I am managing that
and give me feedback (Julie: 1).
Performance appraisal, undertaken by line managers, as part of supervision,
was another example of accountability and monitoring issues discussed in the
focus groups. The literature cautions against using supervisors to undertake
performance appraisals because there is a risk that they could be used to
punish or justify withholding resources (Waters, 1992). The findings in this re-
search raised similar concerns. The experience of Hasena, a supervisee in the
statutory sector, captured the negative impact there may be of having a super-
visor undertake supervision, line management and performance reviews: ‘...
performance appraisal is used by supervisors to punish supervisees ...that’s
why I’m careful about what I disclose in ANY supervision session because it
will be used against you’ (Hasena: 231).
Similarly for Mesa, from the health and counselling sector: ‘I have seen
people miss out on promotion because they (the supervisor and supervisee)
don’t get on and it’s all happened in the annual review’ (Mesa: 431).
Such comments, while disturbing, serve to capture the implications of using
supervisors to undertake performance appraisals when managerial dis-
courses are dominant within the process. The study indicates that, for
some, the tension between and difficulty reconciling these roles impact on
both the experience of supervision and the potential to provide effective
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 9 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
supervision. At a minimum, the findings suggest there is a need for supervi-
sors in this dual role, to carefully consider how to line manage alongside
other professional aspects of supervision. Discussion in the focus groups
also identified the need for training about how to balance the demands of
line management and professional supervision. Abdi, speaking from a statu-
tory perspective, recognised this: ‘If a supervisor is also an internal line
manager they ought to be trained specifically on managing this dual role
and have their own supervision around this’ (Abdi: 3).
This call for training is constrained, as Australian (Pilcher, 1984;Egan,
2012) and North American surveys (Kadushin, 1992) indicate, by the fact
that access to supervision training is limited. In line with this, the research
participants reinforced the importance of understanding the ostensibly
contradictory roles of line management and supervision. For some, this
contradiction was irreconcilable; for others, there were suggestions about
ways in which it could be managed, such as through training. In any event,
the research findings highlighted the dilemmas associated with dual role of
line manager and supervisor, and the inevitable link with the organisational
hierarchy.
Access to resources in the organisational hierarchy
For the majority of participants in this research, line management repre-
sented the hierarchy of the organisation. Organisational hierarchy ascribes
status to line managers, which facilitates the organisational accountability
and monitoring mechanism. Supervisees commented that, for some supervi-
sors, the higher-status reward in the organisational hierarchy proved too se-
ductive, at times resulting in the supervisor colluding with the hierarchy
against the supervisee. Comments about how the organisational hierarchy
enhanced or hindered the accountability process were noted by 104 partici-
pants. The majority of these comments related to how the organisational hier-
archy often stalled the supervision process by withholding resources. Sue, a
survey respondent from the non-statutory sector, also provided an insight
into how the hierarchy operated: ‘My immediate supervisor will often advo-
cate for me, trouble is that the line management is so hierarchical, that ideas
are diluted/rejected by the time they get to the top’ (Sue: 151).
Most supervisors in the focus groups indicated that navigating the organ-
isational hierarchy was problematic for their role. This navigation was espe-
cially fraught in relation to accessing resources. Supervisors acknowledged
that being more senior in the organisational hierarchy did not automatically
mean resources were more available. Even if supervisees perceived supervi-
sors as being more powerful, the supervisors suggested this was not necessar-
ily the case. There were ways, nevertheless, of negotiating access to resources
when a supervisor was familiar with, and able to use, the system. Sally, a statu-
tory supervisor, spoke about this, while at the same time highlighting the
Page 10 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
systemic difficulties that make negotiation in the organisational hierarchy
complex:
Our line managers may not have immediate resources but if you can identify
the right person ...different structures need to be navigated ...the letter of
the law was more taken into account in some locations and not in others
(Sally: 2).
Other supervisors discussed similar systemic difficulties they faced. Being
candid with supervisees about the limitations of their influence within the or-
ganisational hierarchy was a strategy used by some supervisors. Angelika, a
supervisor from the health and counselling sector, spoke about how she
managed this:
I was going to mention ... the mediation role ...being up front about the hier-
archy and bureaucratic environment that we work in ... everyone knows it’s
there, yes naming it and talking about the processes, trying to get a bit of me-
diation if that’s what’s needed ...talking on behalf of supervisees, if they
don’t feel they can (Angelika: 5).
Organisational hierarchy can create expectations that often conspire against
more collaborative approaches to supervision (Fook, 2002). Participants
found that their ability to collaborate with other social workers across differ-
ent levels was constrained by the inflexibility of the hierarchical system. Man-
aging up while remaining trustworthy as a supervisor—being ‘the meat in the
sandwich’—was a problem encountered by a number of supervisors. Jenna, a
statutory supervisor, spoke of the complex dynamics of retaining confidenti-
ality with her supervisee while also being within a supervisory relationship
with her own supervisor:
My role is to retain confidentiality with eight people, all with different person-
alities and working within a team. There are very strong personalities which
often puts me in difficult position as the supervisor. Then I need to decide
whether I might have to discuss with my supervisor whilst also feeling com-
fortable enough to raise certain issues and trying to create sense of trust
(Jenna: 4).
Such dilemmas challenge professional discourses of supervision. Supervisors
in the focus group from non-statutory organisations identified themselves as
‘middle management’ within the organisational hierarchy, primarily con-
cerned with the supervision of front line workers. They differentiated them-
selves from senior management, who technically supervise them. Such
insights again made transparent the powerlessness some supervisors felt in
the supervision process. A supervisor spoke about this differentiation:
...we are, I think, the level that has to give so much to everyone under us ...
and I think there is an expectation when you get to this level that you are
experienced and are able to cope. But I’m of the belief that the majority of
people, given the skills, can cope, but it doesn’t mean that people cope all
the time (Myra, non-statutory supervisor: 3).
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 11 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
This raises important questions about who is supervising the supervisors.
While organisational charts make it easy to see how supervisors as middle
managers fit within a hierarchical system, the nature of the roles and expecta-
tions of different levels is inevitably more complex. Supervisors, specifically
from statutory organisations, spoke about an organisational hierarchy that
left them out of recruitment and resource allocation decision making—some-
thing that gave them less authority, and therefore less power. This exclusion
has an impact on their perceived authority as a supervisor and makes trans-
parent the powerlessness supervisors felt in their role. Ambiguities in super-
visor expectations contributed to confusion about accessing resources and
made issues of authority more complicated. Navigating the hierarchy pre-
sented key challenges particularly but not exclusively for supervisors, and po-
tentially worked against forging collaborative partnerships in supervision.
Exercise of power and control in supervision
While power and authority are exercised across the organisational hierarchy,
perhaps inevitability they are also part of a dynamic that features within the
primary supervisory relationship. Within this context, power and control
become part of the accountability and monitoring process in social work
supervision. Resources are accessed through the exercise of power and
control, and this issue was discussed by participants. Both positive and nega-
tive examples of the power exchange were raised, drawing upon different dis-
courses. Most supervisees in the focus groups acknowledged the impact of
power on the supervisory relationship as limiting what they were prepared
to disclose. Ang, a supervisee in a health and counselling agency, provided
an example of how the power dynamic limited what she was prepared to
discuss within the supervisory relationship: ‘Always it’s about accountability
and she has more power and influence so supervision isn’t as free as it could
be. I’m always conscious of this tension’ (Ang: 6).
Ang was not complaining about the power differential, but rather identify-
ing it as a consideration in her experience. She spoke about tempering what
she would say because the supervisor had more power than her. The use of
positional power within supervision can illustrate the difference between a
managerial approach to supervision and one informed by professional
values. Doris, a supervisor in a health and counselling organisation, also
noted the inevitable power imbalance within the supervisory relationship
and the importance of this dynamic being transparent:
...you have to name the hierarchy .... The power imbalance is there so that’s
the tension .... So it is a hard one but I also try to have that at the forefront
because if we don’t try and be as honest as we can it’s just ticking the box
(Doris: 5).
Doris’s comment captured the power imbalance, but indicated that this did
not automatically lead to ‘tick the box’ supervision.
Page 12 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
Participants noted surveillance dimensions of accountability, suggesting
how power and control were operationalised in supervision, and the findings
illustrated how the exercise of power and control was closely related to ac-
countability and monitoring processes. This resonates with the language of
Snooper-vision’, which emphasises the negative surveillance function of
supervision (Kadushin and Harkness, 2002, p. 18).
Discussion
Social work is a demanding profession and supervision can provide an im-
portant support for practitioners confronting the daily challenges of practice.
The BASW (2011) observes that good-quality supervision also impacts posi-
tively on practice effectiveness. While the majority of respondents in this
research indicated that they do receive supervision (84 per cent), fewer (69
per cent) reported having supervision at least once a month. This differs
from the recent study in the UK where over three-quarters of the respondents
(82 per cent) received supervision at least once a month (Manthorpe et al.,
2015). For new practitioners, however, once a month is likely to be less
than adequate, as a respondent in the UK study notes: ‘[supervision] every
three to four weeks ... can be a long time for a newly-qualified member of
staff who might be making mistakes in that time’ (Manthorpe et al., 2015,
p. 58). While open-door supervision practices can help in responding to the
immediate needs of practitioners, providing scaled supervision—graduated
over time as practitioners gain experience—is likely to be a better use of
supervision resources. Recently, the AASW (2014) recognised this, in its
supervision standards, requiring that new social work graduates and/or
social workers entering a new field ofpractice should have fortnightly supervi-
sion. Organisationalcommitment to providingregular supervisionis neverthe-
less questionable when considered in light of this Australian study, in which
almost a third of the respondents accessed supervision only sporadically.
Frequency of supervision is, however, no measure of its helpfulness. The
nature of the exchange will determine whether supervision is effective in sup-
porting practitioners. The BASW (2011, p. 7) recognises the importance of
managerial functions within supervision, but notes that ‘this should not be
to the detriment of the other functions of supervision, particularly the func-
tions of reflective practice and personal development’. Respondents in this
study recognised the importance of both managerial and professional dis-
courses, but it is clear that there is an imbalance in favour of managerialism.
Coexisting discourses in supervision
The language used in responses to the study provides insights into partici-
pants’ construction of social work supervision in Australia. Managerial and
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 13 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
professional discourses were spoken of differently. The professional dis-
course was clearly informed by social work values. The use of a professional
discourse indicated a positive experience of supervision when the relation-
ship between supervisor and supervisee was a trusted one. The need for
accountability was understood as a necessary and essential part of the super-
vision process. When participants spoke about the values underpinning the
social work profession, a professional discourse was evident in the way they
spoke about the values-driven discipline of social work. The professional
values promoting principles of social justice and human rights were identified
as integral to social work service delivery.
In contrast, the managerial discourses were informed by technical account-
ability and monitoring requirements, spoken about by research participants
as the ‘gateway through which managerialism was incorporated into prac-
tice’. It was the language the participants used to describe line management
that most clearly separated the two discourses, and the perceived helpfulness
of each. Conversations relating to line management tended to focus nega tive-
ly on accountability and monitoring, particularly when there was an absence
of values-driven professional conversations.
This study identifies that line management has, in some cases, been substi-
tuted for professional supervision, which confirms what commentators in the
literature have been suggesting for some time (Beddoe, 2012;Jones, 2004;
Munson, 2002;O’Donoghue, 2003). The research also suggests that blurred
boundaries between managerial and professional aspects of supervision
can increase the risk of authority being used coercively, raising questions
about the experience of professional supervision in practice across Australia.
It is clear that the rhetoric of the ideal in supervision is not matched by the
reality for all supervisees in practice.
The qualitative findings highlight that the experiences of some of the re-
search participants are negatively affected by the dominance of managerial
discourses. It is nevertheless also clear from the research that participants
can articulate the benefits of the professional discourse in supervision for
themselves, their clients and their organisations, suggesting that both
professional and managerial discourses can coexist within the context of
supervisory practice. Over 60 per cent of survey respondents had their
own line manager as their supervisor, with a significantly greater propor-
tion of supervisees in the statutory sector having this arrangement. In
Beddoe’s (2012) study of supervision in New Zealand, participants ‘did
not exclude the possibility that internal supervision could meet their
needs’. In that study, relationship and transparency were found to be im-
portant. In our study, when supervisors are able to appropriately manage
the conflicts and balance the discourses, it is clear that trusting relationships
can indeed develop with supervisees, making supervision a more rewarding
experience.
Page 14 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
Separating managerial and professional functions
Given the neo-liberal environment is likely to continue with its focus on
quality assurance, staff appraisal and managerial functions, a case could be
made to separate the managerial components of supervision from its support-
ive functions. This idea is not new, as there have been similar calls in earlier
literature (Bradley and Ho
¨jer, 2009;Brown and Bourne, 1996;Jones, 2004).
Scandinavian and European models of supervision do just this, separating
line management from professional supervision, with positive evaluations
from social workers about its value (Dellgran and Ho
¨jer, 2005). It is clear
that retaining the two functions within a line management arrangement can
lead to mistrust and suspicion of the supervisor, making it difficult to truly
fulfil the professional role. Separating the functions has the potential to
enable better integration of the personal and professional dimensions of
complex practice. Within this research, participants identified the benefits
of this separation, including: opening up more flexible supervision options
for them to pursue; creating a more intensive focus on skill and professional
development; providing more opportunities to utilise and create practice
knowledge; and better clarification of the role of line management to ensure
that it is not mistaken for professional supervision. There is an argument to
suggest that separation leaves no confusion about the different aspects and
functions of supervision.
A shift towards separating managerial and professional functions is,
however, not necessarily without its problems. The European experience
suggests that the widespread development of external supervision options
has effectively resulted in its privatisation (Busse, 2009;Beddoe, 2012).
There is a danger with this approach in that shifting supervision to external
organisations diminishes professional efficacy in exerting pressure for organ-
isation change (Bradley and Ho
¨jer, 2009). Indeed, Beddoe (2012) notes that,
while external supervision might solve some problems, it might also create
others, particularly when an external supervisor is unable to monitor when
a practitioner is at risk or posing a risk to others.
Research indicates that, in the experience of the majority of Australian social
workers, line management and professional supervision occur within the one
role (Egan, 2012). This indicates that it is possible to retain and strengthen
line management-supervisory arrangements so they more effectively manage
the competing tensions inherent in that role. While earlier research suggested
that supervision can only be offered by a line manager accountable for the sub-
ordinate’s practice (Clare, 1991;Scott and Farrow, 1993), our research raises
questions about what can be done when a dominance of managerial discourses
impact negatively on supervision in the context of line management. Whilst the
roles of line manager and supervisor are clearly not always in conflict, organisa-
tional interests differ from worker interests. Service providers need to acknow-
ledge the tensions and contradictions evident in the line manager-supervisor
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 15 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
model and then provide the basis for managing them. From an organisational
perspective, being transparent about the inherent tensions is important, and
training in managing those tensions would do much to help address the concerns
raised both in the literature and in the findings of this research. Indeed, a
number of participants in this study suggested that supervisors undertaking
both roles would benefit from training in how to manage the dual expectations.
Management and leadership
The role of the social work supervisor in human services is multifaceted. It
provides the conduit through which staff on the front line access support, ad-
vocacy and resources to help them in their work. The supervisor also facili-
tates aspects of the organisation’s expectations and, in doing so, mediates
the impact of organisational demands. It is perhaps not surprising that super-
visors sometimes feel like the ‘meat in the sandwich’—something that parti-
cipants articulated in this research. Supervisors felt that they were expected
to advocate for team resources, while at the same time feeling powerless to do
so within an organisational hierarchy.
Overcoming conflicting challenges within a supervisory role requires the
building of relationships both up and down—with the team and senior man-
agement. Effectively interacting with people across the organisational struc-
ture is likely to result in positive working relationships and better outcomes
for the team (Pecora et al., 2010). The sense of trust that is created through
the development of a people-oriented leadership style (Maxwell, 2013)
encourages supervisors to model openness, transparency and fairness, and
plan accordingly. This process involves building strategic leadership skills
that are not necessarily related to positional power, such as remaining posi-
tive, creating a context of problem solving and innovation, and focusing on
people development. Inevitably, there are times when management expecta-
tions and decisions can be frustrating, and may impact negatively on morale.
Indeed, supervisors may feel equally downcast. This is when it can be helpful
to draw connections between day-to-day operations and the broader vision of
the work that supports the interests and aspirations of service users. This ap-
proach will encourage practitioners to reconnect with their deeper motiva-
tions to work with people.
Conclusion
It is clear that both professional and managerial discourses influence the prac-
tising of supervision across Australia. It is also clear that there are times when
the managerial focus has the potential to undermine professional values, cre-
ating tensions and dilemmas for both supervisors and supervisees. Approach-
ing these inevitable tensions transparently and working through the issues
Page 16 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
relating to coexisting discourses is an important task for organisations, and an
area in which professional associations can demonstrate leadership. Given
the importance attributed to supervision in social work, it is equally import-
ant to progress towards making the experience as positive and effective as it
can be.
References
Adams, D. and Hess, M. (2000) ‘Alternatives to competitive tendering and privatisation: A
case study from the Australian health industry’, Australian Journal of Public Adminis-
tration,59(1), pp. 4959.
Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) (2014) Supervision Standards—2014,
available online at www.aasw.asn.au/document/item/6027.
Baginsky, M., Moriarty, J., Manthorpe, J., Stevens, M., MacInnes, T. and Nagendran, T.
(2009) Social Workers’ Workload Survey Messages from the Frontline: Findings from
the 2009 Survey and Interviews with Senior Managers, available online at www.kcl.ac.
uk/sspp/policy-institute/scwru/pubs/2010/baginskyetal2010social.pdf.
Beddoe, L. (2010) ‘Surveillance or reflection: Professional supervision in “the risk
society”’, British Journal of Social Work,40(4), pp. 127996.
Beddoe, L. (2012) ‘External supervision in social work: Power, space, risk, and the search
for safety’, Australian Social Work,65(2), pp. 197213.
Beddoe, L. and Maidment, J. (2009) Mapping Knowledge for Social Work Practice: Critical
Intersections, Melbourne, Cengage Learning.
Bradley, G. and Ho
¨jer, S. (2009) ‘Supervision reviewed: Reflections on two different social
work models in England and Sweden—Granskad handledning: reflektioner handlednings-
modeller i England och Sverige’, European Journal of Social Work,12(1), pp. 71 – 85.
British Association of Social Workers (BASW) (2011) ‘BASW/CoSW England research
on supervision in social work, with particular reference to supervision practice in
multi disciplinary teams’, England Document, available online at http:// cdn.basw.co.
uk/upload/basw_13955-1.pdf.
Brown, G. and Bourne, I. (1996) The Social Work Supervisor: Supervision in Community,
Day Care, and Residential Settings, Buckingham, Philadelphia, Open University Press.
Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Busse, S. (2009) ‘Supervision between critical reflection and practical action’, Journal of
Social Work Practice,23(2), pp. 15973.
Clare, M. (1991) ‘Supervision and consultation in social work: A manageable responsibil-
ity?’, Australian Social Work,44(1), pp. 310.
Community Care (2009) Unison: High Vacancies and Rising Caseloads Risk Another Baby
P, 26 January 2009, available from http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2009/01/
26/110535/unison-high-vacancies-and-rising-caseloads-risk-another-baby-p.htm.
Davys, A. (2007) ‘Active participation in supervision: A supervisee’s guide’, in D. Wepa
(ed.), Clinical Supervision in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Health Perspective, Auckland,
Pearson, pp. 2642.
Dellgran, P. and Ho
¨jer, S. (2005) ‘Privatisation as professionalisation? Attitudes, motives
and achievements among Swedish social workers’, European Journal of Social Work,
8(1), pp. 3962.
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 17 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
Egan, R. (2012) ‘Australian social work supervision practice in 2007’, Australian Social
Work,65, pp. 17184.
Fook, J. (2002) Social Work: Critical Theory and Practice, London, Sage Publications.
Hough, G. (1999) ‘The organisation of social work in the customer culture’, in B. Pease
and J. Fook (eds), Transforming Social Work Practice: Postmodern Critical Perspec-
tives, St Leonards, NSW, Allen and Unwin, pp. 4254.
Hough, G. (2003) ‘Enacting critical practice in public welfare contexts’, in J. Allan, B. Pease
and L. Briskman (eds), Critical Social Work, St. Leonards, NSW, Allen and Unwin,
pp. 21427.
Jones, J. and Gallop, L. (2003) ‘No time to think: Protecting the reflective space in chil-
dren’s services’, Child Abuse Review,12(2), pp. 1016.
Jones, M. (2004) ‘Supervision, learning and transformative practices’, in N. Gould
and M. Baldwin (eds), Social Work, Critical Reflection and the Learning Organisation,
Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing.
Kadushin, A. (1992) ‘Supervisor and supervisee: An updated survey’, The Clinical Super-
visor,10(2), pp. 927.
Kadushin, A. and Harkness, D. (2002) Supervision in Social Work 4th edn, New York, Col-
umbia University Press.
Lawlor, D. (2013) ‘A transformation programme for children’s social care managers using
an interactional and reflective supervision model to develop supervision skills’, Journal
of Social Work Practice,27(2), pp. 17789.
Manthorpe, J., Moriarty, J., Hussein, S., Stevens, M. and Sharpe, E. (2015) ‘Content and
purpose of supervision in social work practice in England: Views of newly qualified
social workers, managers and directors’, British Journal of Social Work,45, pp. 52 –68.
Maxwell, J. C. (2013) How Successful People Lead, New York, Centre Street.
Munro, E. (2011) The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report: A Child-Centred
System, London, Department for Education, available online at www.gov.uk/
government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175391/Munro-Review.pdf.
Munson, C. E. (2002) Handbook of Clinical Social Work Supervision, New York, Haworth
Press.
Noble, C. and Irwin, J. (2009) ‘Social work supervision: An exploration of the current chal-
lenges in a rapidly changing social, economic and political environment’, Journal of
Social Work,9(3), p. 345.
O’Donoghue, K. (2003) Restoring Social Work Supervision, Palmerston North, NZ,
Dunmore Press.
Peach, J. and Horner, N. (2007) ‘Using supervision: Support or surveillance’, in
M. Lymbery and K. Postle (eds), A Companion to Learning. London, Sage.
Pecora, P. J., Cherin, D., Bruce, E., Arguello, T. and de, J. (2010) Strategic Supervision: A
Brief Guide for Managing Social Service Organizations, Los Angeles, Sage.
Phillipson, J. (2002) ‘Supervision and being supervised’, in R. Adams, L. Dominelli
and M. Payne (eds), Critical Practice in Social Work, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Pal-
grave.
Pilcher, A. (1984) ‘The state of social work supervision in Victoria according to the practi-
tioners’, Australian Social Work,37(3), pp. 3343.
Power, M. (1996) The Audit Explosion, Demos, London.
Rubin, A. and Babbie, E. R. (2008) Research Methods for Social Work, 6th edn, Belmont,
CA, Thomson Higher Education.
Scott, D. and Farrow, J. (1993) ‘Standards of social work supervision in child welfare and
hospital social work’, Australian Social Work,46(2), pp. 3341.
Page 18 of 19 Ronnie Egan et al.
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
Waters, J. G. (1992) The Supervision of Child Protection Work, Aldershot, Hants,
Avebury.
Webster, T. (1995) ‘Economic rationalism: The nature, influence and impact of the doc-
trine over the last decade in Australia’, Australian Social Work, 48(4), pp. 41 –47.
Who Is Watching Whom? Page 19 of 19
by guest on January 11, 2016http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
... With respect to settings, there was a range represented in the social work supervision literature: child welfare/ child protection/child and family practice; children's mental health; health; mental health/counselling; supportive housing; corrections; home care, human rights work; rural; and community work. Some studies involved social workers across settings (e.g., Egan et al. 2016;Hair 2013; Peled-Avram 2017), whereas certain conceptual and empirical articles did not specify settings (e. g., Ingram 2013; Knight 2017; Patterson 2017). ...
... Ten of the mixed methods studies involved analyses of survey responses (i.e., Beddoe et al. 2016;Hair 2013Hair , 2014Hair , 2015Howard et al. 2016;Hunt et al. 2016;Hutchings et al. 2016;Lusk et al. 2017;Turner-Daly and Jack 2017). Twenty-four of the studies were qualitative and used a variety of methods; including interviews, focus groups, and case studies (Baines et al. 2014;Beddoe et al. 2014;Benton et al. 2017;Birkholm Antczak et al. 2017;Blue et al. 2014;Caras and Sandu 2014;Choy-Brown et al. 2016;Cooksey-Campbell et al. 2013;Davys 2017;Egan et al. 2016Egan et al. , 2017Engelbrecht 2013;Harlow 2016;Lam and Yan 2015;McPherson et al. 2016;Mo and Tsui 2016;O'Donoghue 2014;Pack 2015;Robinson 2013;Saltiel 2017;Vito 2015;Ward 2013;Wilkins et al. 2017). Ten of the studies were quantitative. ...
... And external supervision being the most evaluated Howard et al. 2016;Mo and Tsui 2016). While the neoliberal discourse and impact on supervision was well-addressed in the literature (Baines et al. 2014;Beddoe 2010;Egan et al. 2016;Engelbrecht 2015;Hair 2014Hair , 2015Vito 2015), so was supervision in practice (Egan et al. 2016;Manthorpe et al. 2015;Turner-Daly and Jack 2017;Wilkins et al. 2017)-with differing experiences of the impact across settings and geographical location. Understanding supervision in practice in different contexts is important in realizing other recommendations put forth in the supervision reviews. ...
Article
Full-text available
Supervision of staff has a rich history within the social work profession, and is widely valued internationally for the support, knowledge, and skill it is perceived to provide. Moreover, quality supervision is championed for ensuring good client care. However, supervisors practicing within the social work profession have not typically had access to best practice information, nor accessed the parallel research related to the supervision of staff. A supervision primer provides an orientation to the supervision literature, including definitions and disciplinary perspectives. This sets the stage for a scoping review of social work supervision articles for the purpose of supporting supervisors in keeping current, locating, understanding, and applying literature to their practice. Seventy-nine conceptual and empirical articles first-authored by social workers were published in 36 journals between 2013 and 2017. The volume, location, context and nature of these articles are presented, pointing to an increased social work presence in the literature. Implications for supervisory practice, scholarship, and research are discussed.
... Supervisees and supervisors personally constructed and understood supervision from their experiences. Amongst supervisees, the evidence shows a preference for supervision that was focused on their education, support and practice rather than administrative matters Egan, Maidment, & Connolly, 2016;Kadushin, 1992;O'Donoghue et al., 2005O'Donoghue et al., , 2006O'Donoghue, 2012;Pack, 2012). Amongst supervisors there was an understanding of supervision as a relationship and reflective process that was concerned with organisational and professional accountability, development and support (Bourn & Hafford-Letchfield, 2011;Kadushin, 1992;O'Donoghue et al., 2005O'Donoghue et al., , 2006Pack, 2012;Wong & Lee, 2015). ...
... Supervisees and supervisors personally constructed and understood supervision from their experiences. Amongst supervisees, the evidence shows a preference for supervision that was focused on their education, support and practice rather than administrative matters Egan, Maidment, & Connolly, 2016;Kadushin, 1992;O'Donoghue et al., 2005O'Donoghue et al., , 2006O'Donoghue, 2012;Pack, 2012). Amongst supervisors there was an understanding of supervision as a relationship and reflective process that was concerned with organisational and professional accountability, development and support (Bourn & Hafford-Letchfield, 2011;Kadushin, 1992;O'Donoghue et al., 2005O'Donoghue et al., , 2006Pack, 2012;Wong & Lee, 2015). ...
... Nearly twenty years later however, Morrison and Wonnacott's (2010) urgings that practice audit be removed from social work supervision and for supervision to primarily concern exploration and critical analysis of practice, suggests that little has changed. And, whilst the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) adopted a definition of professional supervision in social work which explicitly names supervision as "a forum for reflection and learning" (AASW, 2014), the gap between the rhetoric and practice is evidenced in continuing reports from social workers of supervision agendas which deal primarily with targets and outcomes (Egan, Maidment, & Connolly, 2015;Manthorpe, Moriarty, Hussein, Stevens, & Sharpe, 2013). ...
Article
Full-text available
INTRODUCTION: With its origins grounded in the apprenticeship tradition it is perhaps notsurprising that social work adheres to a model of supervision where both supervisor and supervisee are social workers and where it is common for social workers to be supervised by their line manager. Interprofessional supervision, where the participants do not share the same profession, and which is frequently external to the social worker’s organisation, therefore presents a challenge to traditional social work supervision practice.METHODS: Expert stakeholders were interviewed to explore their experiences ofinterprofessional supervision. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews and topdown analysis employed to identify themes. The views of nine supervisees and nine supervisors are reported.FINDINGS: The participants represented a range of professions but the data collected revealed common themes. Participants highlighted the importance of being able to choose a supervision partner and to establish a contract where lines of accountability were explicit. Knowledge about supervision was considered vital and supervision competence was expected of the supervisor.The key benefits were a greater understanding of one’s own profession and an appreciation and respect for difference. Lack of clinical accountability was considered a limitation but not an obstacle.CONCLUSION: The reports of these participants indicate a shift from supervision as an in-house process to one which is chosen, negotiated and collaborative. Through their awareness of the need for professional development and accountability, the participants demonstrated a depth of professional responsibility and an ability to stand alongside their profession in the presence of ‘other’.
... Supervision, which has been a key component of social work practice since the early days of the profession ( Davys & Beddoe, 2010;Pettes, 1967), has in recent decades become the focus of critique and some concern (O' Donoghue, 2015;Morrison & Wonnacott, 2010). While striving to maintain a practice base of critical analysis, reflection and learning, many social workers, both internationally and in Aotearoa New Zealand, navigate a work environment characterised by efficiencies of staffing and material resources and shaped by policies of risk management and service targets ( Beddoe, 2016;Egan, Maidment, & Connolly, 2015). At this interface of organisational, professional and practice imperatives, it is inevitable that professional supervision would become contested territory as supervisees and supervisors struggle to reconcile supervision as a place of organisational control and/or of reflection and development ( Beddoe, 2010;Laming, 2009;O'Donoghue & Tsui, 2013). ...
Article
Full-text available
INTRODUCTION: The question of whether the practice of professional supervision is effective, and how its effectiveness can be measured, has been debated by both social work and other professions. This study explored how practitioners, supervisors and managers in Aotearoa New Zealand currently evaluate the supervision they receive, provide and/or resource. The study was interprofessional involving counsellors, mental health nurses, psychologists and social workers. This article focuses on the findings from the social work cohort.METHODS: Through an on-line Qualtrics survey participants were asked: 1) how they currently evaluated professional/clinical supervision; and 2) how they thought professional/clinical supervision could be evaluated. Data were extracted through the Qualtrics reporting functions and thematic analysis was used to identify themes. A total of 329 participants completed the survey of which 145 (44%) were social workers. FINDINGS: A majority of the social work participants reported that they evaluated supervision in some form. No culture or policy emerged regarding supervision evaluation, but social workers expressed interest in training and resources to assist evaluation and some saw a supportive and endorsement role for the professional or regulatory bodies. An unexpected finding was reports of unsatisfactory and harmful supervision.CONCLUSION: Evaluation of supervision is an activity with which social workers engage, but further research is needed to explore how evaluation can be embedded in supervision practice. More critically, a broader audit is required to reconsider the definition and model of social work supervision in Aotearoa New Zealand and the environments within which supervision occurs.
Article
The importance of supervision is largely taken for granted within social work. Yet it can often seem as if policy-based descriptions of what supervision 'should be' are disconnected from the realities of practice. In this study, we sought to understand the perspectives of social workers and supervisors about what supervision is and what it is for. Interviews were undertaken with social workers (n=56) and supervisors (n=10) in one authority in England between September 2018 and March 2019. We identified three functions of supervision-accountability, emotional support and providing a different perspective. Supervisors were expected to be constantly available for their staff yet had insufficient time to engage in what they considered to be reflective discussions. Supervision was considered to be primarily a mechanism for worker accountability, with support and education being much more ad-hoc functions. These findings suggest that while workers are not wholly negative about case management approaches to supervision, there is a pressing need to define reflection more clearly and articulate what it looks like in practice and how else, if not via supervision, it can be enabled within statutory services for children and families.
Article
Supportive supervision is an important but often over-looked practice in contemporary social work, often assisting in maintaining practitioner well-being. The following research explores how eleven social workers in Australia experience supportive supervision and its impact on their well-being and job satisfaction. The research used interpretative phenomenological analysis to reveal the complex and important role supportive supervision has for social workers, working within risk-adverse, managerialist settings. Participants revealed how supportive supervision allowed them to feel cared for and valued within their work environment. This was contrasted with their experience of the tokenistic supervision they received in many agencies leading to feelings of emotional unsafety in the workplace. Whilst social work is inherently an emotionally driven profession, this study revealed how supervisory practices that focus on risk and surveillance place supportive supervision as an afterthought. This research highlights the importance of supportive supervision in ‘caring for the carers’ in front line social work positions.
Article
Full-text available
As a result of rapid aging around the globe, the demand for social services including professional social work is continuously on the rise. Hence, it is necessary to give the “state of the art” of social work theory and practice a systematic review and assessment in order to promote further advancement and change in response to the significant social development need. From an international and historical perspective, this paper reviews related research literature and explores and assesses the preparation of social work professionals at home and abroad in dealing with the population aging challenge. Major existing issues are pointed out as well as likely future research direction and foci. We also hope to benefit the advancement of Chinese social work by updating our scholars and practitioners on useful theories and methods from the international forefront. Journal publication: Society & Public Welfare (Tsinghua Social Work Review), 2018, 6:62-68.
Article
Social work research and literature in the area of supervision tends to focus on the supervision of field education students. Less attention is given to the supervision of social work practitioners and there is almost no information that examines how social workers become supervisors. This exploratory study interviewed 27 practicing social work supervisors across different fields of social work practice in Western Canada. The participants included 15 supervisors with a graduate degree and 12 supervisors with an undergraduate degree. The supervisors completed a brief questionnaire that was followed by a structured interview. Supervisors were asked how they came to be social work supervisors. Thematic analysis of the supervisors’ responses revealed three pathways to supervision: task exposure, supervision by happen chance, and deliberate decision. The responses suggested that additional focus on supervision might be included in undergraduate education and that universities, professional associations, and employers pay more attention to succession planning.
Article
Located within a context of widespread change social work professionals are required to navigate tensions between organisational imperatives and developing effective relationships with families. Achieving effective partnership working is premised on the development of relational ways of working where trust is formed through co-creation. The recent emergence of 'Fast-track' approaches in education and training reflects a shift away from developing skills in critical/analytical reflection, towards an employer-led approach that prioritises the need for 'ready practitioners'. Simultaneously there has been change in the family justice system, culminating in the Children and Families Act 2014 and the 26-week time frame for the completion of care cases. This paper explores current contradictions within social work practice. Pivotal is defining the role of social work within a contemporary English jurisdiction. Adopting deeper relational ways of working with families may help to define the boundaries of a profession that appears to have lost its identity. Rather than facing the prospect that the door is closed on the possibility of reclaiming practice that prioritises and values professional judgement and discretion, this paper reflects upon some positive examples of relational work with families by social workers within different sectors of practice.
Article
Full-text available
Social work supervision is receiving renewed attention internationally with calls for it to be remodelled and given greater priority, this paper uses data from a longitudinal study in England, which involved: three online surveys of Newly Qualified Social Workers (NQSWs); an online survey of Directors and face-to-face interviews with 23 social work managers which enabled us to investigate the receipt of supervision and its provision. Data on the frequency of supervision were analysed in relation to other job-related factors reported by NQSWs alongside information on NQSWs' views of the content of supervision. Findings suggest a tapering of supervision for social workers as they become more experienced but the overall level of supervision appears to be both limited and variable. NQSWs appreciated supervision from managers, and this affects their engagement with their work. Managers reported pressures of time in providing sufficient supervision. Directors conveyed their perception of the importance of supervision but indicated that there may be blurring of supervision as more structured support for NQSWs becomes part of the requirements for those in their first year in the profession. Greater attention should be given to investigating the effectiveness of supervision and to the support of those managers who are expected to provide it.
Article
Full-text available
In this paper, I describe a programme to promote interactional and reflective supervision for managers in children's services. The programme works at whole system change to embed a culture of reflective practice and management.
Book
Full-text available
The first comprehensive New Zealand text on supervision. It marks a paradigm shift in how we conceptualise and practice supervision and invites the practitioner and supervisor to engage in the process of deconstruction and reconstruction of their supervision story and practice in order to meet the needs of people they work with.
Article
Full-text available
The purpose of this article is to discuss the relationship between privatisation and professionalisation in social work. In social services, privatisation is often seen as a politically planned (policy-driven) process as part of liberalisation strategies for market orientation of the welfare state. However, there are several reasons to believe that there is also a process of spontaneous privatisation (sometimes driven by demand), where professionals go private and provide various types of services to local welfare authorities. In this article, our aim is to explore the extent, impact and consequences of such profession-driven privatisation and to discuss whether privatisation is a strategy for professionalisation. This article investigates: (1) attitudes among social workers and social work students toward privatisation in general and private practice in particular; (2) the extent and types of activities being performed privately; (3) the motives whether or not to choose self-employment; (4) the differences between public and self-employed social workers in terms of professionalisation. Data are based on surveys of 1,000 Swedish social workers and 801 social work students. The results show ambivalence among professionals toward privatisation. The authors discuss the reasons for this at an individual and collective level. Although the share of social workers in private practice in Sweden is low, between 6 and 8%, more than one third of Swedish social workers expect to be working in private practice within 10 years. The circumstances faced by self-employed social workers, who rank higher on almost every professionalisation indicator (i.e. formal education, attitude toward research, internal status, wage level, autonomy), support the hypothesis about profession-driven privatisation. Avsikten med denna artikel är att diskutera relationen mellan privatisering och professionalisering i socialt arbete. Inom det sociala området betraktas privatisering oftast som en politiskt planerad (policydriven) process enligt en marknadsorienterad strategi för välfärdsstaten. Det finns dock åtskilliga skäl att anta att vi kan iaktta en spontan privatisering (ibland behovsdriven), där professionella startar privata verksamheter och erbjuder olika typer av service till de lokala myndigheterna. Syftet med denna artikel är att utforska omfattningen, inriktningen och konsekvenserna av sådan professionsdriven privatisering och att diskutera privatisering som en strategi för professionalisering. Artikeln undersöker: (1) attityder till privatisering i allmänhet och till privata verksamheter i socialt arbete i synnerhet bland socionomer och socionomstudenter; (2) omfattningen av och inriktningen på verksamheter som bedrivs i privat regi; (3) motiven till att välja respektive inte välja att arbeta i privat regi; (4) skillnaderna i professionaliseringsgrad mellan offentligt anställda och privatpraktiserande socionomer. Materialet baseras på en enkätundersökning till 1 000 svenska socionomer och 801 socionomstudenter. Resultaten visar på en ambivalens bland de professionella i förhållande till privatisering. I artikeln diskuteras orsakerna till denna ambivalens på såväl individuell som kollektiv nivå. Trots att andelen socionomer som bedriver privat verksamhet är låg, mellan 6 och 8%, förväntar sig cirka var tredje socionom att de kommer att arbeta privat inom 10 år. Förhållandena för de privata socionomerna, som har högre värden på i princip varje professionaliseringsindikator (t.ex. vidareutbildning, attityder till forskning, intern status, lönenivå, autonomi) stödjer hypotesen om professionsdriven privatisering.
Article
Full-text available
• Summary: This article identifies important challenges facing social work supervision as a result of the social, political and economic changes that have characterized the last two decades in most Western countries. In response a re-positioning of the critical tradition in the scholarship and practice of social work has been proffered by several authors (for example, Allan et al., 2003; Dominelli, 2002) as a means of addressing and counteracting the more negative challenges facing social work emanating from these changes. We argue that this critical re-positioning can also be applied to similar challenges facing practice supervision. • Findings: As the social work landscape has to contend with a more conservative and fiscally restrictive environment, so too has practice supervision become more focused on efficiency, accountability and worker performance often at the expense of professional and practice development. In addition, current research has identified a crisis in the probity of practice supervision where many practitioners cite disillusionment and despair, as well as lack of opportunity to stop and critically reflect on practice situations as another challenge in this changed climate. • Application: As a significant site of practice, a critically informed supervision praxis has the potential to emerge as a site for modelling social change strategies associated with the critical social work tradition.
Book
This is a text which is organised with a reflective approach to social work. The discussion and description of theories and practices is interspersed with exercises, which serve to engage the reader in an interactive thinking process. Author is from Deakin University.